Q & A with track leaders and student government

Originally published: 
December, 2018

Above photo, from left, first row:
Lexi Brewer, Environmental Policy and Planning Track Leader, Michelle Farhat, Sustainable Systems Track Leader, Karen Goldburg, Student Government Academics Chair, Zoë Goodrow, Conservation Ecology Track Leader, Edie Juno, Conservation Ecology Track Leader

From left, second row:
Juliana Lisuk, Behavior, Education, & Communication Track Leader, Thomas Makled, Environmental Policy & Planning Track Leader, Allison Miller, Student Government Community Chair, Abhijeet Walchale, Sustainable Systems Track Leader, Ari Weil, Behavior, Education, & Communication Track Leader

Conservation Ecology Track Leader Edie Juno reached out to fellow track leaders and colleagues in student government to gather some helpful advice for those considering graduate schools. She also asked them to share a few of their experiences leading up to their decision to come to SEAS.


"Choosing the right graduate program isn’t easy," said Edie Juno, "All of us emerge from different backgrounds, shaped by unique experiences. Understanding the challenges, opportunities, and even the culture of a potential graduate degree program can facilitate the decision-making process."

Below are excerpts from Juno's conversations with students.

Q: How did you know that you wanted to do a Master’s Degree?

A: Juliana Lisuk: I knew I wanted to gain more "tools" in how I understood and acted upon environmental issues. Specifically, I wanted to learn more about the foundations of environmental education and how human decision making plays a role in environmental impacts.

A: Allison Miller: After working for a few years since getting my Bachelor’s degree, I realized it was time to expand my skill sets and knowledge base in the sustainability space through a Master’s degree. I had reached a point in my professional life where a stronger understanding of renewable energy systems was crucial to advancing my career. I needed more hands-on practice applying various sustainability solutions before pivoting my career to enter into the private sector working with companies on their renewable energy strategies. I knew a Master’s of Science degree would provide me with both the technical energy knowledge I needed as well as practical understanding of how to work with the various stakeholders in the sustainability space.

A: Lexi Brewer: I always knew that I was going to go to grad school - but I wasn't sure if that would be a Master's or PhD. I love research but wanted to get my Master's first to help clarify which direction I wanted to take in life (still working on it - but it’s much more clear now!)


Q: Why did you choose SEAS at U-M?

A: Abhijeet Walchale: My intent to come to grad school was to broaden my perspective outside of the energy and power domain. I looked for programs that provided a more holistic view of sustainability in organizations, including utilities. SEAS stood out in the list with the variety of backgrounds that people come from and the variety of classes offered in the school.

A: Karen Goldburg: I was motivated by the opportunity to take courses in other renowned graduate programs across the U-M campus, such as the Ross School of Business, the School of Social Work, and the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. In May 2019, I now will be graduating with a Master's degree that demonstrates both a clear understanding of Western conservation issues and thorough expertise in nonprofit leadership.

A: Michelle Farhat: I chose U-M because of the dual degree with SEAS and engineering. As someone with a technical background, I wanted a more holistic learning experience when it came to renewable energy, so I wanted to find a program where I could learn about both the technical and social aspects of the field.

A: Lexi Brewer: It was attractive as part of the larger U-M network and resources, but SEAS had the small-school feel that I really love. It's also super interdisciplinary with is essential for tackling sustainability challenges.


Q: What were you doing before graduate school?

A: Michelle Farhat: Before grad school I took a gap year, spending the first half of the year working at a regional transmission organization (RTO), and the second half as an intern with the Peruvian-based NGO, WindAid Institute, teaching volunteers how to build small-scale wind turbines that were then installed in rural communities that had little-to-no electricity.

A: Zoë Goodrow: I went straight from being an undergrad at U-M to grad school. Not having a break between undergrad and grad school did make me feel very burned out, and I wouldn't recommend it. I sometimes wish I had had a few years of working field technician jobs before going to grad school, but I don't regret my decision.


Q: Do you have any advice on funding your studies for prospective students?

A: Karen Goldburg: Remember that you'll miss out on 100% of the funding that you don't apply for!  Don't discount your unique interests, abilities, or skillsets as they pertain to a specific fellowship or scholarship opportunity.  Many programs want to see applications from a diversity of students, and you never know when your passion is going to stand out as one worth funding. Going through these opportunities early will allow you to flag opportunities that could pertain to you, and to adequately prepare for applying to them.

A: Allison Miller: As an out of state student, funding my graduate school education was a huge barrier for me. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how much Michigan was able to contribute to my education. Even if you don’t receive funding prior to coming to campus, there are abundant opportunities as soon as you arrive.  Just in my first year, I have received funding from four different sources ranging from fellowships to scholarships and am still pursuing opportunities to apply for more. Funding opportunities are made available to you on a regular basis and make financing your years at SEAS much more manageable.

A: Juliana Lisuk: My advice would be to apply for all opportunities that you are eligible for. Oftentimes students are too busy and miss deadlines for scholarships, so the applicant pool can be low and the chances high. Also, connect with your professors and make sure they know you as a student if you are interested in being a GSI or GSRA for them. It helps to have taken the class if possible.


Q: What do you wish you had known before applying to or starting graduate school?

A: Juliana Lisuk: I wish I had had more confidence in myself. I was fearful that I would know the least out of my classmates and that I wasn't smart enough to be in graduate school, but that wasn't the case at all. Everyone is entering with the same fears and doubts about themselves. I also wish I had known how easy it is to do a dual-track, as I might have taken required courses for another track as well as BEC.

A: Zoë Goodrow:  I recommend exploring different jobs in the workforce before applying to graduate school. Your interests change a lot in these formative years. Especially if lack of funding is a concern, I highly recommend working for a few years so you can make an informed decision about what exactly you want to get your master's degree in.

Q: What do you think of the community, in SEAS and in Ann Arbor?

A: Ari Weil: The SEAS community is great! Going to the Biostation during orientation sets the tone for the year and everyone is super friendly. The campus is beautiful during all four seasons and there are a lot of fun places to explore.

A: Juliana Lisuk: SEAS has a great community of folks. Staff, faculty, and students all work to create a strong sense of community within the school. The students at SEAS often have social events both affiliated with the school and outside of it.

A: Allison Miller: Once you are a part of SEAS you become part of a close-knit group that is both diverse yet motivated by a common goal. I always enjoy hearing what my peers are working on and am eager to hear their unique insights into my own work. The Dana Building has become a second home for me and all my classmates have become my closest friends.


Q: What has been the greatest challenge about graduate school?

A: Karen Goldburg: For me, it has been very difficult to accept the fact that I am in a program that is only two years long! There are so many courses I want to take, programs I want to get involved with, and work experiences I want to apply for. However, it's been important for me to be realistic about time and commitments, and how much bandwidth I really have. Graduate school requires a lot of ordering tasks and deadlines, picking and choosing among a diversity of opportunities, and learning how to say "no" to something new when you've already maximized your time for the day. In this way, time management is not as much a challenge in graduate school as time prioritization is. 

A: Thomas Makled: The greatest challenge about grad school is managing multiple responsibilities and doing them well! It's important to be intentional about carving out personal time, and not over-stressing about the little things.


Q: What has been your best experience in graduate school?

A: Lexi Brewer: Being a [graduate student instructor for the core ecology course] has been tremendously rewarding. It's also always great to just be around this great group of students and scholars that are all so supportive.

A: Karen Goldburg: I am involved in the Dow Sustainability Fellowship program, which is housed in the Graham Sustainability Institute and allows for graduate students from schools and programs across the U-M campus to engage in collaborative activities and a substantial interdisciplinary team project. Through this year-long fellowship, I have been working with graduate students to evaluate the processes by which large-scale development projects in Detroit currently engage local communities in development planning and decision-making. The project has greatly complemented my graduate studies, and has served as a unique means by which I can market myself as a collaborative and forward-thinking sustainability leader.  

A: Abhijeet Walchale: International exposure might be my favourite aspect of graduate school.

A: Thomas Makled: My best experience in grad school has been the ability to explore ideas and questions amongst a supportive community of scholars.