More school years


Blacksburg, Va February 2017 – Virginia Tech’s graduate life center serves as the flagship building for the school’s graduate studies.

by Erik van Pelt–

February before sunrise is hard enough without a 40-minute drive and a 7 a.m. flight to an unfamiliar city, but Virginia Tech senior Emily Martin diligently traveled from Blacksburg to Roanoke to Cleveland before her first cup of coffee.

“It’s important, I feel like, as a scientist, to grow as a person and to go outside of your comfort zone and look at programs that are different from what you’re used to,” Martin said reflecting on her solo journey to Cleveland.

During her sophomore year at Virginia Tech, Martin began realizing the practicality of an advanced degree in microbiology.

According to, graduate school enrollment has been steadily increasing over the last five years in the United States. A graduate degree has, in essence, become a baseline employment standard for many in STEM disciplines. However, Martin maintains passion rather than necessity fuels her graduate degree pursuit.

Selecting a graduate school is a passionate devotion, rather than the wide net, compromising process of selecting an undergraduate institution. Martin said she looked mainly at the type of environment the school is going to provide while considering undergraduate options. Virginia Tech emerged as the best environment, and while Martin says she loves Blacksburg, she also says she’s ready to move on.

Conversely, Virginia Tech senior, Joe Novak will complete his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering this spring before extending his time in Blacksburg pursuing an engineering master’s degree. “It’s a great program here, and I’m familiar with the people I’ll be working with. Knowing the school and the area is a plus,” Novak said. Virginia Tech is a high caliber destination for graduate students of engineering like Novak, but less so for a microbiologist like Martin.

After a weekend at Case Western Reserve University Martin was so infatuated with the Molecular Medicine Ph.D. program that she missed her return flight to Blacksburg in favor a few extra hours in Cleveland. Upon her return, she had only superlative praise for CWRU.


Blacksburg, Va February 2017 – Emily Martin works on a lab report, catching up on work after a weekend in Cleveland.

Paths and approaches to graduate school vary as such with Martin and Novak and countless others. However, they all share the unifying characteristics of passion and desire.

Learn more about the experience and emotions of applying to graduate school through the voice of Martin on The News Feed’s Soundcloud!