Friday, 4 April 2014

7 things to do when planning for Grad School

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Falling in love with your academic program during your undergraduate career can forge a path that’s decorated with monographs and laced with essays and conference presentations. But while you’re still pursuing your bachelor’s degree, it’s important to plan ahead if you’re considering applying to graduate school. Here are seven suggestions that can help maximize your undergraduate experience while also preparing you for the world of grad studies.

1. Outline your current program

You can save yourself  stress and frustration by taking a gander at the academic calendar (for the year you enrolled in your program) in order to determine which courses you have to take to graduate within your desired time frame. You can also plan in advance which senior-level courses you would like to take in order to cater to your burgeoning academic interests. Doing so will help you to gain in-depth knowledge in that field, which will likely shape your future research projects and specializations.

2. Explore graduate programs

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With that being said, your undergraduate degree doesn’t always dictate your graduate studies as many programs have diverse and broad admission requirements. Try to determine what truly sparks your intellectual curiosity within and outside university. I can almost guarantee that as long as you maintain solid grades and formulate intriguing hypotheses, there will be a graduate program for you. Whether you’re interested in popular culture, mountain studies or biomedical engineering, take the incentive to explore the World Wide Web and find the right institution or program to cultivate your intellectual ingenuity.

 3. Build collegial relationships with your professors

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This is especially important if you’re planning on attending grad school at the University of Alberta because your third-year undergraduate lecturer could become your future supervisor. As well, grad school admission departments are also expecting letters of reference from former instructors who can attest to your ability to produce quality work, which means that you’ll likely need at least three professors who 1) know who you are and 2) both like and can speak to your work.  So share your academic interests with your profs and build a working relationship that encourages the development of your scholarly persona.

4. Experiment with undergraduate research

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Through initiatives such as the Roger S. Smith Undergraduate Research Award, the Undergraduate Research Initiative and the other departmental opportunities across campus, the world of undergraduate research is begging to be explored. Take advantage of the momentum obtained in the previous step and apply for positions and grants with instructor support to begin building your CV, and hopefully you can create beautifully crafted research essays and super credible lab experiments in the process.

5. Attend academic conferences

This suggestion follows the same premise as the previous one: the best preparation for grad school is immersion into academic settings. By applying for travel grants, submitting proposals/ abstracts and attending panels by your scholarly heroes, you’ll learn how to engage with academia and be better able to formulate your own distinct research questions, plus you’ll get to travel to cool places while doing so.

6. Publish your work in undergraduate journals

Third- and fourth-year courses often require students to complete complex and lengthy papers, so why not submit these to undergraduate journals? The U of A itself has numerous outlets for publication, including those revolving around the fields of Anthropology and Political Science. So approach your department’s academic advisors or undergraduate association and inquire about opportunities for submission or editorial review positions— both look great on grad school applications!

7. Obtain practical volunteer or employment experience

Along with maintaining good grades, exploring research opportunities and developing your academic interests, it’s incredibly important that you demonstrate your ability to gain concrete practical experience by obtaining volunteer or employment experience. If you’re interested in social justice and the criminal justice system, why not commit to working with young offenders? Or if you’re hoping to study chemistry, try to get a summer internship in a research team’s lab. Be proactive, it may shape your future career. For starting points, check out the campus Volunteer Registry and the CAPS website.


About the Author

Hey! My name’s Billy – a second year arts student still scavenging through the course catalog for that perfect major. I’ve recently developed a passion for journalism, professional writing and communications and hope to grow along with the team at YouAlberta. If I’m not engrossed in the latest episode of Big Brother you’ll probably find me being too emotionally invested in The Amazing Race or laughing at inappropriate jokes on the Internet.

When not feeding my reality TV addiction or scurrying to finish my latest assigned reading, I’ll be searching our campus for the most intriguing stories about diversity, academic success and the quirks that make our university the gem that it is. As a student communicator I hope to foster a stronger sense of community and belonging by sharing sentimental and inclusive stories to tap into the shared sense of pride we all uphold – I hope you join me!


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