Transitioning To Graduate School

What Does Grad School Offer

So, you have been accepted to grad school, now what?

Your graduate degree will provide advanced training (beyond a bachelor’s degree) in your preferred specific academic discipline. The focus is on advancing your subject-specific academic knowledge, developing analytical and research skills, or to prepare you for a specific career or job.

What are the benefits of a grad degree?

  1. Graduate degrees are necessary for work in academia.
  2. Some fields may give you higher earning potential and expanded job prospects.
  3. Graduate school can help you get research experience and publication credits.

Distinguishing Graduate Programs

There are two main levels of graduate programs: master's and Ph.D

Master's level programs require advanced-level thinking, where the goal is to advance the graduate students' subject knowledge and to develop the students' capacity for independent research. 

A Ph.D. program shifts towards even further independence as the student continues their program. A requirement of the Ph.D. is to provide a substantial, original contribution to knowledge. 


Graduate programs can be identified as follows: 

  • Terminal Master's degree: master's degrees are considered terminal if the field does not offer a degree beyond the master's. 
  • Postgraduate diploma (PGD): can be earned after a Bachelor's degree to expand upon a student's field of knowledge. Is often used to ladder into a master's program.
  • Doctoral degree: is the highest level of academic degree in most fields. This term also captures the  Philosophical Dotorate (PhD) and doctorate (e.g. EdD or DMus)

Programs can be: course-based, project-based, or thesis-based (research).

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

A project-based program requires students to complete course work and a final project, common as master's degrees.

A thesis-based program require 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 the master's and the Ph.D. level.

The next element of a graduate degree important to consider is the program's discipline. A program discipline shapes and often provides a particular lens in how a researcher views the novel data in front of them.

Finishing grad school is a big deal. It takes years of commitment, hard work, long hours and dedication. It is good to have career goals and options in mind. It is a misconception that you can't start applying for jobs until you have your degree in hand. Many employers welcome applicants who are still working on a degree. You are 'fresh talent'. Here are a few tips:

  1. Leverage your grad school professional network
  2. Attend job fairs
  3. Start your search with websites like HigherEdJobs, GlassDoor, LinkedIn
  4. The job market is competitive - your first job out of grad school does not have to be your career
  5. Prepare and research for each opportunity

Talk to USask's Student Employment and Career Centre (SECC). They are here to help.

Program Life Cycle

At USask, the Student Life Cycle refers to the entire process from when the student is recruited to convocation and beyond. 

We can break the graduate student life cycle into three main chunks: Entry, Engagement, and Exit. * Adapted from Stewart, Donald W. (1995). Developmental Considerations in Counselling Graduate Students. Guidance & Counseling, 10(3), 21-24.

The entry stage starts at the point when you first began thinking about pursuing a graduate degree, including the application phase and continues throughout your first year of graduate studies.

This period is a major transition phase and based on the literature we recommend three focus areas for your success:

  1. Develop a clear sense of purpose and direction
  2. Manage academic demands
  3. Maintain motivation

You are going to be adjusting to new academic standards, whether that is from undergraduate to graduate studies or master's to doctoral. Your education is your responsibility. You need to identify the necessary supports to perform at the level you desire. You have to educate yourself on program and thesis requirements and managing your progress. Your workload is also your responsibility to manage.  

Remember this is a transitional period and your motivation will be tested. 

Sometimes students can feel isolated during this time of their program. Its important as your transition into your program to meet new peers and colleagues. Joining a student group is good way to meet students in other programs.

The engagement stage starts in your second or third year of the program and can be described as the engagement stage. 

You have reached this stage when your role within your program, department, and research area begin to solidify. 

The final stage of the graduate student life cycle is the exit stage. Spending years in academia creates a unique experience where you become deeply intimate with your research area. However, this time can also create a disconnect. It is not uncommon for students to feel discomfort as they disengage from academia.