Graduate Student Success Stories
Giorgio Morales, MS in computer science from MSU and Ph.D. student in the same program, is a Peruvian graduate student. Having gotten a BS in mechatronic engineering, he changed his academic path to computer science when working as a researcher at a national university in Peru.
“Although I had majored in mechatronic engineering, my job made me feel more inclined toward programming, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, so I decided that is what I wanted to do. However, I was stuck at some point because I felt the need to expand my knowledge in this field that was new to me. That is when I decided to pursue graduate studies in computer science abroad,” he commented.
With his new interests clear and his participation in precision agriculture and environmental monitoring projects back in Peru, he started to consider research a purpose-driven career.
“I liked the idea that my research had a beneficial impact on society, so I started looking for universities working on similar research projects. Then I found that MSU, surrounded by natural marvels and technified agriculture, is suitable for this type of research. More importantly, I found really interesting ongoing research projects carried out by the School of Computing, the Optical Technology Center, and the College of Agriculture,” said Morales.
Even if he faced some challenges at the beginning, like taking graduate-level courses in a different area from his undergraduate major, he got the faculty’s support to feel confident and grateful to the professionals who guided him through this process. Giorgio Morales started the program as a Teaching Assistant and soon became a Research Assistant, a job that led him to write four conference papers and two journal papers and make the most of his program.
He is now fully working on an important national multidisciplinary precision agriculture project and has been helping with some classes in the Gianforte School of Computing, as well as enhancing his knowledge about Computer Science and participating in some community-related events.
“Life as a graduate student has many different opportunities. There are several graduate seminars you can attend and be part of; I consider that a wonderful opportunity to connect with your peers on an academic level. There are also cultural and social activities that help you to balance life and connect with other people from diverse backgrounds, which is always a learning opportunity,” pointed out.
Giorgio also recommended some advice for incoming and prospective grad students: “I would recommend asking as many questions as possible. You will find that there are a lot of opportunities on campus that can help you in many ways. You can find people that can give you advice on academic issues, organizations that care about your mental health, food scholarships, recreation activities, people that help international students, and much more.”
“Stick with it, meet with professors when you’re feeling lost in the content; MSU wants to see you succeed! Use the University resources. Also, apply for fellowships and grants, they are out there, and the Office of Research Development has resources to help graduate students.”
Tracy Gatlin, born and raised in Montana, is a current graduate student. Besides her studies in the Master’s in Public Administration program, she is a full-time employee of the Office of Research Development at MSU and a mom of two wonderful kids. After earning her bachelor's degree in Elementary Education, and getting diverse job experiences, Tracy decided to get more involved with the research field.
“My student teaching was difficult and after graduation finding a local teaching job came with fierce competition. I eventually found employment elsewhere and made my way through a variety of jobs to Seattle then Boston without any real career direction. In Boston, I wound up working as an administrative assistant in a collaborative laboratory building housing researchers from multiple Harvard teaching hospitals,” she commented.
After working within the Division of infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, Gatlin came back to Montana to raise her first child and to start a position at MSU in 2019. The desire for a better position and especially because of the new worldwide challenges, Tracy Gatlin started to think about an advanced degree more seriously. Moreover, she considered the benefits she would get as an MSU full-time employee.
“I have been always connected with MSU, from great grandparents, parents, and my own undergraduate degree. As a full-time employee my tuition is fully waived, which makes the opportunity much more accessible,” Tracy expressed.
Facing some challenges like time management, stress, and the gap between her bachelor’s, she has gotten a name in her program and among her peers as being an in-career graduate student. Gatlin commented that she has reduced those difficulties by prioritizing, applying for and being awarded with the child care scholarship MSU provides, and by frequently visiting the Writing Center to feel more confident and comfortable.
Being a grad student demands time and focus, but she finds ways to participate in some activities around campus and the Bozeman community. “If I can make time, I try to attend things like the welcome picnic. Our family is a host family through the friends of international students' program established this year in OIP, so we include another PhD student in our family activities as much as possible.”
Finally, she left a message for our future Bobcats. “Stick with it, meet with professors when you’re feeling lost in the content; MSU wants to see you succeed! Use the University resources. Also, apply for fellowships and grants, they are out there, and the Office of Research Development has resources to help graduate students,” Tracy recommended.
“This program supported me as I reached for the stars to create my thesis film. I was able film dolphins in Australia and work with two major environmental non-profits based within the US and Australia during the pandemic. The lessons from this program allowed me to successfully crowdfund my thesis film and write grants that helped me get to Australia. One grant that I applied for and received was the Professional Travel Grant provided by MSU to graduate students who need help financing the costs of travel for different graduate work.”
Olivia Andrus, a graduate student in the Science and Natural History Filmmaking Program and the owner of Big Sky Genesis Productions, LLC, developed her thesis film in Australia filming dolphins and working with two major environmental non-profits. She is the Student Assistant MFA Coordinator, a position that allows her to be involved in other MSU departments and groups to, as she expressed, “organize several events and create a better program for the next generation of graduate students.”
After graduating from Purdue University in Wildlife Biology and Film/Video Studies and having worked in environmental education trying to get into the wildlife filmmaking industry, Olivia started to investigate different programs to keep her goals on track.
“I chose the Science and Natural History Filmmaking Program at MSU because it had a 98% placement after graduation into the industry, the alumni were very successful in all aspects of the film industry, and I felt comforted by the experience level the faculty had who were leading the program,” she explained. Andrus also expressed her appealing about professors considering students as colleagues and the mix of academic backgrounds among classmates.
“I also found it interesting that this program was made for scientists to be the best science communicators through the medium of film. This means that everyone in my cohort came from completely different backgrounds. This created such a unique experience because we were all learning together but able to challenge each other since we had different views of the world,” Olivia mentioned.
She also commented on the funding challenges she saw when considering applying to the program, but once she started, the program’s faculty and staff taught students about how to write grants, do crowdfunding and create their own business. She also got a research assistantship within the department, which provided her with financial stability.
“This program supported me as I reached for the stars to create my thesis film. I was able film dolphins in Australia and work with two major environmental non-profits based within the US and Australia during the pandemic. The lessons from this program allowed me to successfully crowdfund my thesis film and write grants that helped me get to Australia. One grant that I applied for and received was the Professional Travel Grant provided by MSU to graduate students who need help financing the costs of travel for different graduate work,” she affirmed.
Olivia is also the College of Arts and Architecture's steward for the graduate student union, where she serves as the spokesperson for debates about stipends, graduate teaching assistantship positions, and other concerns that the students have while attending graduate school at MSU.
Regarding recommendations for prospective graduate students, Olivia Andrus suggested to facilitate and engage in conversation with the graduate coordinators, program directors and current students. Besides, she also encouraged openness to the graduate experience and to ask as many questions as possible to clarify any doubt.
“If you want certain things out of this program, it has to come from you. Don't expect the professors to hold your hand and walk you through how to be a filmmaker. You have to have the drive, the time management, and the determination to make it in this program and this field. The professors can only mentor you so far, so if you want something get involved with the program and fight for it.”
Finally, do not forget the fun of it! “It goes by so fast, but the bonds you make last forever. I still call upon my cohort members for honest feedback on my films or just to talk. My cohort members are family to me and that was the best part of this whole program for me,” the passionate-in-filmmaking grad student said.