Nidya Velasco, Saehwang Han, Natalie Shelito and Yi Jung Kim

Left to right, Nidya Velasco, Saehwang Han, Natalie Shellito and Yi Jung Kim

By Meghan Hendricksen

So, how is school going?

Every gerontology student at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School could give you an earful on that subject. The Gerontology Institute Blog wanted to hear what students had to say about their studies, the challenge of balancing academics with personal lives and their career goals. So we asked four PhD students – Natalie Shellito, Shiva Prasad, Nidya Velasco and Danielle Waldron – and two doctoral candidates – Yi Jung Kim and Saehwang Han – a few questions related to those topics. Here’s what they had to say.

What has been the most demanding aspect of your studies?

Natalie Shellito: The most demanding aspect has been shifting gears into an academic frame of mind. I come from an applied background, so I am still working on learning academic research methods and statistics.

Shiva Prasad: I underestimated the amount of time and magnitude of work that would be involved. This probably speaks to the rigor of the program. I feel like I am building stronger methodological foundations compared to my friends in other disciplines on and off campus.

Nidya Velasco: I feel the program itself is demanding. But, in my experience, the faculty members and classmates are very supportive.

Danielle Waldron: I think the most demanding aspect of grad school has been learning how to manage my time between short term assignments for classes and working on longer term career building projects.

Yi Jung Kim: The most demanding aspect of my studies is keeping up with the flux of academic calendar. There are days where I have multiple deadlines crowded in and there are also days when I receive no emails at all. After all these years, I still haven’t fully learned to balance my workload in between.

Saehwang Han: Figuring out a viable long-term goal and setting short-term goals that would get me a step closer to that longer-term objective. It was difficult to figure out what to focus on and for what amount of time before moving on to the next task. Fortunately, I had a lot of good mentors, both among faculty and senior students, who provided a lot of helpful advice.

Do you find it difficult to balance your educational and personal lives?

Natalie Shellito: It is really important to me to strike a good balance between my life at work and school and my personal life. What helps me the most is to treat my PhD work more or less as an 8 to 5 job and take the evenings and weekends off from doing academic work.

Shiva Prasad: Adjusting to a new place, coming from the other side of the world, was challenging. Having no friends and family here, I felt like I landed in a social vacuum. The logistics of settling down and the fact that the program was so demanding did not leave much time to socialize and make real friends. On the flip side long winter and summer breaks in American education system helped regaining my work life balance.

Nidya Velasco: Sometimes. My husband and I are a team, we distribute all the chores and schedule activities together that does not interfere with my studies or his job. However, all my family and lifelong friends are back home. At times things get complicated there and I find it difficult to balance things up.

Danielle Waldron: This can get a little tricky! Overall, I am grateful to have family and friends who are understanding of my workload and a department that is conscious of the importance of work/life balance. As students, we also make a sincere effort to support each other and plan social events (i.e. baby showers, engagement parties, cookouts, etc.) to keep everyone connected!

Yi Jung Kim: It is somewhat difficult, but now much of my personal life overlaps with my educational life. Honestly I don’t have much of a ‘personal life’ that is outside of my educational life, but I try to squeeze in exercise and social outings here and there.

Saehwang Han: Not at all—primarily because I left most of my personal life back home in Korea. I’m not saying that this is necessarily a good thing, but it sure has its benefits in terms of being able to focus on your educational life.

Do you have a clear idea how you want to use your education after leaving the university; is that the idea you had when you arrived in the program or has it evolved?

 Natalie Shellito:  My ideas of what I want to do and where I want to work after I finish my PhD seem to constantly change and evolve. While I am confident I would like to conduct research to inform policy, I am still unsure of exactly what area of gerontology I would like to focus on.

Shiva Prasad: I have no clear idea yet but I always wanted to and would still want to work in social entrepreneurial or non-profit organizations

 Nidya Velasco: I would like to do research, but I haven’t decided if I prefer an academic setting. My idea is pretty much the same I had when arrived in the program.

Danielle Waldron: Although I have developed more research interests since starting our program, I still have the same two primary goals as I had my first day here at UMass Boston Gerontology. I would like to work in policy on behalf of people aging with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and I also see myself as an undergraduate professor someday!

Yi Jung Kim: I don’t exactly know how I want to use my education after leaving the university. I believe in taking opportunities as they present themselves, and that’s the same idea that I had when I arrived in the program (and how I arrived in the program).

Saehwang Han: Coming into the program, I had a very vague idea about pursuing a career in the academia. The idea still stands, and it has become clearer and more concrete over the years. At the same time, I have become more realistic in terms of understanding what to expect about being in the job market, so I am trying to be more open to different opportunities.