November 5, 2021

Perspectives on Pursuing a Graduate Degree in Child and Family Policy

By: Bella Larsen, Public Policy and Psychology student '23

The Careers in Child and Family Policy speaker series hosted a graduate student panel that provided the group with the pleasure of hearing from Gayane Baziyants (Ph.D. Candidate, Sanford School of Public Policy), Maya Escueta (Postdoctoral Associate, Sanford School of Public Policy), Liza Rodler (MPP Candidate, Sanford School of Public Policy), and Adam Stanaland (Ph.D. Candidate, Sanford School of Public Policy and Department of Psychology and Neuroscience) about their journeys from undergraduate studies to graduate school. All of the panelists are pursuing careers in child and family policy.

Each of the speakers conveyed an overarching sense of excitement about the many different ways that work, school, and curiosities can fit into the world of child and family policy. Being able to take what you are curious and passionate about and pursue it in school and in a career is something that many of us strive to do, but it can often feel challenging to find opportunities that allow us to follow our curiosities. Gayane, Maya, Liza, and Adam shared their various experiences with navigating the process of the transition from undergraduate studies to graduate school while keeping in touch with values and a sense of curiosity about the world.

The full panel shared an emphasis on self-reflection and connecting to personal values when making the decision about how to best pursue work that you are passionate about and continue to grow as a person and a learner. Sometimes that means attending graduate school, but it can also mean finding meaningful work in another capacity.

All experiences before graduate school have the potential to build skills that can bolster the ability to succeed and thrive as a graduate-level student.

An important lesson that these graduate students shared was that all experiences before graduate school have the potential to build skills that can bolster the ability to succeed and thrive as a graduate-level student. Hearing about each distinct experience was really informative about the different pathways to graduate school and how they can be so meaningful:

  • Gayane’s experience at Child Trends helped her gain invaluable research skills and affirmed her interest in child and family policy.
  • Maya’s work as a professional dancer, her work with kids in many different capacities, and her work with the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) in India helped her develop a skill set for ways of solving issues of child policy across many different dimensions.
  • Liza’s work with MEF Associates helped her form a new perspective on public policy as a way of putting research to action.
  • Adam’s teaching job and subsequent work with the New York City Department of Education helped him see issues of child and family policy from a teacher’s perspective and a policy perspective and fostered an interest in the intersection of policy and psychology.

Getting to hear the wide range of possibilities for putting our interests in child and family policy into action after our undergraduate years was exciting, and it reaffirmed the notion that there are many diverse ways of doing so. It was really inspirational to hear the personal stories as they made the transition from undergraduate to graduate studies. It was also great to hear the tips they shared about navigating this transition. I learned a new perspective on what it means to make the decision to go to graduate school. As the panel described their processes for determining whether to return to school, they all expressed a logic of reflecting on whether you have all of the skills to do the work you most want to do. Thinking critically and deeply in an impact-oriented way about going to graduate school was new for me, and something that I will carry with me as I go on to work after I graduate.

The graduate students offered insight on how to determine your strengths and operate within the child and family policy sphere while maximizing your ability to make a meaningful impact on issues that you care about. Maya phrased it eloquently when she described the policy world as an “ecosystem,” in which each individual brings a unique set of skills to the table. Learning how to reflect on your own capacity to make change is challenging, but something that is crucial as we learn and grow, and eventually as we prepare to build a career in child and family policy.

I am so grateful for the opportunity to have heard from Gayane, Maya, Liza, and Adam, and for their willingness to take time out of their busy graduate-student schedules to talk with the group. The panel was inspirational, and I am so excited about their work, where they have been, and where they are heading.