Monthly Archives: March 2012

Work or Grad School after Graduation? –“the China Version”

As all fellow classmates talked about the work or study dilemma, either based on their own stories and the whole situation of most American students, in our “Decisions and Visions” part, I would like to introduce the Chinese “work or grad school” situation.

Chinese university system is quite different from that of American. They need to decide our major before taking the college entrance exam, and is also hard to change the major then. The job demand determines your career after graduation:

“Unlike universities in America or Europe, students in China apply for majors when they take the college entrance exam. Due to fierce competitions, to get in a “hot” major program, one must score high enough as many people are interested in that major. When a student’s scores do not qualify him for the major of choice, he may be pushed down to a less popular major in college. Whether a major is in demand or not depends primarily on its job prospect.”

                                                                                                                — China News

Thus, for those who don’t like their majors and can’t change their majors, like myself, if they don’t want enter a field which they don’t want to, the best way is to start the grad school with another major. However, even they can get the admission to the grad school, the problem still exists– grad school will be harder for those whom don’t have much background of the field they will study.

A Job Fair in China

Since the global finance crisis, Chinese college graduates are facing the worst job market these years. Even graduating with a “promising” major, college graduates are not that easy to find a good job like before. They turn to grad school for helping them stay away from the tough job market just like the situation of America.

Of course, there are still many people applying for grad school to seek academic progress in their field of study. All these three kinds of people make the number of grad school applicants increase every year. But whether a master’ degree can really help to get a nice job?

However, “hot” majors might become “cold”, and vice versa. Neither can we change the economic environment nor can we predict the change of the job market. So, my suggestion is do whatever you really like and choose whatever fits you, either grad school or work.
I would like to talk more about the Chinese grad schools and make a comparison with ours if possible.

Degree Inflation and the Fight for Hope

As Greer mentioned, many of us from the abandoned generation sought the shelter of graduate school to wait out the recession.  Our individual stories may vary, but the theme seems to be consistent.  Job prospects were few, so we decided to continue honing our skills and building our expertise in an academic setting.  Unfortunately, since so many of us had this idea, we have created a new complication for our original problem: there are more graduate degrees being issued than there are jobs that require graduate degrees.

The Economist recognized this two years ago, and the situation has likely compounded in that time.  From the article “The Disposable Academic:”

“Indeed, the production of PhDs has far outstripped demand for university lecturers. In a recent book, Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, an academic and a journalist, report that America produced more than 100,000 doctoral degrees between 2005 and 2009. In the same period there were just 16,000 new professorships. Using PhD students to do much of the undergraduate teaching cuts the number of full-time jobs. Even in Canada, where the output of PhD graduates has grown relatively modestly, universities conferred 4,800 doctorate degrees in 2007 but hired just 2,616 new full-time professors. Only a few fast-developing countries, such as Brazil and China, now seem short of PhDs.”

The Chronicle echoed the concerns of The Economist but with more alarming numbers:

“Over 317,000 waiters and waitresses have college degrees (over 8,000 of them have doctoral or professional degrees), along with over 80,000 bartenders, and over 18,000 parking lot attendants. All told, some 17,000,000 Americans with college degrees are doing jobs that the BLS says require less than the skill levels associated with a bachelor’s degree.”

The same article notes that there are at least 5,000 janitors in the U.S. that have PhDs, which disturbs me as a graduate student.  Admittedly though, I knew these numbers and these risks before applying to graduate school.  Not wanting to fall into the graduate black hole that has consumed so many before me, I made a few rules for myself.  It is my hope (and the success of these rules remains to be seen), that these rules will increase the chances of my getting a full-time job relevant to my field.

1. No more debt.  My debt from my undergraduate degree is not substantial, but I have bills and other debts that are still a major concern.  Knowing that graduate school was not a guarantee for a better life, I decided to only pursue a graduate degree if I was able to secure a tuition waiver.  This resulted in a bit of a last minute scramble, but I at least have the comfort of knowing that I will not be worse-off financially if an M.S. in journalism does not make me rich and famous.

2. Work with the end in mind.  My ultimate goal is to further my career.  I enjoying learning, and I enjoy thinking about concepts and ideas, but thinking does not feed my family, and it does not give me shelter.  As you may know, I write books, so I started graduate school with the goal of furthering my writing career.  The classes I took, the research I did, and the projects I completed were all designed to further this goal.  Customizing my education in this manner has worked well thus far, and I believe that it will pay off.

3. Network and collaborate.  Graduate cohorts tend to be diverse, and mine is no exception.  My peers have backgrounds and skill sets that are very different from my own, and learning from them has been just as beneficial as learning from professors.  At the same time, these are professional contacts that could prove to be useful in the future.

4. Don’t abandon your career.  While I am in graduate school, I am not allowing my writing career to stagnate.  Two more of my books are coming out this year, and I have maintained an active blog and social media presence while at the same time pursuing new projects outside of class.  Whenever possible, I fold this work into my graduate study to get as much mileage out of my effort as I can, but it’s important to me that I do not lose the momentum that I gained in between undergraduate study and graduate study.

Graduate and post-graduate students, what are you doing to increase the value of your graduate experience?  How are you preparing for the future?

Is going to grad school better than working?

In most fields, workers get a good start with basic skills in the classroom, but real-world world experience, I would argue, is where the vast majority of learning takes place. This is especially true in journalism, where although class assignments and school-funded student newspapers give students a basic understanding of journalism, real learning takes place at an actual newspaper or other media outlet. Through working ridiculous hours, becoming a local expert on a number of subjects, making friends with secretaries and becoming a community figure (especially in a smaller community), among other things, the real world is where it’s at. In no way do I mean that school is not important – it absolutely is – but the amount a journo will learn in the first six months on the job will dwarf the amount the student journo learns in four years.

I’ll give a little bit of my background to start. I went to undergrad at Huntington University, a small liberal arts school in northeast Indiana. Between my sophomore and junior years, I got an internship at The Huntington County TAB, one of two newspapers that served Huntington County, Ind. That internship led to a job as a staff reporter, which I held during the remainder of undergrad until I moved to Morgantown for grad school last August (thereby working at the paper for a total of two years, three months).

My rationale for getting a master’s is because down the road, I would like to teach, and the left-brained people at universities who are in charge of hiring don’t care as much what experience I have, they want to see a nice piece of heavyweight paper master’s degree before they will consider hiring (Note: no offense to those who have worked hard to get numerous degrees, it’s just that not everyone with a degree is qualified to teach certain subjects, as I learned in undergrad).

In Indiana, it was interesting to me because I transitioned from being a student who worked for a newspaper to a newspaper reporter who was finishing college. In other words, I saw myself as a reporter who was finishing undergrad in order to get the pretty paper bachelor’s degree that apparently indicates that I know what I’m doing as far as journalism is concerned. By my senior year (at least in my mind), I already knew, or had experience in, anything we would discuss in journalism or media classes.

I had a lot more industry knowledge than the people I was graduating with, a good chunk of whom were still engrossed in the ideal world of a college newspaper – that is, being guaranteed a job due to the university funding the newspaper. This is a great video that a former editor of mine at The TAB showed me that sums up this thinking (I’m having issues with the embed code, so here’s the link):

Anyway, no amount of classroom work can serve as a substitute for real-world experience. However, that doesn’t mean that going back to school can’t augment what one has learned already, especially since the industry is changing at such a rapid pace. When I started undergrad in 2007, Facebook had a still fairly-limited usage rate, MySpace was still semi-relevant and Twitter had not yet taken off.

Now, newspapers and other media outlets are wanting, if not demanding, that journalists be able to write, take photos and at least have knowledge of video production. Journalists also have to be savvy with social media, at least the giants – Facebook and Twitter. For me, I had extremely limited experience in video/multimedia reporting, and the West Virginia Uncovered class has certainly helped me with acquiring and using those skills in the field. Also, although I knew how to use social media, I didn’t know how to properly use those tools from a journalism perspective (or blogs, for that matter). So, Uncovered and our blogging class have helped me in that way.

Of course, there are other things to be learned in grad school besides classes related to work in the field, but I’m limiting this post to non-academia jobs outside of universities (which is where one will need to know theories and how to conduct research).

To wrap it up, again, classwork is no substitute for real-world experience. BUT, grad school in particular can help train journalists (and others) to practice the craft in a more refined, up-to-date way. Plus, having a master’s keeps future options, like teaching, open for consideration.

So You Want to Get a Journalism Degree?

Newspapers are dying. Bloggers are journalists. Journalism is done.

Every journalism student has been met with these claims. Yes, every one of them. Probably multiple times. It’s hard telling people your major is journalism and receiving the response, “why? Don’t you want a job?” This is hot-button issue across the web, as anybody can now publish content with the help of the Internet.

Journalism is often at the top of lists of 20 Most Useless Degrees. And, some journalists don’t even need degrees to get into the business. So why waste four years on a degree that most likely will not pay well and will definitely result in tons of student loans?

Elana Zak over at 10,000 words defends her journalism degree after the Business Insider ran the article “Degrees Are Useless And Other Tips For Aspiring Journalists,” by  Jean Prentice. Zak says,

“For me, perhaps the most important reason my journalism degree isn’t useless is because I had fun studying it. Just because someone likes reading and writing doesn’t mean they should be an English major. Instead, my homework assignments meant I got to go out and report on actual events. It was hard and stressful at times but I loved every second of it.”

It’s hard enough to defend your reasoning for getting and undergraduate degree in journalism, but how can you begin to argue for a master’s in it?

Patrick Thornton, a blogger, wouldn’t.

“I would personally not get a graduate degree in journalism. Journalism is not one of those fields where practicing journalists will see a big benefit from additional schooling. In fact, work experience and skills are what ultimately matters, which is why so many journalists do not have journalism degrees — let alone more than one.”

Matt Bigelow, a digital media manager, is more on the fence about his decision.

“Am I happy I went there and got my masters? Eh…yes and no. Yes, because I had some incredible experiences, met some amazing (and amazingly talented) people, made some great connections and, to be honest, just plain had a lot of fun. No, because I think it’s overpriced, and that a lot of those experiences can be had, people can be met, connections can be made and (probably) fun can be had without the degree.”

Over at the Huffington Post, Justin Cox justifies his decision to shell out the extra cash for his degree because of the value.

“By going to school, I paddled into a quickly moving wave. And now I’m riding it, and although I’m unconvinced the dollar amount attached to the diploma is completely justified, I’m happy I decided to go.”

While it’s not necessarily financially sound, and it’s not easy, I think the master’s degree adds a new layer to one’s education. The value that a master’s degree adds is the ability to think critically.

Dr. Steve Urbanski, director of Graduate Studies at West Virginia University said,

“Whenever students inquire about getting a master’s degree in journalism, I try to stress to them that I consider the ‘journalism’ part of the MSJ degree to be secondary to the skills of critical thinking, writing and research that we push so hard in the program.”

For journalists, the ability to think critically can be the difference between an average news story or a Pulitzer-winning one.

Urbanski continued,

“Students certainly can choose to specialize in broadcasting, PR, writing or advertising, but the faculty members who teach in the program try to position those aforementioned skills as a foundation that underpins the specific areas of interest. By doing this, I truly believe an MSJ degree from WVU equips our graduates for media jobs as well as jobs in other areas of the marketplace. And our impressive job placement rate over the years is evidence that this philosophy is working.”

Having the capability to look at news stories from a different angle or having the knowledge to dissect information necessary to a story puts you ahead of the competition. And while the ability to think critically is the main draw, for me, to journalism graduate study, other perks include having the ability to go the route of academia or obtain media positions within other organizations. A master’s degree shows the employer that you have learned on a different level and have, well, “mastered” that higher-order education.

Do you think a master’s degree is worth it? Why or why not?

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How did I get here? (But say it in David Byrne’s voice)

Can’t find a job? Go to grad school!

The New York Times noted a few years ago that prolonged periods of unemployment can take a psychological toll. “People begin questioning their value, often for the first time in their lives,” said Jeffrey A. Heath, a managing director of the Landstone Group in Manhattan. Heath said that knowing that you’re working towards something can make you feel better.

Watching the days go by…

I graduated with a media degree in 2006. At the time, the economy wasn’t terrible, but the recession was on the horizon. When I finished my undergrad degree I picked up and moved to Portland, Oregon and stayed there for two years. As did every other wide-eyed recent graduate, I wanted to move to Portland, get a sweet job working for a record label, see live music every night, hang out in cool bars with a cabin theme, and navigate my way around the city around on a bike. By the time I got laid off, it was early 2008, the job market was in the tank, and I was in a city where I was competing with a billion other 20-somethings for only a few  jobs. So, I returned home to mommy and daddy.

Turns out the job market in small-town West Virginia wasn’t so great either. I applied to the Peace Corps, spent 7 months volunteering, worked a 10-hour a week job and got accepted. And after I thought my life was on the right track, they withdrew my nomination due to my medical history. Since then, the number of applicants to the Peace Corps has gone through the roof.

Luckily after wandering aimlessly through the Internet and Craiglist, and Monster and every other last resort, I got a corporate job where my parents lived. I made REALLY good money, health benefits, the load. One and a half years later… laid off.

And that brings me to today (actually there is a lot more to this story but it’s not the happiest and if I wrote anymore you would probably end up crying, which is what I’m doing right now as I reflect on my life experience since 2006). Grad school. I had always wanted to go, I love the classroom setting and learning and wanted to get a good job that paid better eventually, but the fact that I was already in debt had held me back. But grad school was kind of a last resort. I was on unemployment for nearly a year, and that didn’t feel great. I felt like I had nothing left to do. Out of options. And I’m not the only one in this boat.

Proof I’m not alone:

The Minnesota Daily reported that The University of Minnesota followed a nationwide jump of graduate school applicants, thanks to the recession.

The New York Times reported the surge in both law schools and graduate schools was due to the economic meltdown. “I think the crash was so severe that people were kind of catatonic,” Jeffrey S. Brand, dean of the University of San Francisco School of Law said. They weren’t sure what to do. They’re coming out of that mode now.”

What now?

When I graduate next May (hopefully) the economy will have gotten better (hopefully) and I’ll land a job that makes me happy. Or, I’ll try my hand at a Phd. Or float around a little more and try my hand at Americorps or Teach for America. Maybe by THEN the economy will have improved.

Is anyone else in the same boat? It would be interesting to hear more personal stories. Why are you in grad school?

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Off-Campus Housing Problems for Graduate Students

I found my house, which is off course off-campus, before I came to US through a Yahoo group for all Chinese people in Morgantown which provides all house, sales, transportation, events, etc information in the Morgantown Chinese community. At that time, I know nothing about Morgantown nor anything about that house. I decided to rent this house once I saw three photos of the house my roommate sent to me. I still think I made that decision too hasty, but luckily everything goes well now.

From what I know, most graduate students live off-campus, but I know several graduate students still live in on-campus, which I think is expensive not only for the rent itself, but also the money spent on eating out due to the inconvenience of cooking at the dorm. I don’t know clearly how American graduate students find their houses, but I think we may face the same problems in WVU.

Transportations and Parking Map near Martin Hall

 1. Car. Most Americans have their own cars, new or used, luxury or for basic use.   I’m still considering whether I should buy a used car. For graduate students, especially for international graduate students, we only need two years to get a degree normally, so you have to think it carefully before you rent a house according to the your “car” situation. Could you afford a car(including maintenance) on a fixed income? Is there any place to park your car both at home and on campus especially in a bad weather? Will the parking be expensive since most of us need to work quite long hours in school?

2. Convenience. WVU has three campuses. If you don’t have a car like myself, the house you rent should be convenient to most places you frequently go to. Thus, I need to find a house either near downtown campus or public transportations(bus or PRT). Now I live in South Park which takes me about 20-minute walk to Jschool and 10-minute walk to the Walnut PRT Station. The Orange 4-South bus line also passes my house. That would be a somewhat convenient place for me. Here you can find the information of WVU Transportations & Parking.

3. Eating. Undergraduate students who mostly live on-campus have meal plans, so  they don’t need to worry about their meals nor cooking themselves. As a graduate student live off-campus, I always cook myself if I have time… Cooking myself is cheaper but takes more time. Buying food ingredients is another thing making me headache. Some good suggestions are provided by my classmates in our previous posts.

5 Tips for Beating the Drive-Time Blues

I spend 8 hours a week commuting to graduate school.  While I would like to move closer to shorten my commute, my wife works near where we live currently, and she too commutes to (a different) school.  Moving in any direction away from where we are now would be impractical, but the drive has not been kind.  The drive killed my 2001 Ford Escort—for 4000 miles I had to shift into neutral when I braked to avoid stalling, and the Escort was not a standard.  Unfortunately, the commute might be killing me as well.

According to an article from ABC News, commuting is associated with a slew of health risks.  “Swedish researchers surveyed 21,000 workers aged 18 to 65, and those who commuted by car or public transit reported more everyday stress, exhaustion, missed work days and generally poorer health compared to the active commuters, according to the study published Oct. 30 in BMC Public Health,” the article said.  The article defines “active commuters” as those who bike or walk to work.

This is consistent with my own commuting experiences.  The drive is draining, especially after an 8 hour work day and a 3 hour night class.  In addition to the stress of commuting, the extended periods of sitting are also unhealthy.

NPR recently interviewed Steven Blair, an epidemiologist, on his study of health risks associated with extended periods of sitting.  NPR notes that, “Specifically, [Blair] found that men who reported more than 23 hours a week of sedentary activity had a 64 percent greater risk of dying from heart disease than those who reported less than 11 hours a week of sedentary activity. And many of these men routinely exercised.”

The problem with sitting, Blair says, is that the largest muscle groups remain inactive for extended periods of time, which ultimately decreases metabolism.  These health risks come in addition to the burden of rising gas prices.  In my area, gas prices are hitting $3.90 a gallon.  I can barely afford graduate school, even with a tuition waiver, and I certainly cannot afford to waste gas or to come down with a serious health condition that requires medical attention.  Medical attention is more expensive than graduate school.

For me, I go from sitting in my car to sitting at a desk to sitting at a desk in class, and until I complete my coursework, I am stuck with this routine.  I have no way to reduce the distance that I am traveling.  However, being aware of this health risks has instilled in me the importance of structuring my life around a healthy lifestyle, which is now a part of my career goals.  As for what I can do now to lessen the stress and financial burden of my commute, I have come up with 5 tips.

1. Podcasts and Audiobooks.  Music and talk radio quickly became dull for me, so I have become a podcast and audiobook addict.  The content is more stimulating than music, and it expands my knowledge horizons.  Seth Godin’s audiobooks are especially relevant to my interests (though they might not be for you), but I think that everyone can get something out of This American Life and Radio Lab, two of the bests podcasts I have found.

2. Carpool.  I was fortunate enough to meet someone in my office that also commutes from my town, and he is a nerd like me.  Splitting driving duties decreases the exhaustion levels, and having a conversation on the drive helps to pass the time more pleasantly, and sharing the cost of gas makes the commute less expensive.

3. Call a friend.  In many cases, my wife and I end up commuting at the same time, so we talk for the hour that we are driving, which keeps my mind active and keeps me from dwelling on the misery of driving (check your local laws for cellphone use while driving).

4. Cruise control and maintenance.  Driving less aggressively (not breaking or accelerating suddenly) can increase fuel economy, and using your cruise control to maintain a constant speed can help your engine function more efficiently.  Also, change your air filters and maintain your tire pressure to increase the efficiency of your engine.

5. Condense your workload.  Initially, I was commuting five days a week.  I spoke to my boss, and he agreed to let me work some of my hours from home, allowing me to fit my 20 hour graduate assistant position and my coursework into four days, cutting my commute time from 10 hours to 8.  This may not be an option for everyone, but it’s worth considering.  The tradeoff is that I spend more time on campus and at work in those four days than most of my peers, but reducing some of stress and saving some money makes the tradeoff well worth it.

Bonus. Strength train.  My friend and fellow grappler Stephan Kesting uses his commute time to do grip training.  I am not that hardcore (yet), but his video demonstrates that we should think more creatively about how we spend our commute time.

Tackling the Market

Supermarket Sweep

Supermarket Sweep!

When I first moved to Morgantown in August, I went to buy pots and pans at Target. On my way to the register, this man approached me and said, “Are you sure you know how to use those?,” just joking with me, of course. He didn’t know I’d been eating on my own for several years by that point, but it was funny nonetheless.

Actually, in a way, it shouldn’t be that funny. It seems like most college students (especially my fellow bachelor friends, whose culinary skills are limited to La Choy and frozen chicken nuggets) don’t really know how or what to cook, much less go to the store. When I’m at Kroger, I notice what other people are buying, and (guys especially) are buying garbage unhealthy products (think Cheese-Its, Mountain Dew, Cup Noodles, cake; oh, and sometimes bread, for a Cheese-It sandwich). Furthermore, it’s often much easier to justify spending a few dollars at a fast food place then to spend the same amount and make your own food (but it’s much healthier to cook yourself, and I prefer to know how my food is handled and made).

For us in grad school, one of the biggest problems being a single student on a fixed income is the challenge of eating well at home without wasting leftovers or spending a ton of money. Most food in supermarkets is not packaged for individuals, and it is hard to justify paying more money for food that can go to waste. Obviously, this topic could be a blog in and of itself, but here are some simple ways I use to cut costs and at least try to adhere to the food pyramid:

-Go to the store like the rest of the world – often. As grad students, this might be a bit difficult to fit in between our assistantships, classes, individual projects, freelance work, drinking socializing, #gradschoolproblems, commuting, trying to get our old cars and computers fixed…the list goes on. But, it’s good to keep your kitchen constantly re-stocked. This way, you won’t need to buy food with a lot of preservatives that’s meant to last through a nuclear war. Additionally, this enables you to buy fresh food more often, and in smaller amounts, meaning that the bananas you bought earlier in the week won’t get rotten. Sundays and Thursdays work best for me, since I have the least amount of work those days.

-Know what you need, and don’t deviate too much. The key to getting through the market is to have a few basic things in mind that you need, like bread, eggs, chicken or fruit. You don’t need to make a huge checklist, but before you leave your efficiency box apartment in the bad colorful part of town, jot down a few things you have run out of, or what you will run out of in the next few days. Once you get to the store, start by going straight for the things you need, but also look around for other things you buy often. For example, at Kroger, sliced turkey lunchmeat has gotten pretty expensive in the past year or so, but probably once a month, it will be on sale for about $2.50 – or four sandwiches for me (two lunches). When that happens, I’ll snag it.

The same is true for other food that is a bit more expensive, don’t buy it unless it’s on sale (or if you absolutely need it).

-For fresh produce, plan ahead for how it can be used. Fruit is something that I always can use without it going bad. But vegetables, it’s a bit different, since I tend to not use a whole green pepper or tomato for one meal. So before I buy those things, I think about how I can use each within 2-3 days. A green pepper, for example, can be used in an omelet, combined with hummus and cucumber for a lunch, used in enchiladas or pizza or can be thrown into pasta sauce.

Or, if you’re not sure of how to use something within a few days, instead of buying fresh vegetables, consider buying half-cans of vegetables. They’re the perfect size for a side dish, and usually cost about 65-75 cents each.

-Swap traditional ingredients for something different, cheaper and/or healthier. Last semester, my new thing to try and make was enchiladas. I found several simple recipes online, most of which wanted me to buy olives, chilies, tomatoes and a number of other ingredients that I probably wouldn’t use until at least some of them went bad. So since salsa is basically the same as all those separate ingredients, I just used salsa instead – and it worked perfectly.

Another thing to try to cut the ridiculous amount of fat or calories from certain foods is to substitute ingredients or buy a healthier alternative. This is particularly easy for dairy products. If you need sour cream – buy the fat-free version. For butter, try Parkay or Smart Balance. And with instant oatmeal, buy the lower sugar version instead of the regular version, which is typically the same price.

-Always, always, always buy store brands. Not only are they cheaper, but the majority of the time, they’re exactly the same as brand-name products. No really. For example, Kroger brand ketchup is just Red Gold ketchup re-branded and packaged differently.

-Murphy’s Dollar(ish) Rule. When I first started shopping and cooking for myself in undergrad, I would just go with the cheapest thing possible. So for bread, I would get the store brand wheat bread. However, I realized that buying multigrain bread (which is better for you and tastes better) is about 50 cents more than regular bread, so now, I go with multigrain. We’re always trying to save money, even those two quarters for better bread. But, I’ve developed a system for buying food that is made healthier versus the run-of-the-mill style.

So, my general rule of thumb is that if something I frequently buy is within a dollar or so more, then I buy the more expensive (but healthier!) item. If it’s something that will take awhile to use, like peanut butter or cheese, then the amount I’m willing to pay extra goes up. But, if something is several dollars more, I’ll go with the cheaper, less-healthy item.

-Organic/local food. This is a problem for us as grad students, because organic food is typically more expensive, and we’re broke. But, it’s great because I’m (hopefully) not putting as many chemicals in my body as with normally-processed  produce. I’ve found that in general, Kroger does a pretty good job of not making organic produce  a whole lot more expensive than regular produce (i.e. organic bananas are usually 10 cents more per pound, bagged apples may be the same price). Obviously, it’s always better to eat fruit and vegetables, organic or not, but less chemicals are always good.

And finally…

-Splurge once in awhile. Attempt to make something new or more involved at least every week or two. Men’s Health usually has a number of great, simple recipes to eat well, both on its website and in print. But, since the magazine (and most other magazines) assume you have lots of money and didn’t go to grad school, keep in mind my point about swapping out ingredients. And no, you don’t need basil or oregano.

Do those spices improve taste? Yes, but that’s more money you’ll be shelling out.

And don’t buy Cheese-Its, Mountain Dew or Cup Noodles.

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Eating Out on a Budget

When graduate students’ finances run low, eating out is a quick and easy luxury to toss out the window. Buying groceries and cooking are oftentimes better options. But depriving yourself of all dining out festivities isn’t any fun, either. Instead, cut some corners so you can still get the dining out experience without feeling like you’ll be filling up on Ramen Noodles for the rest of the month.

Here are some basics:

1. Pick up the coupon booklets at the beginning of the semesterCampus Special makes coupon booklets that give local restaurants and businesses the opportunity to advertise to thousands of students, while students get some cheap, or sometimes free, food. Check out the bookstores on campus or head out to the front of the Mountainlair within the first few days of classes each semester, and you’re sure to see some student interns handing them out to all who pass. Who doesn’t want half off some gelato?

2. Order from DubVmenus: DubVmenus has some pretty great deals from time to time. Check them out before you head to the restaurant to see where the best deal would be. And, they’ll have extra promotions around the beginning of the semester or near exams with weeks like “Eat Cheap Week.”

3. Purchase the RubberU bracelet: This program essentially consists of a one-time fee of $10 that gets you discounts almost everywhere in Morgantown. If you tend to eat out a lot, that fee will certainly pay for itself very quickly.

4. Follow your favorite restaurants on Twitter: No, really, do it. And friend them on Facebook, and check in on FourSquare. You’d be surprised at how many places advertise specials on social media. Why? Because you’re becoming an easy word-of-mouth for them. I’ve had a burger named after me at Tailpipes from using Twitter and multiple discounts when when I’ve checked in on FourSquare. In fact, I think that’s the only reason I keep that app around …

Now onto the main course:

1. Drink Water: Not only will this save you calories with a pop or alcohol, but you’ll also get free refills.

2. Pass on the salad: But they’re good for you! They also have large markups. And avoid the appetizers, too. It’s just added money that would be better suited in your pocket.

3. Get the good stuff: While it’s tempting to pick the cheapest item off the menu when you’re trying to save money, it’s not necessarily the wisest. Why? Because you could probably make the pastas, hamburgers, chicken breast dishes more easily and cheaper. The dishes that contain more expensive ingredients or are more complicated to prepare are still more expensive, but the easy dishes’ prices are brought up to reach some sort of median price range. Food costs account for around 18% of the menu price. So those comfort food dishes are where restaurants are making the money. Opt for the red meat or seafood dishes to make your dollar go further and try something different.

4. Take home doggie bags: If you have a delicious meal at a restaurant, what’s better than having that same meal again without paying for it! I never understood people who don’t eat leftovers. You just saved yourself time, energy, and preparation for your next meal because it’s already sitting in your fridge. Don’t forget the extra bread and sides.

Anybody have any other good tips? Share them in the comments below!


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A Whim and a Debt

I applied to grad school at WVU on a whim, 10 days before the Fall semester started. While I’ll save that story for another day, I will reveal the crux of my first semester of grad school. I applied too late to apply for any graduate assistant position – a plush part-time job with a decent salary and a tuition waiver.

At the time, I wasn’t even sure what a GA did, but looking back on it now, I realize how helpful it would have been. I did find a GA position back in November (but my tuition wasn’t waived until this semester).

Going back to the whim thing I mentioned, I had to apply for financial aid ASAP, and applied for the full amount – enough to cover tuition and some money to live on until I could find a part time job. Needless to say, it was A LOT of money. Money I’ll have to pay back someday, which I will totally be able to afford thanks to my pending MS in Journalism.

One of my worst memories from my 20’s was having to borrow money from my parents. At 26 I had to call mommy and daddy, who relinquished me nearly 10 years ago. While they were proud of me for deciding to go back to school, it was a bitter pill to swallow. Gulp.

Luckily, I have mostly recovered. My GA position at the National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium has brought some more stability into my life, and I have a little cubicle and my very own name plate. I’m learning to balance school, work, and relationships. It’s still a work in progress, but I’m going places. I’ll have a lot of debt to pay off in the long run (undergrad too), but hopefully I land a great job when I graduate with my awesome pending resume. THAT’S what we call #gradschoolproblems