8 Professors Weigh in on Professional School

Candidates Get Advice on What Makes for Success

Woman in a high school classroom talking to a student.
Associate education professor Michal Kurlaender, on right talking to student, suggests people interested in graduate school be willing to challenge their preconceived notions about how education works. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis photo)

Quick Summary

  • UC Davis faculty give advice about what it takes to be successful in professional school
  • They say that you should be intellectually curious, and want to be a leader and a catalyst for change

Our professors understand what being a professional student is like at UC Davis. And they want to help you decide if getting an advanced degree is for you. If you are interested in law, business, nursing, medicine, veterinary medicine or education, their advice may resonate.

Law school is for the intellectually curious

Law professor David Horton talks to his class
Law students will be challenged by political and philosophical issues brought up by their studies, says law professor David Horton. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis photo)

I think legal education is especially rewarding for people who are intellectually curious. I know I learned more in the first semester of my first year of law school than I did during four years of college.

I became intrigued by stories in the news that I used to think were irrelevant or boring. I began to notice little details in the world — things I’d previously missed or glossed over, like how many contracts I enter into every day, or what it means that my neighbor has an “easement.” 

And I was confronted with incredibly challenging political and philosophical issues that forced me to question my deep-seated beliefs.

One of the best things about studying law at King Hall is that [the School of Law] is populated by people — both students and professors — who share this hunger to explore the world. Whether it’s a lunchtime presentation by a visiting scholar or a classroom discussion, you’ll find yourself consistently engaged and challenged. 

This may sound trite, but it’s one of the few experiences in life that is truly transformative. 

David Horton, professor of law

Business school: Do you want to be a leader?

Woman in business suit in an environmental portrait
Candidates for business school should know what they want out of their MBA degree and be ready to hit the ground running, says Professor Shannon Anderson. (UC Davis photo)

Consider a top business school if you want to make a positive difference as a leader. To get the most from an MBA program, plan ahead to hit the ground running. Identify the skills you need to develop and the strengths that you will build upon.

Get conversant with business news and learn the language of business. Read the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times and business publications that specialize in your industries of interest.

Keep a journal with notes about what you find intriguing. Patterns will emerge about your natural interests, which you can tap into to direct your talents toward a fulfilling career.

Students in other graduate programs should also consider the many benefits of a joint MBA degree.

Shannon Anderson, professor of management

Business wants change agents

Man in tie standing and talking to two seated students
The UC Davis business school faculty is looking for people with strong communication skills and the courage to take risks, according to Professor Prasad Naik. (UC Davis photo)

A key aspect of MBA education is to learn to be a change agent. You need to envision how to initiate new ideas, drive new processes, or create new products to improve the prevalent practice of management. Besides creativity, you also need strong communication skills, courage to take risks in face of doubts or lack of data, and most importantly, commitment to make your ideas work.

Prasad Naik, professor of management

Nursing: Make a difference in lives

Woman in suit talking to students in foreground pointing to a manikin in a bed
By going to a graduate school in nursing, students are choosing a career path that combines research with clinical practice and education, says Associate Dean Theresa Harvath. (UC Davis photo)

Most of us go into nursing because we want to make a difference in the lives of individuals, families and communities. Our graduate programs provide nurses and other health professionals with new opportunities in clinical practice, research and education.

If you want to develop the knowledge and skills needed to engage in research, advance your practice through unique clinical experiences or to develop your leadership potential, consider graduate education at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing.

Our programs are designed to prepare graduates for the health care system of the future, where nurses play increasingly important roles in promoting health, managing chronic illness and coordinating care in community settings and where research integrates with technology in order to maximize health benefits.

Theresa Harvath, associate dean for academics — master’s degree in leadership and Ph.D. programs

Medicine: Candidates need commitment

Male professor at computer with woman and young male listening to him
Assistant Professor Javier E. Lopez, right, meets with Katrin Jaradeh, a clinical coordinator, left, and Edgar Ochoa, a senior majoring in neurobiology, physiology and behavior, to discuss a study about predicting recovery after a heart attack. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis photo)

Medicine is a deeply rewarding career. I always knew I wanted to be a scientist, because I had a natural curiosity about how living things work and a passion for solving difficult questions. However, it was not until I had the privilege of caring for migrant farmworkers and impoverished inner-city patients as a pre-med student that I realized my commitment to this vocation. Today, I have the opportunity to use those talents and insights to profoundly improve people’s lives, whether I am working in my lab or my clinic.

A career in medicine requires a lifelong commitment to learning, well beyond the rigors of medical school and residency, as staying on top of new breakthroughs and new thinking in human health is essential. Embracing your individual experiences is also important for success as a physician, especially in caring for the diverse populations that make up California — and the world. All future physicians should embrace their own life journeys in shaping their careers. 

Potential medical students should also seek exposure to diverse patient populations who are different from their own backgrounds as part of their pre-medical preparation. These experiences will complement their academics, help ensure their success in medicine and improve their abilities to provide exceptional patient care.

Javier Lópezassistant professor/assistant professor in residence in cardiovascular medicine

Nursing: You will be leading health-care teams

Woman consulting another at a desk
Students should expect to learn side by side with nurse practitioner and physician assistant students in UC Davis’ programs, says Associate Adjunct Professor Debra Bakerjian. (UC Davis photo)

The nurse practitioner and physician assistant programs at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing are the only ones in the country where students in these different disciplines learn alongside each other.

As either a nurse practitioner or physician assistant student, you will discover how to interpret different perspectives, collaborate and lead as members of health care teams.

Opportunities to learn with nursing and medical students, interns and residents, and other health professionals exemplify our interprofessional focus.

Faculty incorporate innovative teaching methods to expose you to a multitude of learning experiences that include classroom discussions, team-based learning, clinical simulations and integrative case-based learning.

Debra Bakerjianassociate adjunct professor — nurse practitioner and physician assistant programs 

Education: Challenge for how education works

Two adult women talking in a high school classroom
Associate professor Michal Kurlaender of the School of Education, right, consults with teacher Shawn D'Alesandro  during an American history class at Kit Carson Elementary in Sacramento. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis photo)

Students of education are asked to wrestle with critical questions about cognition and learning, leadership and policymaking, teaching and curriculum, and educational opportunity in relation to broader societal forces.

The School of Education at UC Davis offers graduate programs for future teachers, administrators, researchers and leaders of education from pre-K to higher education.

The students who get a lot out of our programs are those who are able to challenge some of their own preconceived notions about how education works and how to improve schooling opportunities and outcomes in our society.

Michal Kurlaender, associate professor of education

Vet med wants advocates for health

Man in medical scrubs with two goats
Expect ups and downs as well as to work hard if you go to veterinary school, says Associate Professor Munashe Chigerwe. (Don Preisler/UC Davis photo)

Veterinary medical students should be prepared to make long-lasting friendships with their peers, instructors, patients and clients.

The veterinary profession attracts the brightest and most personable students and encompasses many facets that ultimately change human and animals’ lives for the better. That said, being in veterinary school has its ups and downs. Be prepared to work hard, grow into one of the best professions, and most of all have fun.

UC Davis’ School of Veterinary Medicine is a platform for students to advocate for animal and human health, a powerful aspect for future change. Above all, do your best, but take care of yourself. Don’t stretch yourself too thin. Do the small things and find time for your families and friends.

Munashe Chigerwe, associate professor of medicine and epidemiology

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