Morgan Register, a member of the AWESM Lab and a first-generation college student, graduated with her Master's degree in Natural Resource Sciences this August. Photo by Iris McFarlin
Iris McFarlin, AWESM Lab Communications
Lincoln, Neb. – When Morgan Register started her graduate position at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2020, more than one thing was new. In addition to the new learning environment brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, Register was the first in her family to seek a graduate degree. Over the past two years, Register worked with her research team to create and disseminate a survey to conservation specialists in Nebraska with the intent of understanding the role they play in agricultural producers’ adoption of new conservation strategies.
Like many first-generation students, Register faced some unique challenges, among them the unknown of the experience as a whole. “Coming into graduate school, my biggest fear was the competition I had often heard described,” noted Register. As it turned out, the best part was the collaborative culture. “From the beginning, it was evident that we were all working together towards a greater goal,” Register said of her peers and department. “I received the best advice going into graduate school that has proven true time and time again. The advisor you select is just as important as the project you are looking for. Having great advisors who match your learning style, but who are also in your corner, plays such a huge role through the highs and lows,” said Register. “I would want everyone to have the same support and experience as I had.”
When asked what advice she would give to other first-generation students considering graduate school, Register had lots to share. She encouraged others to get involved as much as possible, and when things don’t go right, “take everything as a learning experience rather than as a failed attempt. Basically, be willing to get out of your comfort zone.” She also highlighted the importance of networking, asking questions, and building a community. “Odds are,” she pointed out, “if you don't know the answer, someone else will.” Register also touched on the so-called “Imposter Syndrome”, which many students and professionals alike experience. She recalled difficult times of feeling as if she wasn’t cut out for her program but encouraged others to push through. “Everyone gets it, just ask! I haven't met a student who didn't have a moment of struggle with it yet! That's where your advisors, lab mates, and friends or family come into play to support you through it.”
With a successful thesis defense behind her and her family’s first Master’s degree conferred, Register is taking her knowledge and degree to the next level. “Obtaining my MS degree from UNL has equipped me with the knowledge and confidence to take on an industry job,” said Register, who has accepted a position as the R3 Coordinator for the Michigan Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation. From here, everything she learned during her graduate program at UNL – from technical knowledge to soft skills – will be used in real world conservation efforts.