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Is graduate school right for you?

The purpose for this blog is to provide accurate information and advice to all those College and University students out there who are thinking of, or in the process of applying to grad school.

My experience as an academic advisor, has taught me time and time again, that a large majority of students have serious misconceptions about what graduate school entails and whether it is the right path for them. In order to be able to answer this fundamental question, students need to know what graduate school entails. Graduate school is not an automatic step following an undergraduate or similar degree. It also does not entail the same requirements as does an undergraduate degree. Rather, a masters or Ph.D. degree requires much more independent thinking and in general a much more independent working environment as well. Most undergraduate degree programs are aimed at providing students with a broad understanding of a discipline and the career options that are available within that particular field, but some of them do relatively little to actually train you for a great career. Graduate programs, on the other hand, are aimed at training and developing independent specialists, researchers, scholars, professionals, etc. In most cases, a graduate student spends less time in a classroom when compared to an undergraduate degree and much more time working in the field of study, such as internships, or much more time in a laboratory, doing research to meet thesis requirements.

Graduate school is a lot like a job. You can think of it as a temporary job, one that lasts several years. Most graduate students receive a salary while in school and more importantly, there are many more opportunities for grad students to earn money while in school than there are as an undergraduate. These include scholarships, fellowships, bursaries, teaching and research assistantships and more.

There are many advantages of obtaining an advanced degree, including the ability to work on something that is meaningful and interesting to you. Prestige and financial incentives may also be relevant factors, as well as enhancing career opportunities and practical skills. Although graduate school may not be a realistic choice for everyone, you owe it to yourself to at least give it some consideration.

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Think twice about trading a full course load for higher grades

My choice of topics to write about today was inspired by a conversation I had with a student during a recent academic advising session. She is a Psychology major, about halfway through her program. She said she hopes to go to graduate school, and she wants to know if her prospects of getting in will be jeopardized if she takes a break from school, next semester.

 

I could see from her transcripts that she has good grades, but not excellent by any stretch of the imagination. More importantly though, I noticed that since she began her program, she had been taking only 3 courses each semester, rather than the normal full-time course load of 5 courses per semester. She explained that she has difficulty handling a full course load, but she can get good marks if she has a lighter load. It’s not that she has other things going on that compete with school for her time. She doesn’t have a job, or a time-consuming hobby, or anything like that. She just needs to be able to take her time to study and learn, she explained.

 

She feels she’s been putting everything she can into school, and now she needs a break because she has never really had one. Lately, both she and her family are worried that she will experience burnout or a have breakdown if she doesn’t take an academic break.

 

To be frank, I think she should take the time off. It’s not worth it to push oneself to the point of exhaustion or exasperation. She should take the break, and come back to complete the program when she feels ready.

 

But, really, she needs to forget about graduate school in Psychology — not just for now, but also for good. And that would be my advice to her, even if she decides not to take a break from her studies, next semester.

 

If that seems harsh, let me explain why it is really just realistic for this young person to start making a move to join the workforce, and plan to complete her degree program, on her own terms, and within a time-frame that will enable her to finish with good grades, and without undue stress or anxiety along the way.

 

In most Psychology graduate programs in North America, an applicant is accepted if, and only if, a faculty member indicates an interest and willingness to supervise the student’s graduate research. Psychology professors supervise graduate students because they need the help of graduate students to accomplish their own research objectives. In most cases, a professor will agree to accept a new graduate student only if he or she believes this applicant is the one who is most likely to benefit the research program over the next few years. Only the most promising applicant will be selected from among those who indicate they want this professor as a graduate supervisor. That is, if the professor chooses anyone at all.

 

An undergraduate student who is unable to handle a full course load and get solid grades, semester after semester, is unlikely to be able to handle the high demands of graduate studies and research. Professors only want to invite hard-working people who can deal with a full load, all the time, over a period of years — because this is what professors need from their graduate students.

 

Hopefully, a time will soon come when the student in my story has gainful employment with some sense of job security, and also a bachelor’s degree in Psychology. One might not know exactly when good, long-term employment will actually come along, but in the context of today’s rising unemployment levels and struggling economies, it might be a while. Her best strategy would be to drop graduate school from her long-term plans, and focus on goals that are realistic in light of what she is willing or able to do.

 

There has been a trend for some years now, at least at my university, of undergraduates enrolled as full-time students taking course loads that are less than completely full. Many students are willing to take an extra semester or two to complete their degree, if it means they can avoid feeling overwhelmed with school work and get good grades along the way. Lightening one’s course load is a sensible way to achieve that goal. But, there might be a high price to pay, later on, especially if one is hoping to proceed to graduate school.

 

Students often tell me: “I have a job, and I need to work so many hours a week, and I just can’t deal with a full course load.” That’s too bad, because there are a lot of other people out there who also have a job, and who work a similar number of hours each week, and who have a full course load and still get excellent grades in all of their classes. And those who can handle it are not doing something above and beyond normal expectations, either. In fact, taking a full course load in each semester, and getting good grades in every course, is the bare minimum of what is expected of all undergraduate students (except for those who are expressly enrolled on a part-time basis, and those with disabilities that would normally preclude such expectations).

 

That last point about minimum expectations is an important one, so I’ll repeat it: If all a student does is take a full course load every semester and get good grades, he or she is doing nothing out of the ordinary. Someone who is enrolled in an undergraduate program as a full-time student, but who is taking less than a full course load — whether they began the semester that way or else dropped a course along the way — are doing less than the minimum of what is expected.

 

Note that the minimum required is far less than the minimum expected. There are no immediate negative consequences for a student who is doing less than expected. As long a student meets or exceeds the minimum requirements in terms of academic performance, the school will happily continue to accept tuition payments. So, most students just continue along until they eventually complete their program of study. Most will attempt to then join the workforce. But, a significant proportion will apply to graduate school, hoping that an advanced degree will bring greater opportunity.

 

Few, if any, professors are interested in accepting as a new graduate student someone who was an ordinary undergraduate. This means that students who are hoping to go to graduate school need to do more than just take a full course load and get good grades. They need to stand apart from the crowd. There are a lot of ways to accomplish this. For example, one could volunteer to be a professor’s research assistant, or regularly attend symposia or workshops in the field of interest. If a student’s current school has a work-study or co-op program, that might be a good way to get valuable work experience and begin establishing a network within the field.

 

There are other ways to stand out from the crowd, but that is the topic of another column, so I won’t get into all the options, here. I think you get the point: Most undergraduate college and university students are not exceeding minimum expectations. Even the majority of those who think they will succeed simply by getting excellent grades are not really doing anything special. This is one reason why only a small fraction of college students end up in graduate school. Few are exceptional enough in terms of work-ethic and readiness to make personal sacrifices.

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How to Ask For a Letter of Recommendation

myGraduateSchool Blog

This time of year, many students are arranging for letters of recommendation to support their scholarship applications, and the same letters will again be needed for grad-school applications. This typically involves approaching two or three professors to ask for this favor. Various topics related to letters of recommendation are discussed in other articles that are posted on MyGraduateSchool.com, including one article in particular that I would strong recommend. It provides tips on how you can go about getting the most effective reference letters for grad school, but here I just want to talk about correct ways to solicit a letter. There is nothing complicated about asking someone for a letter of recommendation, but it takes a little bit of tact.

First, just send a short email to ask if he or she is willing to provide a letter. Don’t attach documents like your c.v., transcripts, or personal statement

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What are the differences between a Ph.D. in Transpersonal Psychology and a Psy.D in Clinical Psychology?

Originally posted on Sofia University Blog: According to Psychology Career center.org, psychology careers are a highly regulated industry. Earning a degree, especially a doctorate, is very important to ones upward mobility and success. In fact, most research and teaching positions at major universities or government organizations require a doctorate degree.

 

Sofia University Blog

According to Psychology Career center.org, psychology careers are a highly regulated industry. Earning a degree, especially a doctorate, is very important to ones upward mobility and success. In fact, most research and teaching positions at major universities or government organizations require a doctorate degree.bb_vocalfry_free

Before deciding on which degree is the best fit for you, it may be helpful to know the differences in career potentials for both degrees.

Our Ph.D. in Transpersonal Psychology program is a non-clinical, research-focused degree, whereas our Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology is a clinical, applied-psychology program that is designed to lead graduates towards licensure as a clinical psychologist.

Below you’ll find additional information on common careers and employment areas pursued by individuals who obtain a doctorate degree in psychology and those who obtain a doctorate degree in clinical psychology.

Careers in Transpersonal Psychology

Some of the most common areas where graduates with a doctorate degree…

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Guest Post: Maintaining Motivation in Grad School Even When Your Supervisor is Destroying It

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This guest post is written by an anonymous member who obtained his Master’s degree in Neuroscience from the University of British Columbia.

 

The story that I am going to tell here is not exactly the most glamorous one. During my graduate study, I failed to generate publishable results, had frequent arguments with my supervisor, and felt like I was worthless and helpless until the very end. The advice I will give in this post is based on the scenario when you are trapped in a laboratory with a toxic supervisor, and hopefully my advice here can help you avoid falling into the same kind of traps like I did.

Like the title suggests, maintaining motivation is one of the most difficult tasks to accomplish when the person next to you is constantly filling your mind with negativity. It is important that you prepare yourself to deal with harmful behaviors from your supervisors, because they can make you absolutely hate your graduate study and destroy your career. The advice I give graduate students who are dealing with toxic supervisors is to take their criticisms with a grain of salt. Students will undoubtedly hear belittling comments from their supervisors at some point during their graduate study, and it could be triggered by mistakes as trivial as forgetting to restock culture dishes in the cell culture room or errors made during experimental procedures. It is important students realize that nobody is perfect and that researchers (including supervisors) make mistakes on a daily basis. Do not allow your supervisors’ criticisms to dampen your love for research and make you miserable. If they scold you, the best thing to do is pretend that you accept the criticism and then forget about it as quickly as possible.

Almost a year after working in the laboratory I discovered that my supervisor had a poor track record in mentoring successful students and most of the problems I encountered during the program were due to his unsupportive approach and unfair expectations. It took me an entire year to realize this because I went into the graduate program assuming that every supervisor in the world had a decent amount of skill in training students, which turned out to be a grave assumption. When you are working in a laboratory, it is important to be skeptical of your supervisor’s ability, otherwise you can end up in a situation where you are spending time and effort on tasks that will never come to fruition, such as endlessly performing an experiment demanded by your supervisor even though the experiment is bound to fail. If your supervisor is making a scientific claim that you disagree with and can be disproved with contemporary scientific literature or even basic scientific knowledge, question it. If your supervisor belittles your competence or attempts to diagnose you with a psychological disorder, ignore it. If your supervisor criticizes your inability to generate the desired observation, think of an alternative explanation for your observation rather than blindly believing your supervisor. Follow their advice, but do not become their slave.

Many graduate students fall into the routine of performing experiments without properly evaluating their purpose and design. This can happen when students face heavy workloads, and consequently it can lead to a rapid loss of motivation. Conducting research without a proper grasp of its purpose is mentally and physically exhausting. Added to that, the pressure to produce results that fit in line with the supervisor’s previous findings can make for a difficult situation. The simple key to solving this problem is to read papers related to your field of research. It sounds simple and obvious, but many supervisors prefer their students to spend most of their time in the laboratory generating data, and treat them as employed research technician rather than mentoring them to become independent researchers. Reading papers can revitalize your motivation, help you appreciate the importance of all of your work and sacrifice, and train you on how to use the most important source of scientific knowledge. In retrospect, I had the most fun in my graduate study dissecting the results and discussing the implications of my favourite papers with my colleagues rather than chugging away at the microscope.

I hope the advice mentioned here can help those of you who are going into graduate study or those of you who are already in graduate study but have difficulty dealing with a tough supervisor. Competent supervisors who share similar life values and beliefs with students and can properly manage students’ learning are hard to come by, and in fact most people will never find their “ideal” supervisor. Because of this, the responsibility lies with the student to make the best out of a less-than-ideal situation. Overcome the hurdles and never give up.

Thank you to this student for reaching out and taking the time to describe their difficult situation in grad school. If you are a current grad student or recent graduate and would like to share your experience, check out this post to get the details on how to go about it.

 

 

Guest Blog: Planning on Med School?

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This Guest Blog post in written by Liz Koblyk. She is a career counsellor at the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, an instructor at McMaster University, and a regular contributor to the Careers Café blog at University Affairs/Affaires universitaires.

Along with my work in a med school, I also teach in a program full of students hoping to get into med school.  One of the most heartbreaking phrases I read in their work is, “Once I get into med school, I’ll have it made.”  Of course, being a doctor is a great path to pursue.  It’s an obvious choice if you want to help people and you love the sciences.  But it’s not the only option out there, and sometimes, it’s an option people pursue without fully considering what they’re getting themselves into.

Here’s the problem: no one “has it made” once they get into med school.  What initially feels like enormous success – getting in! – can quickly turn into a long slog.  Med students do a lot of work, get little sleep or spare time, and spend hours with angry, scared, ill and sometimes dying people.  While the med students I work with talk about extremely rewarding times, they also share challenges, like trying to connect with patients who yell at them, feeling overwhelmed by their responsibilities, and preparing to enter yet another competitive process as they hope for residency spots in their specialties of choice.

Yep – there’s more competition after getting admitted to med school.  Not all medical students land a residency in their specialty of choice (if you want to see the stats, have a look at the reports on the CaRMS website).  In fact, not all medical students land a residency spot at all.  Likewise, not all successful residents find the jobs that they’re looking for, or find jobs in places where they want to live.  There is no guarantee, just because you enter med school and pay your 6-figure tuition, that you will end up practicing as a physician.  This is not to say that no one should apply to med school, just because there’s a labour market.  People in all professions run into limits on where and whether there is opportunity to do the work they want to do.  However, there’s something about the size of med school tuition, and the fact that the physician labour market is very good, that can lead people to believe there is unlimited choice for MDs.

So, if you’re considering med school, ask yourself whether you’ll be happy in a number of different specialties.  If you’re hoping to be an emergency doc, a plastic surgeon, or an ophthalmologist, for example, will you be happy with other options if the public doesn’t need, or the labour market doesn’t support, another specialist in your dream job?

Finally, if you’re preparing for med school, there’s nothing stopping you from exploring other options at the same time.  No one is so limited that they could only be happy and make meaningful contributions in one job.  Time and again, I’ve seen people who focused initially on one goal because it was what their family wanted, because it seemed like a wise choice because of the money or status, or because they didn’t know what else was out there; they found better options once they started looking.  Sadly, I’ve also worked with clients who pursued a job for those same reasons, and who came to find themselves dreading each day of work.  From what they’ve told me, those work hours seem to stretch out into an endless parade.

That said, med school might be an amazing option for you.  But explore it before you get into it.  And give some other options you’re curious about a fair shake, too.  Nothing is lost by that: either way, you end up knowing what you’d most like to pursue.  And if your final decision is still to pursue med school, you’ve still lost nothing – you’ll be all the more able to explain your choice, and that will help you to earn admission in the first place.

 

 

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MyGradSchool Blog is Looking for Guest Bloggers

 

What are we looking for?

We invite you to write about strategies, tips and any advice that have contributed to your success getting into grad school or success as a current grad student. You can blog on any number of topics, for example:

  • Did you just get accepted into a grad program ? What things do you think helped you get in?
  • Are you managing kids, work and a thesis? How do you balance it all?
  • Are you about to finish your degree? How do you push through the last few months without running out of motivation?
  • Do you have experience writing a thesis, or publishing a dissertation?

Submitting a blog post

The post should be about 400-800 words, and can be submitted to Sarah Brown Tesolin at protopress@mygraudateschool.com for review. Please include a short bio of yourself that can be included with the post.  We’ll proofread the post, send it back for your approval, and then publish it on the MyGradSchool Blog.

Once published, we’ll promote your guest post to all of our followers via our social media accounts.

Looking forward to your submission!