To What Degree
Much attention has been given to the academic sector of the parks and recreation field lately. The benefits, costs, and an array of other issues have generated much chatter through various networks and conversations. While most conversations tend to focus on undergraduate degree options and the updated accreditation standards, it is important to consider the implications this has on graduate programs in the field. For this column, four graduate students in the parks and recreation field eagerly discussed their graduate education. They wanted to open a discussion of their graduate school experience in order to help future students and professionals as they consider a graduate degree in parks and recreation.
How did you decide that you should pursue a graduate degree in parks and recreation?
Pamela Hawkins: My desire to continue my academic career through the leisure program was determined once I spoke with Dr. Deb Jordan [Professor and Department Chair, East Carolina University] at a workshop. Before that discussion I was focused on a PhD in Education; I must admit I am satisfied with my decision of Leisure Studies.
Tatiana Chalkidou: My life-long desire to learn and acquire new skills was the key component in my decision to attend graduate school. I also believed that immersing myself in a new culture would be an eye-opening experience since I was coming from Greece. At that time of my decision, I was working in my family-owned business but it was not enough for me. I could not see myself being in the food and beverage industry for the rest of my life. Pursuing a graduate degree in the United States was the next step to moving forward with my life.
Jody Baker: I came to the decision a bit differently. After working in the recreation industry, I noticed that I was beginning to question some of the ideas and concepts that I learned as an undergraduate. These questions are what ultimately led to me to returning to school for more insight.
Explain any challenges you encountered while pursuing your graduate education that may impact your professional career.
TC: There are great expectations to publish in peer-reviewed journals, yet graduating from a doctoral program does not make you a “writing machine.” To me, being a successful and published author requires not only hard work, but talent.
PH: The thought of explaining my degree (Leisure Studies) was unusual. Considering that I never had to explain my Masters in Education; many people thought it was a wonderful degree. I am not saying they really understood a leisure studies degree, either; but I now have a summary as well as a detailed purpose of my degree memorized so that when people ask, I can go through the script.
Michael Bradley: I think the most difficult part for me was looking four years into the future. “Where do I want to be when I graduate?” was a decision that I was not remotely close to answering. I think it is best to seek out a program with a philosophy that is consistent with what you hope to do.
JB: I think many people believe that graduating from a graduate school will magically make them a professional. Not so. I have found it is not the school work that transitions you from a student to a professional. It is all the other work not on my plan of study that has developed me into a professional, such as research projects, presentations, and working with state and local associations.
How has the economy affected your transition from a student to a professional?
MB: The economy has made it difficult. While I cannot blame anyone for their personal choices, it seems that tenured employees are staying in their positions longer than expected. During times of economic difficulty, more people pursue education. The economy has demanded that I do more to make sure I highlight myself when compared to other applicants for any position I apply for.
JB: The current job market is tight and full of qualified applicants. A few years ago a Masters Degree and a couple years of experience meant a great number of possibilities. Currently, the big attraction is not an advanced degree but more years of experience. Employers are looking for people to “do more with less” and see job experience as the key criteria.
PH: I believe the economy has removed the blinders from my eyes. The job offers are not out there as much as in the past; therefore, being “choosy” is not an option. I see graduates working harder to differentiate themselves from their competition.
As a graduate student, what advice would give to students as they join the parks and recreation profession?
MB: I enjoy being involved, so it is easy for me to say that I think it is important and that you should seek out those opportunities. The bottom line: professional organizations want and need people who are willing to be leaders and are willing to do some work. Professional organizations serve a multitude of purposes, but for me, it is a matter of consistently being in communication with people who are the best in my field of study. These are the people willing to do what’s needed to help the profession in any way possible. Seek out involvement in a variety of places and do not be shy about voicing your availability and willingness to help.
JB: Like Mike said, get involved in your local, state, and national organizations. Seek out people in these organizations who share a similar focus. They will be able to give you a framework for success and also are valuable networking contacts. Success is what we all strive for.
Is there any advice you would give to yourself if you could start the graduate school experience over?
MB: Do some internal dialogue. I would ask myself one question: “Considering my professional and personal goals; is going to graduate school more beneficial than getting practical experience?” Answering this question may help quite a few people. My other advice would be to intentionally create and foster bonds between people you meet throughout your graduate school experience. I cannot count how many times those connections have helped me out personally and professionally.
PH: I think I can summarize: Be purposeful in everything you do.
Jody Baker recently completed his Master's Degree in Recreation Management at Oklahoma State University.Michael Bradley is a doctoral student at Oklahoma State University.Tatiana Chalkidouis a post-doctoral fellow at Oklahoma State University.Pam Hawkins is a doctoral student at Oklahoma State University.