Graduate School or the Job Market - What happens after graduation?
You basically have three options when you finally finish your education at Black Hills State University; you can be a bum, get a job, or continue your education in graduate school. If you still love geology after completing the program and want to dedicate yourself to a career in the field, then the choice is simple; graduate school is what you want. A graduate education is the only way to assure yourself that you will have the education necessary to take advantage of a rapidly evolving field. Graduate school is MUCH different than what you will experience at Black Hills State University; you will take few courses and spend most of your time working on your thesis topic. If you are interested in obtaining information about different graduate programs, I have set up a file in the geology lab that contains material from most of the graduate programs in the United States.
If you're determined to find employment as soon as you graduate, then make as many contacts a possible during the next few years, and learn as much about technology as possible. I strongly suggest that you learn to use both the ArcView and ArcInfo geographical information systems, as well as technology available in the chemistry department. For this reason, I strongly suggest that you complete Analytical Chemistry. Gain as much computer experience as possible, and try to use your summers to find relevant part-time employment or internships.
If you work during the school year: I realize that it is difficult to finance a college education (I'm still paying for mine!). However, I feel strongly that if your job interferes in any way with your education or prevents you from networking with professionals, then it is time to find a different job. No job that you have now is worth sacrificing future opportunities for. Work, in my opinion, should never be an excuse for missing a field trip or meeting an invited speaker. I certainly realize that some jobs can be very educational, especially for those of you that land part-time employment in the environmental field. No job, however, is more important than your education, and you need to make every effort to ensure that school takes priority over your job.
I know that many of you are extremely reluctant to take student loans to finance your education. However, if your job is adversely affecting your academic performance, ask yourself the following question, "Would I rather be saddled with monthly payments of $50-$100/month for ten years as I pay off school loans, or bad grades and a poor education that will follow me a lifetime and result in jobs paying $10,000 to $20,000 less per year?"
Letters of recommendation: When a potential employer or graduate committee asks for a letter of recommendation, they want to know about more than your classroom performance; they want to know what type of person you are. Do you readily accept challenges or do you shrink from them? How do you handle criticism? Do you work well independently and with others? How well do you handle responsibility? Do you look for the easiest courses with the easiest teachers, or do you always try to get the most from your education? These are the questions that I must answer as honestly as I can, and I try to be perfectly honest when I write a letter of recommendation. I will point out your strengths and weaknesses, and how you compare with other students I have advised in the past. I am constantly observing your growth as a student, and my evaluation of you is based solely on the interaction I have with you. I will never make a judgment based on what I hear about you from others.
Never be reluctant to ask me for a letter of recommendation. If you need 30 letters of recommendation, then I will write 30 letters. It is a vital part of my job as your advisor and a responsibility I take very seriously. When possible, try to give me some advanced warning if you need a letter, but I will certainly write one quickly if something unexpected comes up.
For Seniors: If you want to have some options after graduation, you need to start working on graduate school applications and/or a job search in September of your senior year. I am dead serious about this. If you wait until late fall or the spring, you will miss most or all of the deadlines for graduate assistantships (the best option for financing your graduate education), or you will miss out on a large number of job or internship possibilities. Remember, most of the jobs you will be seeking will open up in the fall of the year as people head back to school or on to graduate school. If graduate school is on your mind, make sure you take the GRE early in the fall (in case you want to retake it) and strongly consider applying to 8 or more different schools. Applications will run from $25 to $100, but it is money well spent because you will hopefully have a lot more options when the spring rolls around.
As far as funding a graduate education is concerned, the most important thing you need to worry about (other than getting admitted) is securing a graduate teaching or research assistantship. If you land a TA or a RA, your funding problems are mostly over because many TA's and RA's carry a nonresident tuition waiver, and many also waive in-state tuition and fees. Most of the time you will be paid $12,000 - $15,000 per academic year to research your thesis topic or teach geology labs, with the possibility of making more money during the summer. This is certainly enough to get by on as you continue your studies. Remember, most TA and RA applications are due in the fall of your senior year. Typically, if you are accepted into a graduate program, you should have a very good shot at landing an RA or a TA.
Final Thought: Don't be a stranger. I hope to see you several times a semester. Even if you don't need any advice, please just stop in to say "Hi" or perhaps inquire about summer internships. Sometimes I get a little preoccupied and absent-minded (especially around finals), but please don't be put-off if I seem a little aloof. I am paid to help you obtain the best education possible, so please take advantage of what I can offer. As always, think long term. Where do you want to be 10 years from now and will the action(s) you are considering get you there?