PhD life at The Ohio State

By Erin Drouin (Class of ’16)

There’s a chance if you’re reading this, you’re considering graduate school. Congratulations! Attending graduate school is sincerely the best decision I’ve ever made. If you love research, being pushed to your limits, and trying to answer questions about the world, you should really be thinking about it.

At Eastern I majored in political science, but I’m currently getting my PhD in Communication at The Ohio State University. I just completed my masters at the University of Delaware back in May. I knew in my time at Eastern that most of the questions I was trying to answer were communication questions about politics than questions that were strictly in the realm of political science. My field is super interdisciplinary (both my masters and doctoral advisors are political scientists with jobs in communication departments) so my experiences should still be applicable in any social science context.

Erin and her new “Go The Ohio State!”

There’s plenty of advice about how to get into graduate schools (do research, present at conferences, figure out what you’re passionate about, etc.) but I didn’t hear a lot about what it was like once you got here. So here’s what I’ve gathered in my two years of my masters’ and the past six months of my PhD:

1.       It’s pretty much just like a job. If you’re in a PhD program, you’re probably getting paid. Your department pays your tuition and you receive a stipend in exchange for some sort of service (teaching assistantships, research assistantships, being the instructor of record, etc.). While it’s reminiscent of undergrad because you’re still attending classes – there’s higher expectations that you complete your work and manage your responsibilities – and it takes up a lot of time. Most people in my doctoral program work between 40 and 60 hours a week.

2.       Research is everything. In my graduate program, a doctoral student has anywhere from one to ten projects going on at a time. Between revising journal articles, presenting at conferences, developing projects, writing IRBs, and data collection: there’s a lot going on. Yes, we teach classes, but the main expectation is that we produce quality research – and a good amount of it. I currently have 6 projects going on – a paper waiting to go out to journals, one in the middle of data collection, another that’s being analyzed, and three projects in the preparation stage for summer and fall.

3.       You’re going to be pushed to your limits. Everyone told me a doctoral program was hard – but I didn’t know it would be this hard. I’m questioned on all my decisions; my advisor is known for making you go sentence by sentence in a piece of writing and making you explain your logic and your word choices. It certainly wasn’t what I was expecting coming here – I’ve always been confident in my writing and reasoning skills but now I’m recognizing the places where I can – and need to – improve.

4.       Your research interests are 100% going to change. When I was at Eastern I did a lot of qualitative work around how politics and gender are constructed on social media. I conducted narrative analyses and at one point, a focus group to study the questions I had. In my masters’ I examined constructions and reactions to political humor. And now, in my doctoral program, I’m studying how stereotypes impede political participation and affect political behavior. I’m doing a lot of statistical analyses and the laboratory I’m in utilizes eye tracking as a physiological measure. This is all to say: you don’t need to know exactly what you’re going to be studying now. While broadly my interests are the same as they were in undergrad, the kinds of questions I ask and the way I answer them have changed the more I learn and based on who I’m working with. If you’re asking the same questions as you did in undergrad, you’re not evolving as a researcher.

5.       Imposter syndrome is real. I had heard about imposter syndrome before grad school – this idea that once you got here, you’d be questioning if you belonged and whether you were smart enough. I didn’t really have that in my masters program, but once I got into my doctoral program, it really impacted me. Luckily, I have a great support system and a fantastic (although challenging) advisor.  It’s easy to think that you don’t belong here when everyone else is just as smart and works just as hard as you, but that’s what makes you become a better researcher and student.

6.       It’s the most fun I’ve ever had. Despite how serious and stressful all of the above is: I earnestly love what I’m doing. I love that I get to wake up every day and ask questions I want to ask. I’m constantly challenged because I’m surrounded by the smartest people in my field. I’ve made close friends who are also young people in a new city and care about the things I care about. I’m having an absolute blast. It’s hard, but it’s completely worth it. I couldn’t recommend it enough.

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions about switching from political science to another social science, evolving as a researcher, grad school applications, or something of that ilk, feel free to contact me at drouine@my.easternct.edu.