Graduate School vs World of Warcraft (Part 1): Explaining The Path to Graduate Studies Thru the MMORPG Game

Graduate studies are one of those endeavours that if you haven’t experienced it yourself, you don’t know what to expect. Graduate school doesn’t have an exact real-world counterpart, unless you are in the sciences, where you may go onto a scientific research career. But for the most part, graduate school is an unknown, where anecdotes from other graduate students or humourous comics are the only window into the illusive world of academia.

Not All Graduate Programs are Alike

Many Bachelor of Arts or Education undergraduate students I speak to often seem to think that all graduate degrees are alike, and the path to finishing the degree looks the same across the board. Yet, in reality, there are various paths that one can take in their graduate degree, and more importantly, many variables that affect the factors that come to play in the course of their graduate studies.  For anyone planning to start a graduate degree, and is wondering what to expect during the beginning of their degree, the best analogy I can use to describe starting the graduate school experience is the example of playing the massively multi-player online role-playing game, World of Warcraft. Yes, you heard me, World of Warcraft.

I will explain the initial steps of applying to graduate school in Part 1, and the actual journey of commencing graduate school in Part 2.

Applying to Graduate School versus Starting to Play World of Warcraft

The first step one takes in their graduate studies is to decide to apply to a graduate program, typically a Masters degree. This is in the same line of the thought as World of Warcraft (WoW), as one has to decide to purchase or subscribe to the game.

Next in WoW, one has to download and install the incessant amount of updates and patches that need to be applied to the game on your computer before being able to commence opening the log-in page. Again, graduate studies is similar, as one has to go through the motions of preparing all the paperwork, obtaining reference letters, intended research proposal essays, and other administrative items that need to be attached to each graduate school application one needs to submit to their school(s) of choice.

Important Factor: The Application Fine-details and small updates

World of Warcraft: Just when you think that you have updated every new patch and have the most recent version of the Game, you are prompted at log-in that there is a new patch that needs to be applied. Or even worse, you are notified in your email inbox or on Kotaku.com that there is a new expansion pack! ARGH!
Graduate School: Well, I hate to say it, graduate school applications are much the same. Even once you have dotted all your i’s and crossed all your t’s, obtained reference letters, written the essays, filled out the online applications with far too many parts, you will inevitably run into one document or piece of information that is missing from your application. In the best case scenario, you find that small minuscule missing attachment before you mail off/submit the entire package to the graduate department. Worst case scenario (I’ve heard from a colleague), your entire application is thrown away and you have to re-do everything…

Important Factor: Expectations and Due Diligence

World of Warcraft: Again, World of Warcraft is much the same as graduate school, as you have specific expectations of what you will be doing during your Game/degree. Though, you can avoid many of the disappointments of new updates or expansion packs in WoW by just ignoring them (see the upcoming expansion pack “Mysts of Pandaria” for what I mean by odd and dissapointing - seriously, if it was April 1st, I world have thought it was an April Fools joke). Graduate school requires reasonable expectations, yet more importantly, keep up to date and do your research on your graduate program. You don’t want to mistakenly apply for a graduate degree in Middle-Earth History, when you think you are applying to a program about Middle-Ages History.
Graduate School: An important factor in the process of applying to graduate school is to contact the program or investigate it thoroughly to understand the expectations of the program. Many times, the school websites may not have the most up to date information on what the coursework, thesis or course offerings are about, and the last thing you want to do is find out after submitting your whole application, that the program doesn’t offer the topics, courses or professors that you were initially interested in!

Important Choices: Faction/School

World of Warcraft: Choose the faction you want to play – Alliance or Horde. Inevitably, this then influences the type of character you can play, Alliance: Humans, dwarves, gnomes, night elves, dranei and the Horde: Orcs, trolls, tauren, undead, blood elves. Each of these character races holds their own strengths and weaknesses, choose carefully, as this will affect who you are associating with.

Graduate School: Choose the school and department you want to apply to. Inevitably, this then influences the types of opportunities you will have for professors, research opportunities, funding, course offerings and the colleagues you will associate with. You need to choose carefully, as this will follow you along for the rest of your graduate career, and can affect your future job field possibilities. In WoW, choosing your character faction based on being able to play and associate with friends isn’t a bad thing. On the other hand, choosing your graduate program based on where your friends are applying is not recommended.

Important Choices: Character Class/Specialization or Field

World of Warcraft: Choosing your character class (e.g. Warrior, Paladin, Rogue, Mage) affects the types of things you can do in-game and what talents you can hone. It is based on the faction (Alliance or Horde) that you originally chose. While changing your faction is possible, it is costly (money) and really, just make up your mind ahead of time.

Graduate School: 
Choosing the specialization for your degree affects the types of courses you will take, and ultimately the types of knowledge and skills you will gain from your degree. While changing your specialization after the fact is possible, it is costly (wastes time in your graduate studies) and again, really, just do your research ahead of time, or take a directed/independent readings/studies course if you really wanted to study that topic that isn’t offered as a regular class.

Only the beginning… see Part 2 for the in-Game aspects of graduate school

The application to graduate school is really only the first part of the process, a step to getting into the “game” of graduate studies. If you get accepted your programs of choice, you still have to hope for a supervisor that will compliment your learning and research style.  Unlike World of Warcraft, where you can just create a new character if you didn’t like your old one, you probably wouldn’t want to just drop out and try again in a different department. Be diligent in your program research and be sure to get your facts straight – ask questions!

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  1. Graduate School vs World of Warcraft (Part 2): Explaining The Path to Graduate Studies Thru the MMORPG Game | dccp's Guide - March 21, 2012

    [...] Note: This post is a continuance of Part 1 Graduate School vs World of Warcraft (Part 1): Explaining The Path of Graduate Studies Thru t… [...]

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