Let graduate school prepare you for the working world
First published in jobpostings magazine
careers. education. ideas. all of it.
There was no Good Witch of the North to guide you at the crossroads, and there were no yellow bricks. Still, you held your head high and made your choice: follow the post-graduate road. Now, while your undergrad classmates are working, earning money, and starting families, you’re up until morning clutching an espresso and a research paper.
That’s okay. Everyone’s choices are different and you’ve decided to take the path that’s best for you. And now that you’ve chosen your road, you’ll be spending the next few years on it, so you’ll need to learn to cope with the bumps.
Know what to expect
Before you go, know what you’re dealing with. Review your program requirements and curriculum. Is your program based on research, projects, or courses? All three require time, dedication, and patience.
William Tays, a PhD student at Brock University, suspected his graduate education experience was going to be different from undergrad, but that’s what he wanted. “I assumed I would have more autonomy in my own work, which is a very welcome change to merely taking classes as an undergraduate,” Tays says. “Overall, I was hoping it would be a very different experience from my undergrad career, and that turned out to be exactly the case.”
You won’t necessarily live under a rock, but more focus on schoolwork equals less time for friends and family. Marilyn Rose, dean of Graduate Studies at Brock, says, “Graduate programs expect their students to work hard and spend a great deal of time mastering the discipline they have chosen to study … . Students have to be prepared to have little time left over for idleness or play.”
Jenny Phelps, assistant dean and director of Graduate Enrollment Services at the University of British Columbia, says students will have to deliver better quality work. “The expectations are higher here. Students are expected to be more connected with the faculty since there are less lectures here and course sizes are smaller.” Phelps continues, “The nature of the work at the graduate level is more focused. It’s somewhat more independent, and there’s more responsibility for (students) to choose their career paths. They become managers of their own learning experiences.”
Graduate studies can mean more alone time for you and your work, but with some time management skills, you shouldn’t be alone all the time.
“We know that students can learn how to manage their time and thereby make sufficient time for socializing, exercising, and otherwise taking care of themselves. And we encourage this, we even offer workshops on time management and related skills,” Rose says.
Socializing (or networking) can play an important role in your career, says Phelps. “Research shows the more engaged students are in their programs, the better their outcomes are — the better the connections and the more experience they’ll have.”
Tays got involved by becoming a teaching assistant, joining the school senate, and helping out on several conferences and committees. “My regular grad work takes up a great deal of my time, but I’ve benefited from working outside my microcosm.”