I have been lax, I have notes from a handful more sessions from Shmoocon V last month. This one, Storming the Ivy Tower, was presented by Sandy “Mouse” Clark. I chatted with Sandy at Shmoocon two years ago and shared that audio on the podcast. She’s a systems programmer, a lock picker, and now a graduate student.
She used her experiences in grad school to talk about unconventional ways to get admitted and how to approach academic publishing, as a hacker. I like the way she stared by characterizing the psychology of the relationship between schools and potential students. Universities have brands, they are mostly interested building and protecting them. Applicants by contrast are largely anonymous. Schools often select applicants they feel can enhance their brand. The application essays are your chance to shine, to sell your own brand, how to adds to the school’s. The standardized tests have already been hacked, use the tools available so you can concentrate your efforts on selling yourself.
She also touched on financial packages. Some schools are responding to criticisms about financial burdens on students. This is a topic Kevin Crosby has also discussed on Life After Law School. Many schools are now trying to reduce the loan load. It is worth asking and pushing to see what is possible in terms of support and assistance.
Moust then pointed out how many schools are also starting to cater to adult students. This should make the non-financial logistics easier to manage, too. Expect this trend to accelerate with the bad economy.
On publishing, she compared academic papers to hacker white papers. Mostly the difference boils down to citations, authors and peer review. At this point in her presentation, her adviser (and the key note speaker) Matt Blaze chimed in a bit. He spoke mostly about the working life of grad students. He also filled in from his perspective on the process of securing grants and how that affects the wage he is able to offer his students.
Just the notion, and encouragement, to approach graduate school like a hacker was really exciting to me. If I ever get off my own behind and make a serious go of more advanced education, I’ll definitely bear Mouse’ greate advice in mind.