Pondering Life after Grad School by Mary Hales

The Caffeinated Flutist, Vol. 15 - Pondering Life After Grad School

Hey there, flute-trepreneurs!

As you all probably know, I have one year of graduate school left at the University of Missouri before I earn my two Masters degrees in Flute Performance and Music Theory. With that May deadline fast approaching, a lot of people have been asking me what my plans are for after school. Truthfully, I’m not entirely sure what those plans might be!

When I started my graduate degree in Performance, I planned to spend two years at Mizzou, go somewhere else for a Ph.D. in Music Theory, and get an academic job somewhere I could teach both subjects. Now that I’ve almost completed that degree and decided to take on another, that plan has morphed a little bit—the Ph.D. was always on my mind because I didn’t know what else to do in order to get a job. I’m the child of a Ph.D. scientist, and my sister is in a Ph.D. program of her own. From the outside, it always seemed like something I would do, but I’ve realized that a Ph.D. is not a degree to complete when you don’t know what else to do, and it may not be something I would need going forward. Many successful musicians, my own teacher included, do not have terminal degrees in their field, and they still hold the kinds of jobs I look at and see myself doing well in.

So, with that in mind, let’s talk about a few things to consider when pondering life after grad school:

Where do you see yourself in five years?

If you’re like me, you either have a lot of trouble answering this question, you completely hate it, or you are some combination of the two. Part of the reason I hate this question is because I struggle to answer it, but it’s an important idea to consider. Graduate school is meant to equip you for a career that you’ll spend the rest of your life doing, and five-year goals give you time to plan ahead, pace yourself and the work you’re doing, and overcome potential setbacks (barring catastrophe).

Are you satisfied with doing what you are doing?

If you’re the kind of person who loves academic life, then pursuing a job in academia after graduation might be a great thing to do. If you aren’t the biggest fan of school and/or don’t want to live your life by the academic calendar, then look for jobs that you know will satisfy your needs. How much interaction with people do you want? How much are you looking to gig every week/month/year? Do you want to start a side hustle? These are all things to consider and weigh for yourself.

Don’t be afraid to look in unlikely places outside your comfort zone.

My first trip over the Atlantic Ocean was in 2014, right after my freshman year of undergrad. I spent two weeks in Belgium with my best friend, and ever since then, I’ve known that I want to go back to Europe at least semi-permanently. An advantage of looking outside the United States is the possibility of a more competitive job market, higher density of available jobs, and more performance opportunities both in an ensemble and as a freelancer. After the MU Wind Ensemble’s trip to Europe this past May, my best friend and I have talked about finding jobs in Germany together and making every best friend’s dream come true—seeing each other more than once every three years! That said…

Think big, but don’t forget to be practical.

If I want to live and work in Germany in the near future, there will be lots of practical things to think about.  Assuming I won an audition and got a job I wanted, as an American citizen, I would have to get an EU work permit, learn a new language, and coordinate with my best friend across the pond about finding a place to live. Those aren’t insurmountable hurdles, but they require foresight, problem-solving, and planning ahead, which we’ve all certainly learned in our graduate school years!


That’s all for now, folks! See you next time!

Flutist Mary Hales is a native of Conway, Arkansas, currently studying under Alice K. Dade at the University of Missouri School of Music for her Masters in Flute Performance, and Dr. Neil Minturn for her Masters in Music Theory. Follow more of her writing at maryhalesflute.wordpress.com; find her on social media with the handle @maryhalesflute.

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