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.
The early stages of your program are going to be busy with completing your required
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.
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.
Toward the end of your program, the majority of your program components will be completed.
This stage of the program can be difficult for students given the 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 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.
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
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 here and here. . You can do this by reading policies, and program handbooks, , and going through the Hub resources
- You need to search for, identify, and . Explore the opportunities you want to experience and go after them.
- You will need to develop independence in . 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, . Don’t be afraid to visit events outside of your department.
- Build opportunities. to collaborate on research projects or manuscript writing.
- Identify 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.
Know your program requirements, timelines, and institutional policies.
- Make sure to review and become familiar with your 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 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 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.
- Take your program requirements and the student opportunities you want to experience during your program and .
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. Download your IDP here.