What to Expect

As you surely know, graduate school is fundamentally different than undergraduate study. What can you expect as you begin your journey of advanced study? It depends on the particular program you are entering, but here are some basic guidelines common to most graduate programs:

Graduate-level coursework

  • Your courses will usually be small seminars,  with no more than 20 students.
  • Courses will be based on specific topics and will focus on reading and discussing the research literature on that topic.
  • You will be expected to participate in in-depth discussions.
  • Reading load will be intensive. Plan on spending 15-20 hours per week on reading.

Research focus

UBC is a research-intensive University, and almost all faculty members have research as their primary focus. Nearly every UBC graduate program has a research component. Especially for students in research-intensive programs (most MA, MSc, MASc, PhD), you can expect:

  • You will start honing your research focus and thesis/dissertation topic from the very start. Many course assignments will be geared to move your research project along.
  • You will work closely with a faculty research supervisor to develop your research topic. Some programs expect you to find a supervisor right away, others not until after required coursework is completed.
  • Students in lab-based programs will usually start working in the lab soon after starting the program. Expect to spend 20-40 hours or more in the lab each week. Research tends to be collaborative and focussed on developing journal articles for publication.
  • Students in social sciences and humanities tend to work more individually on their research. It is important to find others who are interested in similar topics to generate peer support and avoid isolation. 
  • Often, students are expected to apply each year for scholarships, fellowships and/or grants to help generate more funding for their research.


You can expect graduate school to be an exciting and challenging endeavour. It will normally require at least 40 hours a week of sustained work in reading, writing, preparing presentations, developing scholarship or grant proposals, library or lab research and the like. Your professors will expect you to take charge of your own educational path and ask for guidance when you need it. You can also expect times of great inspiration and times of "feeling stuck". Social and peer support is crucial for handling the inevitable ups and downs of graduate school.