Undergrad to Master's

All about the Master's degree

A graduate student is someone who has completed an undergraduate degree and has returned to university for an advanced degree (usually a master's). When transitioning from an undergraduate to a graduate program there is a distinct shift in thinking about the unknown and applying theory. 

Pursuing a master's often has different reasons, such as a change in career direction or career development. Some master's students are undertaking their program to then move on to a Ph.D. and excel in the world of academia.

Learning builds on previous foundational disciplinary knowledge and explores topics at a theoretical level.

Learning focuses on a specific area that explores the topic in great depth.

Graduate-level learning requires advanced critical thinking, analytical/interpretive skills and production of knowledge

Results in acquiring advanced knowledge, skill, and experience to be proficient in one's field. These are common in professional degree-type programs, diplomas and certificates.

Requires students to complete coursework and a final project, common as master's degrees.

Requires students to design, collect, analyze, and interpret research findings, and communicate this new knowledge in the form of a thesis. The expectations of discovery are different between a master's and a Ph.D. degree. 


Why pursue a master's degree?


The student experience


Your day-to-day as a graduate student is going to change depending on the stage of your program. 


Early stages

The early stages of your program are going to be busy with completing your required coursework, attending weekly seminars, and other mandatory program requirements.

Compared to your undergraduate experience your schedule may feel deceptively open, with only a couple of 3-hour classes and a weekly hour-long seminar.

Studying at the graduate level requires more time outside of the classroom to prepare. Each class can assign multiple chapters or journal articles to read, on top of weekly assignments, to prepare for the next class.

Make sure to use your non-structured time wisely to prepare for your upcoming classes and maximize your course learnings.  


Later stages

Toward the end of your program, the majority of your program components will be completed. Your remaining time will focus on completing your thesis, capstone, or project.

This stage of the program can be difficult for students given the lack of structure in your day to propel your movement forwards. Students at this stage may also be busy with other graduate student opportunities, such as research collaborations, conference presentations, publication writing, and mentorship.

It is critical toward the end of your program to budget and manage your time accordingly so you can ensure continued progress towards completing your final program activities. Work with your supervisor to set tangible milestones and action steps to ensure your success.  

*If you want to work on your time management skills, you may want to check out the Hub Lab course dedicated to time managment. 
Hub Lab



Beyond the classroom

The experience of a graduate student extends beyond the classroom. There are many opportunities you can engage with during your master's experience that can support your development and career opportunities.

You should plan purposefully to include any graduate student experiences that are important for you to incorporate into your journey. These are great things to include in your IDP.

Extracurricular opportunities include:

  • Participate as a teaching assistant
  • Join a professional organization or association
  • Sit on an academic committee or non-profit board of directors
  • Collaborate on a research project with faculty or peers
  • Attend conferences related to your research interests
  • Share the findings of any research projects in peer-reviewed publications
  • Connect with a research lab
  • Get involved with mentoring
  • Study abroad
  • Volunteer on campus
  • Host a symposium, conference or workshop



Funding and awards

A key difference when entering a master's program is the potential to receive graduate funding in the form of graduate student awards. Graduate student funding is typically limited to students enrolled in thesis programs.

Graduate awards can be awarded:

  • At the university level
  • Department level
  • Tri-agency funding
  • National awards
  • External awards

More information for graduate student awards

Navigating student funding can be a complicated process that varies across programs and departments. To obtain the most accurate information you should always talk with your graduate supervisor about potential funding opportunities.

Also, pay close attention to your email for updates on upcoming scholarship awards that are released throughout the year.  




Strategies for designing your path to success

Take ownership of your grad school experience

It's your responsibility to ensure you are aware and complete of all program and university requirements. You can do this by reading policies, and program handbooks, checking your email regularly, and going through the Hub resources here and here.

You need to search for, identify, and pursue opportunities in learning, researching, teaching, and networking. Explore the opportunities you want to experience and go after them.

You will need to develop independence in driving your development. It's up to you to notice any gaps in your knowledge or skills, locate potential workshops, and complete them to make sure you continue growing and achieve your goals.



Participate in academia and your university community

Programs sometimes offer optional seminars or guest lectures, take advantage of these opportunities to learn and network. Don’t be afraid to visit events outside of your department.

Build opportunities. Connect with faculty (even outside your supervisor) and other graduate students to collaborate on research projects or manuscript writing.

Identify key conferences for your research area or discipline to attend. Don’t be afraid to present and share your research with others.

Build connections with others. Networking is extremely important to be successful in your studies and your career. You want to network with other graduate students and faculty all over: in different programs, colleges, and institutions.

The Grad HUB has collected a bunch of resources for building campus connections over on the Community page! 
Enter the Hub Community



Know your program requirements, timelines, and institutional policies

Make sure to review and become familiar with your program requirements in the Program Catalogue

Become familiar with each requirement and discuss with your supervisor or grad administrator any requirements that you do not understand

Make sure you are aware of the timelines you need to follow to avoid unnecessary delays or complications. For example, typically your thesis committee will take 6-8 weeks to review your thesis before you can defend it. Ethics applications can take a similar amount of time (or even longer depending on the level of risk with your study) before you can begin research.

Policies exist to help you make progress through your program. Policies communicate what, when, and how different actions need to be completed. Becoming familiar with policies will help you in becoming aware of actions you can take in different situations (e.g., medical leave, accommodations, program extensions).



Create a plan and track your graduate student experience

ake your program requirements and the student opportunities you want to experience during your program and develop a plan.

Take your plan and track what you need to accomplish each term to make progress towards completing your program requirements and meeting your final goals.

Think about your desired career and partake in opportunities that can propel you forwards. This can be joining research projects, sitting on committees, or volunteering in the community. All of these activities can provide valuable experiences.

Track your progress with program requirements and activities you participate in throughout your program. You can use these events as examples when you are applying for jobs.

The CGPS has created an Independent Development Plan (IDP) template you can use to help you in developing your plan. Learn more here.



Tips on starting a masters from graduate students