WHAT IS GRADUATE EDUCATION?
An excerpt from the publication Graduate Studies: A Practical Guide of the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies.
Graduate school includes master’s programs (typically one to two years of full time study following an undergraduate degree) and doctoral programs (approximately four to six additional years of study which may follow a master’s degree).
The graduate learning environment is distinctly different from that at the undergraduate level. It has been characterized as advanced, focused and scholarly in nature:
- It is advanced because it builds upon an undergraduate education.
- It is focused because the emphasis in graduate studies is on depth.
- It is scholarly because it is concerned not simply with the acquisition of knowledge and skills, but with the critical analysis of existing knowledge and the creation of new knowledge. Graduate students are expected to acquire and apply advanced analytical and interpretive skills, as well understanding and/or producing research.
Although the expectations of students enrolled in graduate programs may vary, it should be recognized that graduate school represents a very different educational experience than that of undergraduate studies. Scientific discovery is seldom a linear process, and it is generally not possible to drive research directly towards a desired outcome. Discovery is a mixture of insight, effort, curiosity, and good fortune.
Graduate programs may be separated into three broad categories:
- Professional programs – provide specialized skills and qualifications for a specific profession (i.e., Speech-Language Pathology, MBA programs).
- Terminal programs – master’s and doctoral degrees are achieved separately. Students apply to doctoral programs after first completing their master’s degree.
- Non-terminal programs – master’s program feeds directly into doctoral program without option of stopping after master’s. May be entered into directly from undergraduate studies.
Additionally, your degree may be:
- Course-based – a combination of required courses, practicum placement, qualifying exam, independent research, or capstone course or project.
- Thesis-based – a combination of required courses and a thesis project under the supervision of a thesis advisor.
Thesis-based master’s programs provide an opportunity for students to explore the possibility of pursuing research as a career. The normal time to completion of this degree is two years, although completion of a high quality thesis may require a longer period of time.
Students are expected to display enthusiasm and dedication towards completing the objectives that define their research projects, which can mean working on their projects beyond a standard work week. In research, the end result is nearly always determined by the effort and commitment of the student to the project. The reward for this is the opportunity to pursue research questions and lead discovery in diverse and important areas that are directed at reducing human suffering and improving our understanding of the world.