Frustrations and joys on the path to grad school


I went to UC Irvine for my undergraduate degree, and majored in political science. I entered college via a community college, with the original plan of going to medical school and becoming an MD. I had done abysmally poor in high school, never thinking that there was anything there that I was interested in, but after working for a few years on an ambulance, I thought medicine was the way to go.

Like many people out there, my original plan didn’t work out. I transferred to UCI as a biology major with a continually falling GPA in the sciences, and an overwhelming sense of doom and depression. I didn’t know what to do, but after burnout and the unpleasant discovery that I just was not cut out for chemistry and calculus, I settled on political science.

I always had an interest in world politics and political theory, so that major worked well for me as an undergrad. I got involved in the only activist campus group and became really passionate about a lot of social justice causes. That kept me pretty busy while at UCI. Anyone who has ever been to Irvine, or anywhere in mid-to-south Orange County, knows how conservative the area tends to be, so I had plenty of work cut out for me, with my left-leaning sensibilities.

Unfortunately, I didn’t put much thought into what I would do once I graduated from UCI. The reason for this was that I really didn’t have much of an idea of what was out there for me as a college grad with a social science degree. As it turned out, not a whole lot. I vaguely thought I would go on to some sort of graduate program, perhaps a doctorate program or law school.

Unfortunately, however, I was not that passionate or focused enough for a doctorate program, and it showed in my applications and GRE score. I was not accepted into any of the programs I applied for, and I knew I didn’t have the drive to jump through all the hoops necessary to apply to law school. So I spent two years pretty much lost, trying out different fields of work, none of which really fit.

I applied to CSUN’s history department’s graduate program, not really knowing why. I knew I loved history and wanted to have a more comprehensive, fact-oriented grasp on it than I got out of my political science education, but I didn’t really know where a master’s in history would take me.

I have always loved journalists and journalism, and found it interesting. I thought it was exciting that journalists had the ability and opportunity to learn about a wide variety of interesting subjects as part of their jobs. About halfway through my program here, I discovered the Daily Sundial, and have been writing for the paper ever since.

This is how I managed to find my path in life, and even though it is not as straight-forward as one would expect, I would have never found it if I didn’t apply for graduate school here. I have yet to find out how much of a benefit my master’s will be in finding a job with a newspaper after I graduate this June. I have just started applying for jobs, and I don’t yet know what the outcome will be. But I am glad I gained the knowledge I did here.

My main area of focus was the Middle East, and I feel that, because of the high quality of my professors, particularly my adviser, I have a better and more thorough understanding of the topic than most people and feel competent enough to take on the news stories that will certainly be assigned me in relation to the region. I also feel that my research skills and ability to read rapidly have been great benefits to me as a potential professional journalist. Being a graduate student could be extremely stressful, particularly this semester, as I finished my exams, but in the end, I am very, very glad I did it.

Bethania Palma can be reached at