Students + Campus

Simulated grad school classes offer students sample of rigors of pursuing advanced degree

BruiNext provides UCLA undergraduates, especially transfer students, help with deciding whether to apply to grad school

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Devon Carbado
UCLA

Devon Carbado led creation of BruiNext.

Many undergraduates expect to pursue a graduate degree but finish college without ever learning about the rigor and demand required of a professional or graduate school student. Other students are not even sure that going to graduate school is for them, but they’re considering it. That’s why Devon Carbado, associate vice chancellor of BruinX, the research and development arm of the UCLA Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, has taken charge to make things different at UCLA and offer students some tools and knowledge to help make that decision.

Carbado, who is also a professor of law, created “BruiNext: Pathways and Possibilities” to give undergraduates, especially transfers, the opportunity to get a sense of what graduate or professional school would be like by immersing them in simulated classroom experiences. Students are able to participate in classes on business, law, medicine, social psychology and sociology and engage in assignments and discussions modeled from graduate school curriculum. Students can even meet with representatives from graduate programs after their mock classes and ask questions, get tips on the application process and learn about relevant graduate school resources.

The final session is today and space is still available for those who want to RSVP for BruiNext.

Carbado shared who he thinks should take advantage of this opportunity and what the future holds for the program.

Who came up with the idea of these classes and why does UCLA want to initiate this program?

I came up with the idea last year and the thinking was relatively straightforward. Transfer students enter UCLA as juniors and they have to begin thinking rather quickly about what their after-UCLA experience is going to look like. They do that without necessarily having a sense of what graduate school might be all about. So it seemed to me that creating a classroom context in which they could have a simulated graduate/professional school experience made sense. Structuring something for these students precisely because they’re transitioning to UCLA and won’t necessarily have the time to think about how to get this kind of experience is consistent with UCLA’s commitment to access and excellence. When I reached out to the transfer student center about this possibility they were thrilled to support it, so with their collaboration we launched it last year.

This program could have been information sessions, counseling or workshops. What benefit do you think students will get from these mock classes that wouldn’t be possible through other means?

I think you have correctly identified the importance of providing workshops for students on, for example, the various application processes for different graduate programs. Happily, some of these programs already exist and the graduate division and the UCLA College continue to expand their programming in that area. Moreover, the different divisions and disciplines run programs on how to apply to “fill in the blank” school or program as well. All of this is to say, we do a relatively good job getting students information about how to navigate the application processes of different programs. We saw no reason to duplicate those efforts. We wanted, instead, to fill gaps. From where we sat, there was a need to provide a direct experience with the academic content that might flow out of a graduate or professional school classroom. Thus, our mock class initiative, BruiNext.

Going to graduate school has always been an uncertain part of my future. How did you design the program to make the students — who may be unsure about graduate school in the first place — feel comfortable?

You hit the nail on the head. The kind of uncertainty you describe is exactly why we framed BruiNext to ask, among other questions, these: “Unsure about graduate school?” and “Thinking about the possibility of graduate school?” We wanted to make our program available to people who are thinking about but not necessarily committed to graduate or professional school. Our sense was that the classes could provide students with useful information to inform their ultimate decision. It is not our view that after students attend these classes they will say something like, “Now, I’m definitely going to go to X school” or “Now, I’m definitely not going to apply to Y program.” We don’t think there will be that kind of strong causation. We are just providing one additional piece of information that can inform their calculus.

I know the first class happened last Thursday, could you tell me about it, what went well and what feedback you received?

Students really loved the classes. They were totally engaged with the other students and with the faculty afterwards. We have got nothing but positive feedback. I’ve skimmed some of the evaluations and it’s fair to say that it was very successful. People want more. We’re continuing to think about scale and it’s important to note that we’ve already scaled up. Last year we started with just transfers and this year we made it available to all students. We didn’t create a massive apparatus, because we wanted to test the grounds first. Now we have more interest. So, next year we’ll stage it slightly larger so that more students will have an opportunity to take one of the classes.

What are your plans on making this program larger in the future that would allow more students access to such a useful tool?

As I indicated previously, we definitely want to scale up — but we want to do so carefully. With respect to next year, then, the first priority is to get a few more classes in the mix and to advertise earlier. The year after that we will likely be in a position to have students have more than one mock class experience. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. At the end of the day, I remain excited about our project because it facilitates access to graduate schools and provides students with additional opportunities for intellectual enrichment. Access and excellence are two of UCLA’s core values. We are thrilled that BruiNext advances those interests.

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