A lot of people have asked me since I've come back how graduate school is and what differences I see between it and college. Well first off, yes, they are indeed quite different. Especially personally for me, I went from having design as a side passion to my bread and butter. I'm doing it 24/7 in one way or another. That immersive experience can be both challenging (sometimes I can't stand to look at a laptop screen for 24 hours a day) to highly rewarding (designing something that is meaningful to the world).
On a social level, graduate school is an isolating experience. Living in Pittsburgh, in the cold, without a car, is definitely difficult. The commute from home to school and school to home is some of the only time I spend outside. Being immersed in work all the time, it's especially hard to find the time (or even the events) to engage with new people.
On a personal level, graduate school has been a hard transition from undergrad. It is a different kind of lifestyle entirely; one in which you are independent of any real bonds and it's your responsibility/on your initiative to do what you want. If I had lived off-campus during Rice, it might have been an easier transition at least in terms of the cooking and commuting aspects. I also think that finding your identity after college is also a difficult task. It's hard not to talk about yourself in relation to your friends or different events/happenings in college because that was the bubble that you were in for 4 years. After college, you are no longer immersed. It becomes a kind of free-for-all, or other people call it "being an adult".
On an academic level, CMU is obviously a great school. There is a large emphasis on process. This is great because it means that they teach you to think. However, the undergrad's focus is on craft, which is something I would personally really like to work on. Studio and prototyping were two of the most frustrating classes for me, although I got through them. Teaching styles are definitely hard to match with students.
One thing that I noticed is that in design school we have this tendency to ONLY talk about design- whether we are going out or we are in class. This is great, cause it shows we are passionate and obviously our lives are seeped into design. But on the other hand, I wonder what we will be like after graduate school. Just like after college, are we going to have trouble talking to other people? Are we going to fulfill the elitist-designer-stereotype? It's not intentional, but is it inevitable?
Another thing I've noticed is that everyone in design school is a workaholic. Day, night, sleep, no-sleep, we are always working, fulfilling the graduate-student-stereotype. But as designers (can't use the word creatives or people get antsy), shouldn't we also be experiencing the world we are designing for? As fine arts majors in undergrad, we were constantly harangued about going out into Houston and experiencing the cultural scene. However, in Pittsburgh, I have not been encouraged to go out once (except for taking photos for a project). I find this a very odd perspective for a school who boasts of human-centered design.
With all that said, I can't believe that my first semester of graduate school is already over. It was a whirlwind experience- I can only remember bits and parts at times. I'm glad that my gamble with grad school did pay off. While the beginning of this year were the 3 most stressful months of my life, I'm glad that I ended up in Pittsburgh (I will say that I have learned to dress more fashionably in winter wear in the last two months). 2013 whizzed by, and I hope that 2014 is filled with happy memories.