Things I Wished I Knew Before I Started Grad School

Since I’m graduating this May, I wanted to use my final HLS blog post to reflect a bit on the things I wish I knew before I started grad school. Despite all my research, including reading this blog, I—of course—came into library school with plenty of misconceptions of what the experience would and should be. Hindsight is always 20/20, but maybe someone else can benefit from the lessons I’ve learned too. 

Specializations don’t matter too much

I’ve written about this before in my first post about the importance of an interdisciplinary education, but I wish I realized sooner into my grad program that I didn’t need to worry much about what specialization I might pursue during library school. While I ended up doing a concentration in Cultural Heritage Informatics because it was flexible and offered interesting classes I wanted to take anyway, it certainly wasn’t a strong predictor of what kind of job I might end up in after I graduated. 

Of course, if you’re dead set on a specific kind of librarianship, it can be helpful to concentrate in, say, archives or youth services. However, in my experience talking with interviewers, professionals might be mildly interested in your concentration or what classes you’re taking, but it’s not the be-all-end-all. After all, I took several courses in archives and digital preservation, only to currently end up working in a public library where much of that coursework doesn’t apply. If you’re open to learning about the variety of jobs in information science, just take what sounds interesting and applicable to you! You don’t need to predict the future on where you’ll end up.

Grades also don’t matter much!

In my experience, I really didn’t need to worry about grades either. Typically, if I did the work, professors would give full credit. Plus, they’re usually understanding that students have lives outside of school, like families and work, so don’t be afraid to ask for extensions when you need them. Some of my professors have even given bonus points when we go above and beyond, or have let us correct errors on assignments to earn more points. Plus, I’ve yet to encounter a professional in the field who wants you to disclose your GPA, anyway.

Online is okay

When I started to look into applying to grad schools, I was convinced that I needed an in-person experience to get the most out of my education—especially because I thought I would have to relocate to a place that might have more opportunities to gain experience. As a result, I ended up only applying to schools that had in-person classes.

All of this planning became moot when the pandemic hit a few months before I was planning to move to Boston to attend classes at Simmons University in the fall of 2020. It only made sense to stay home to continue my education online, especially after many classes continued to be offered online instead in the following semesters. 

In addition to saving a ton in housing costs, I realized that an online education wasn’t a subpar one (after all, I was taking the same classes online as my peers who did live in Boston during the pandemic). Plus, I didn’t need to relocate to an expensive and competitive city in order to find internship and work opportunities in the LIS field. Much of my initial desire to attend on-campus was for the allure of having a traditional grad experience socially, but the convenience, flexibility, and affordability of an online education might turn out to be enough to sway you, too.

Limit time spent on discussion board posts and readings

Every online student knows the struggle of logging into your digital class’s forums to find dozens of discussion posts from your classmates. I would have saved a lot of time in my first semester if someone told me I didn’t need to read through every one of my peers’ posts. I fell into many of the same discussion board traps that HLS writer Kerri outlined a few years ago, like checking them too frequently for new posts or waiting for others to post first. While these discussions may be important if you have totally asynchronous classes, try to limit the amount of time you’re spending monitoring and reading through the forums. Taking time to thoroughly read and respond to a few classmates’ posts is usually more than enough.

Likewise, you probably don’t even need to do every reading. Many of my readings have been mere suggestions that supplement that week’s lectures, and it’s okay if you skim or skip when need be. I’ve often found myself pushing through readings that I’m not really comprehending well just to say that I did, which wasn’t a beneficial use of my time.

You’re allowed to have a life during grad school

By this one, I mean you do not need to always feel overwhelmed or constantly busy, despite the popular imagining of what grad school is like. It’s okay to have days or weekends off, to take vacations, to have hobbies, and other moments of relaxation like a real person.

No, you don’t need prior library experience to succeed

Perhaps this is a controversial statement, given the amount of advice I’ve gotten to get experience coming from peers, professors, and other professionals in the LIS field. However, I didn’t have direct experience working in libraries before I started grad school, and I didn’t find it necessary to have that workplace experience to be successful in my classes, either. In fact, most of my classes were designed as introductory and many of my classmates had little to no experience in libraries either. I think I would have gotten bored if I knew everything from a job before I started school.

Grad school gave me the opportunity to learn about where I might find a place in the LIS field, as well as the flexibility to find part-time internships and jobs to complement what I was learning in the classroom. I stressed a lot about if I was getting enough experience or the right kind of experience in order to get a job after graduating. While the experience I got while in grad school proved to be essential to my attaining a position as a reference librarian and cataloger during my last semester, I didn’t need to compare myself so much to others with years of experience. Everyone has to start somewhere, and it’ll be okay if you’re just starting out in the LIS field with classes too.

Paige Szmodis is an online, second-year MLIS student at Simmons University in the Cultural Heritage Informatics concentration. You can find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Featured image courtesy of Ib Aarmo on Flickr.

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