What Did I (Really) Learn from Grad School?

Is graduation really here?

It’s been awhile since I’ve written about school. The truth is, a strange bout of senioritus hit early in the semester…followed by a sudden end-of-semester/end-of-school scramble for a perfect final campaign project. My campaign for the American Diabetes Association (ADA) – Indiana Chapter Step Out Walk ended up at 50 pages. 50!

Seeing as my Integrated Marketing Communication in Health Care course only asked for a simple campaign plan of “around 15-20 pages,” I can only conclude that this must be my insane attempt at a last grad school hoorah. Only one more final and I’ll be done completely–unless I completely lose my mind and go for a Ph.D.–and then I can be one of those snobs who put M.A. after my title.

Why did I do this in the first place?

A visit to the Ernie Pyle School of Journalism at Bloomington before my 2009 IU graduation.
A visit to the Ernie Pyle School of Journalism in Bloomington, Ind., before my 2009 IU graduation.

I started my program in January of 2011–almost 2.5 years ago–out of a need to “grow faster” in my career.  I remember distinctly saying (after my undergrad graduation in 2009) “I’ll never go to grad school!” and thinking that grad school was far beyond my intellectual and monetary reach. It just wasn’t something I felt I had the time, energy or interest to pursue. That is, until I realized that my job at the time wasn’t offering me the tools and knowledge to grow.

After some research, I was wooed to the IU School of Journalism Master’s degree in Public Relations program. Unlike many other programs, this program was built for professionals already working in the field and working full-time. The evening classes at IUPUI and online classes through the Kelley School of Business MBA program weren’t taught by professors who’ve taught so long they’re out of touch–but real, bonafide professionals who also work full time in the field. I chose a health care focus, because Indianapolis has so many career options in that sector (with the ever-growing need for health care).

What did I learn (really)?

In my first semester, I met “The Hammer.” That wasn’t her real name, of course, but a well-known nickname she earned from students required to take her Public Relations Research course. I soon learned that taking The Hammer’s class was like a rite of passage within the J-School. She put the fear of God in students, forcing everyone to follow the process, pay attention to detail, and craft pieces of work that would impress work superiors and executives (but even more pressure-inducing: that would impress her). I spent many sleepless nights perfecting my solo primary research proposal and project, many calls to my sister on the verge of a graduate school breakdown, and many terrified moments in class. Students in class joked about how the class drove them to drink.

So many times during that first and second semester (during which I also took one of The Hammer’s summer electives), I was tempted to quit. I had a job, I had other obligations, maybe school was too much? Around the same time, my sister decided to end her pursuit of a second degree in nursing due to stress, and I thought of how nice it would be to follow suit.

Okay, maybe not awful...but I could identify with grumpy cat sometimes!
Okay, maybe not awful…but I could identify with grumpy cat sometimes!

But I didn’t. I sacrificed my Tuesday and Thursday nights for two years, I spent many long nights working on homework (on top of job work) and I paid off school on my own as I went. Those schoolwork pieces that The Hammer “hammered” out of me ended up being some of my finest work, and I got to learn about theories and tactics I wouldn’t have otherwise learned that came in handy later.

So what did I learn really?

I learned confidence in myself to perform under pressure. I learned what it’s really like working in the health care marketing field. I learned how to think strategically in real-world situations. I learned how to do primary research and craft public relations campaigns like a boss (it’s second nature now!). And, as a bonus I got to network with some great professionals and peers along the way.

Would I recommend it for others?

Yes and no. I think my program is great as a supplement for learning alongside a career (as it’s intended), but not as much for someone coming straight from undergrad. But that’s just my program, and I feel my program is unique when compared to others. Graduate school isn’t for everyone. It’s harder than undergrad–not only because you’re held to a higher standard, but because you’ll have to juggle new, bigger life obligations on top of school work.

What now?

I’m so glad to be able to, at the age of 26, have something I earned that can never be taken away from me. I’m the first person in my family to earn an advanced degree. I’m not ashamed to say I’m proud of myself!

Now, I can focus entirely on my new job with the Christian Church and continue to apply what I’ve learned. I feel like I’m in a good place in my career, where I can feel confident in my experience and knowledge. I can finally have my Thursday nights back, and move on to my other (many) hobbies. I’ll continue to learn and grow as a person…and maybe read for fun again!

Unfortunately, The Hammer is gone from the program now, and the IU School of Journalism as we always knew it is being absorbed by the Communications office. But I’m sure that the program will continue to evolve, and well-intentioned J-School leaders will continue to make the program meaningful.


  1. Greg Dunwoody

    You’ve learned a LOT – Your Masters Degree is something you can be proud of – I love you Sandy!




  2. I took The Hammer’s last ever class, but thankfully never had to see her face-to-face. Congrats at your upcoming graduation! 🙂


  3. Thanks to you both! So glad to be able to be finished 🙂


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