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Kayla's Story

Second-year graduate student

Started Fall, 2016

Why graduate school?
Towards the end of my bachelor's degree, I was required to take two research methods courses as well as my senior seminar class, which required me to create and execute a sociological research project on my own. All three of these classes made me realize that I had a lot of research questions that I didn't have time to even attempt to address with the semester of undergraduate coursework that I had left. I brought this topic up to my advisor, Dr. Josh Packard, and he helped me realize that continuing into the graduate program would give me more time to try and answer those questions. I also knew that it would allow me to gain the research experience that I wanted so that I could refine my research methodology if I chose to pursue research in some way outside of my educational career.

Why did you select UNC?
I received my bachelor's degree from UNC, so it was a pretty natural progression into the master's program. I had developed really good relationships, not only with other students who would be also be entering the master's program as part of my cohort but also with many of the faculty members who work in the Sociology department. I valued the mentorship I had received from my undergraduate advisor and knew that not only could I continue to work with him in graduate school I also had the opportunity to participate in the research that he was conducting. In my opinion, the benefits of those social and professional connections outweighed the things that other graduate programs could offer me.

Kayla's Headshot

Graduate Program

Sociology, M.A.

Previous Degrees

Sociology – B.A. – 2016 
University of Northern Colorado

What do you hope to do with your degree?
I'm not sure yet what route I want to pursue after graduation. I am considering the option of a doctoral program to become a faculty member somewhere, but if I don't do that I want to do something that involves conducting research to potentially influence culture and policy. I want to help figure out ways that we can more efficiently and effectively help people in society.

Is there anything that has surprised you about graduate school?
I think the extent to which faculty members are willing to support and help us graduate students has been the most unexpected thing. Since all of the faculty members have been through this process they already have an expectation that many of us had no idea what we're doing or what we were getting into when it came to graduate school. A lot of us in my cohort are first-generation college students (myself included), so we're the first ones in our immediate family to obtain an undergraduate degree, let alone pursue graduate school. With many of the faculty members in the Sociology department also being first-generation college students, they have been able to understand our situation in a more unique and personal way.

Are there resources at UNC that you find particularly helpful as you work through your degree program?
In terms of physical resources, I have always found the library useful. I don't think I have checked out as many books from a library in my whole life as I have in the last year of my graduate program. When it comes to relationships with people, having a graduate school cohort that understands what you're going through because they are in the same situation is mentally beneficial. I know that there is a group of people that I can find solidarity with. My advisor has also been beneficial as a mentoring resource. He understands what graduate school is like, he knows how to effectively plan and conduct the research I am interested in because he specializes in the same academic area, and he understands my position in a unique way because he was also a first-generation college student.

Are there strategies you have found to be helpful in handling the academic workload of graduate school?
Budgeting time. Understanding what is a reasonable timeframe to expect when starting and completing assignments is a big factor that I had to learn through experience. After I got better at knowing what to expect, it was beneficial for me to get in the practice of planning ahead for when I was going to sit down and work on assignments, and also physically writing those times down in my calendar or planner. That way I could easily keep track of the time I had planned for assignments in a physical way. Another thing that I realized about myself was that I am not good at being diligent with work and concentrating when I am at home. I find I get much more done if I am working at the library or at a coffee shop in town.

Do you have any advice for students who may be considering whether or not to pursue a graduate degree at UNC?
Try to get a handle on what you personally need when it comes to support and resources for your graduate program and then ask all of the questions you have about those things before making a decision. Make sure you meet faculty members in your desired department and potentially other students to see if you think you will fit in and work together well. Graduate school is not an island. You will need other people.