How do you navigate life after graduate studies? How do you get jobs? These are questions that today’s feature on #AbroadLife answers with Grad School Buddy, a podcast and carefully curated digital companion that helps simplify the grad school application journey. She shared her migration journey into Washington, D.C., and her inspiration for the podcast with us.
How did you migrate to the United States?
While studying for my undergraduate degree in Economics back in Nigeria, I became very certain that I would study Development Economics. I believe that if the world is going to become a better place in the long run, we’ll definitely need to go through some policy changes. During my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), I was posted to a primary school. I did a project to help sponsor kids who were out of school in Nigeria. These experiences then motivated me to look for the best places in the world where I could learn more about policy change.
Initially, I wanted to go to school in the United Kingdom. However, my friend then suggested Washington, D.C. This was because D.C. is a policy-centric location where I could meet with other policymakers and interact with organisations to get these policies done. So it was a step-by-step process. I first understood the course I wanted to study, and second was the location—where would I be most suited to study the course? I chose D.C. because of the people [policymakers], the jobs, and the exposure.
What was the process like?
So I applied on my own for my visa, admission, and all that because I had others who had gone through the same process, and they didn’t use agents. I had to do a lot of research. I had to check out which school in DC I wanted to apply to and why. How were the professors? What kind of funding does the school have, and what sort of funding do they have too?
Once I figured these out, I had to look at their requirements. I had to take the TOEFL to fulfil the language requirement and the GRE exam for proficiency. There was an analytical piece of writing where I was asked a policy-related question, and then there was also a Statement of Purpose (SOP) where I had to write about my own motivations for applying to the school. I also had to get my undergraduate transcript from my university, and I got a half-merit scholarship. I applied in 2018 and started in the fall of 2019.
Sweet! How was grad school for you?
So the first semester of my first year in grad school was all about focus. I really wanted to know more about the educational system and how to navigate life in America in general before water go carry me go. But by my second semester, I noticed that many students around me were “badass” and could do the things I was doing better, with brilliant projects. I also saw that some students had started having jobs since my first semester. I asked them more about their jobs and the professors they were working with, especially on impact evaluation across the world.
With this, I was able to start working in my second year as a research assistant, and I continued working with them until I finished. I had surveys, large data sets, survey designs, etc., which helped me get great internship or job opportunities outside school. Working gave me both the skills and the money.
How did you then get a job after grad school?
A lot of students abroad have probably heard of the use of networking to find jobs. It could be annoying and may be a bit out of my comfort zone, but I realised that this was something that had to be done if I eventually wanted an international career for myself. I had to meet people that I never knew to have coffee with me or meet somewhere just to get myself acquainted with them and keep me top of mind.
My first job was with a professor who I had worked with on a short-term project. After school, she introduced me to the very first job I got, which was a six month project. While working there, I was already looking out for the next job. I knew that I didn’t want to ask her for another job yet again.
So I started networking like crazy before I ended the project. I had to check organisations I wanted to work with and people in the sector I wanted to work in, as well as look at their previous projects to see if I had any affinity with them. I then asked my friends if they had emails on some of the people I had researched and started cold mailing them and setting up meetings with them. After these meetings, I only followed up with people that I felt I could work with.
Through these people, I was able to get recommended jobs from them. There were periods of rejection and tears. However, I had friends in my corner who served as a great support system for encouragement. I eventually reached a point where I could turn down jobs because there were so many.
What was your inspiration for the Grad School Buddy podcast?
So firstly, the Grad School Buddy is a podcast and carefully curated digital companion that helps simplify the grad school journey in an unconventional way. It started as a podcast, but now we have a newsletter and social media pages where we share information. What led me to start was that when I was going to grad school, I had people around me that had been through this process, including my siblings and friends. There was specifically one of my male friends who knew that I was very big on development economics in terms of education and financial inclusion policies. He was the one who made me start thinking of grad school beyond just the degree. But also about the importance of life after grad school. I had never really thought about what life after grad school entailed until he spoke about it.
Basically, I had knowledge of these things, but it wasn’t until I moved abroad to Washington, DC, and started school that people started to ask me questions about life after grad school. Then I realised that this information wasn’t accessible to everyone else out there. That’s how I got started. I wanted the podcast to encompass graduates from every walk of life, both the ones that paid tuition through scholarships, family income, or what have you. I also wanted to highlight alternatives to going abroad for a Masters. These included an online Masters or even having their Masters’ degree in Nigeria, how to get great internship opportunities, and so much more. If someone is trying to navigate problems surrounding their Masters’ degree and stumbles upon the podcast or newsletter, I’d love for them to get their answers via the Grad School Buddy Platform.
Why did you record your very first episode?
I recorded my first episode from a sad place. I was broke, and I needed an outlet to let out my feelings and thoughts. Then, I was starting to understand the process behind the “rejection before acceptance” process of getting job opportunities. I wanted other people who were like me also to experience what it felt like. There were friends who had different circumstances with grad school, and I felt like my friends and everyone else needed to share our grad school limitations and also share their solutions as well.
What’s the structure of Grad School Buddy like?
So, I initially started by myself, but now I have 5 people on the team. We plan the whole season to decide on a theme, then break down the topics and decide on profiles that could fit into these topics. For guests, it’s either have people call us requesting a feature or we contact them. We then interview them, and it gets to post-production where we edit the audio, send it to the guests for feedback, and once it’s approved, we start adopting and publishing it for different media.
Aside from this, Grad School Buddy also aims to get people of different nationalities, sexualities, and experiences to come together and share their thoughts. I would always like people to listen to the podcast or read the newsletter and find an episode or two that is for them.
What are your challenges with the podcast?
So I won’t necessarily call it a challenge, but I have noticed that some admission officers or counsellors request a fee when I reach out to them, and I feel that kind of demand doesn’t always serve the greater good. That’s the “challenge” in quote. Besides, Grad School Buddy is privately funded, and it’s not like we have the cash to blow. There are also the usual production glitches that I believe everyone else experiences, but there are always alternative episodes that we can always post in place to stay afloat.
What is next with the Grad School Buddy?
We are looking to launch Season 3 in October or November. I also hope to allow the team to handle more processes of the podcast in the long term as well as bring in more diverse voices.