What is the purpose of the Graduate Game Plan? And why should you read it?
The Graduate Game Plan guides students through the primary stages of their graduate education. It provides advice for students on strategies for attaining academic and career success.
The key to success in graduate education lies in your ability and willingness to be proactive – to take responsibility for your own graduate school experiences. Pursuit of a graduate degree is an important investment in your personal growth and future career. In order to gain the most value from your investment, we recommend revisiting and reviewing these pages at each stage of your graduate program.
Who should read it?
All graduate students at UBC, both newly admitted and ongoing, will find the Graduate Game Plan highly useful. We recommend reviewing at key points in your graduate program.
When should you read the plan?
If possible, you should review the entire contents of the Graduate Game Plan before you begin your graduate study at UBC. This will give you a broad overview of things you may need to consider while navigating your program. If you are feeling overwhelmed, remember to focus on details for the stage of graduate program you are currently in. You should also review various sections of the Game Plan throughout your program.
What are the stages and steps in the Graduate Game Plan?
The plan is divided into 4 stages that reflect the graduate student journey, and each stage has 3 steps:
Before You Come
Have You Recently Been Accepted for Graduate Study at UBC? Congratulations!
Successful graduate students begin planning and collecting information before they arrive at UBC. You should make an effort to accomplish the following before you arrive:
Each graduate program maintains a website that provides an overview of the graduate degree programs and timelines.
When visiting your program's website, you should acquaint yourself with all available information pertaining to graduate students and graduate studies, including (if available) the latest online edition of the department's graduate student handbook.
A comprehensive index to all graduate programs at UBC is available.
It's a good idea to communicate with your advisor or supervisor during the months before you start. If you are entering a thesis-based program, or are considering writing a thesis, make an effort to correspond with or even visit your supervisor at least a few weeks before your first term of enrollment on campus.
Your advisor can assist you in understanding what is crucial for successful integration into your academic program during your first year of study. If in a research-based program, there may be safety or other online courses you can complete before your arrival (i.e. biosafety, ethics training). Your supervisor may also be able to suggest important publications in your area of scholarly interest with which you should become acquainted. You can start reading these key articles before you come to campus.
If you have been awarded an appointment as a teaching or research assistant for your first term on campus, you should also inquire about any initial requirements or training opportunities.
Find out ahead of time when your supervisor will want to set up an initial meeting with you. Details on topics to discuss are elaborated in the next section under 'Meet early with your graduate supervisor"
It is in your interest to limit the long-term cost of your graduate education as much as possible. Getting a scholarship and understanding the full range of available funding options for your graduate program is important. Funding opportunities will differ depending on whether you are in a course-based or research-based graduate program.
Scholarship application deadlines at UBC are often early in the fall semester. Having a scholarship early in your program can be helpful for various reasons:
- It can provide money so that you can choose work opportunities that may best meet your goals.
- It is a mark of research excellence that can help to position you for future opportunities.
- It can have significant positive impact on your graduate degree progression and help you to complete in a timely manner.
You are more likely to be successful at winning a scholarship if you develop a careful strategy for scholarship application before you arrive on campus. Here are some things you should do as soon as you are accepted into your graduate program:
- Discuss scholarship matters with your research supervisor. During your first telephone or e-mail contact with your advisor or research supervisor, you should raise questions about procedures and deadlines for scholarship and fellowship applications in your program. Be sure to find out about all awards for which graduate students in your program are eligible.
- Thoroughly review the UBC Grad Studies Scholarships, Awards, and Funding webpage. The website gives details about the range of financial assistance available for graduate students including academic merit-based and need-based funds.
- Learn about how to write an award-winning scholarship at UBC. Here are some tips and best practices as well as annotated applications.
Before arriving at UBC, you can connect with other incoming graduate students, find accommodation, learn information specific to international students, and more by joining community.grad.ubc.ca . Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies also hosts a series of pre-arrival webinars each February to July and December to share information on UBC housing, Living in Vancouver, Budgeting, and advice for incoming international students and students with families. Upcoming pre-arrival webinars are posted on the orientation events page and past recordings are available under "Preparing for Arrival" on the resources page.
Campus-wide Graduate Student Orientation
All new graduate students at UBC are welcome and strongly encouraged to attend GradStart, the campus-wide new graduate student orientation sessions, offered by Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, International Student Development, and the Graduate Student Society. Most sessions occur prior to the start, or in the first weeks, of the fall and winter semesters. View complete details of the New Grad Student Orientation. You can also learn more about starting your #UBCGradJourney through enrolling in GradStart Online.
Program Graduate Student Orientation
Most graduate programs hold orientation activities for new students. You should receive information about your program's orientation schedule well before you arrive on campus. Make plans to attend all orientation activities offered by your program to new graduate students.
Before you arrive, you should do some proactive planning- What do YOU want to get out of your graduate program?
Planning begins with self-awareness. You will get more from your graduate program if you understand your interests, your values, what motivates you, and the skills you enjoy using the most. Reflecting on these can help identify some immediate and long-term aspirations, and what you would like to gain during your graduate studies.
Planning may include thinking about potential post-graduation career options. It's common when embarking upon a program of graduate study to have a number of questions about career options. As you begin your studies, you will meet other students in your program who have questions similar to yours. Build networks with your student colleagues to collect information about career paths available to graduates from your program. You may also want to discuss options with your supervisor and other faculty.
There are many career resources available, many of which are online, to help increase your career self-awareness. You should also plan to attend career-related workshops through your department and faculty, the Graduate Pathways to Success program in Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, or at the Centre for Student Involvement and Careers. You can learn more about UBC career-related events, services, and resources for graduate students here and here.
When You Arrive
Your First Term in Graduate School
Strategies for getting off to a great start in your first year as a graduate student at UBC include the following:
The wise graduate student takes time to locate the offices, buildings, departments and people who will be most vital to their future success. Take time to walk around campus.
Familiarize yourself with the following resources for graduate students:
- The Graduate Student Society (GSS), including the AMS/GSS Health & Dental plan
- International Student Development
- UBC Libraries
You can use the campus map website Wayfinding at UBC to assist you, if you want to find the appropriate offices.
Campus-wide Graduate Student Orientation
View the Graduate Student Orientation website for complete event details including information specific to International Graduate Student Orientation as well as information on campus resources, career and professional development support, community building, and more to help you thrive at UBC. Enrol in GradStart Online for welcome addresses, advice from current graduate students and faculty, as well as links to helpful modules on academic and scholarly integrity, equity and inclusion at UBC, and more.
Departmental Graduate Program Student Orientation
Most graduate programs hold their own student orientation activities. If your program is holding an orientation session, attend all related activities.
You may first hear about UBC graduate student policies and procedures when you attend your program and campus-wide orientation sessions. There are many details that you will need to understand as you begin your formal graduate study.
Program Graduate Policies and Requirements
For specific program policies, procedures, regulations and deadlines, be sure to carefully review your program's latest graduate student handbook. You should also consult with your department's graduate program manager/coordinator to be sure that you have the most up-to-date resources or guide to graduate student policies.
Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Policies and Procedures
The G+PS web site contains a wealth of valuable information and guidelines to help new graduate students. All new students should visit the following web sites:
One of the most important keys to success in graduate school is establishing a positive working relationship with your research supervisor. Your supervisor can lend advice and provide wisdom regarding many aspects of your graduate program. You should plan to collaborate closely with your supervisor in order to learn about essential rules and procedures for growing as a researcher and scholar in your discipline.
Still Waiting to Choose a Supervisor? In some programs, graduate students have the opportunity to select a research supervisor after they have arrived. If you are in such a program, be sure to familiarize yourself with the procedures and deadlines for selecting an appropriate research supervisor when you first come to campus and during your program's orientation for new graduate students.
Working Effectively with your Supervisor
It is important to set up a time to talk with your supervisor during the first week that you arrive on campus. There are a number of important topics that you will need to discuss and the Graduate Student / Supervisor Expectations document can help.
Here are some of the topics that should be reviewed during your first meeting with your supervisor:
Frequency of Meetings
How often will you meet with your supervisor and where will your meetings be held?
Procedures for Initiating Meetings
Who should normally initiate the contact between you and your supervisor, and what is the preferred method of contact for doing so? For the meeting, who will prepare the agenda and follow up with meeting notes and action items.
What are your supervisor's work expectations of you? This can include any of the following topics:
- Work location. Where are you are expected to conduct your work? Are you expected to be on campus or do you also have an option to work at other locations such as your home?
- Timeline. What is the typical timeline for moving through the graduate program? When are proposals and thesis/dissertation documents expected to be completed?
- Work hours or schedule. How many hours are students expected to devote to research each week and over the year?
- Procedures for holidays and leaves. What is the procedure in your department for notification about illness or requests for leave? What are your supervisor's expectations around holidays?
- Communication with your supervisor. Does your supervisor want to know your schedule during the semester? How can your supervisor best get in touch with you during the week and when you are away?
Your Program Funding Plans and Scholarship Deadlines
How will your graduate work be funded over the course of your program? This information is important to learn at the beginning of your program of graduate study at UBC because you need to find out immediately what are the department's deadlines and procedures for applying for:
- Research Assistantships
- Teaching Assistantships
Your Expectations and Professional Career Goals
It is a good idea for you to discuss your own career aspirations and your expectations regarding career outcomes. Here are some topics to consider:
- The kind of career you hope to pursue. You may have multiple interests, and this is a good time to indicate to your supervisor that you are interested in more than one career option.
- Your supervisor's advice and information about career opportunities for graduates from your program.
- Where you can locate information about job outcomes of recent graduates from your program. (You can also search the UBC PhD Outcomes site)
The Publication, Presentation and Authorship Practices and Protocols in Your Program
- What is the standard practice in your program for graduate students who wish to publish or present their research in scholarly journals or academic conferences?
- Is there a particular citation management tool your research group uses (see the Research Commons for guides and workshops on citation management tools)
- What are the general practices regarding primary and secondary authorship with your supervisor?
- Are there any issues associated with intellectual property in your program that you should be aware of?
The Plan to form your Supervisory Committee
Discuss plans for forming your supervisory committee during your first year of study. The committee can play an important role in recommending courses and helping you to plan your research.
Additional resources for effectively working with your graduate supervisor and committee include:
UBC Handbook of Graduate Supervision
Handbook of Graduate Supervision: The Working Relationship
Handbook of Graduate Supervision: The Supervisory Committee
The Supervisor Relationship Checklist
Have you discussed the following:
- Meeting times and arrangements
- Supervisor's expectations as for work location, hours, communication, holidays, and thesis/dissertation work
- Funding opportunities and deadlines
- Your career goals and objectives
- Publication, presentation, and authorship practices
- Forming your supervisory committee
Be sure to find out about all awards for which graduate students in your program may be eligible.
Discuss Scholarship Matters with Your Graduate Advisor. During your first interaction with your graduate advisor or research supervisor, you should raise questions about the procedures and deadlines for scholarship and graduate fellowship applications in your program.
You may also want to connect with senior graduate students in your department for their advice on scholarships to apply for.
For advice about developing an effective scholarship application, seek advice from your advisor or supervisor, your peers, or the website of the scholarship you are applying to.
Thoroughly Review the UBC Grad Studies Scholarships, Awards & Funding website. The website gives details about the range of financial assistance available for graduate students including academic merit-based and need-based funds.
Identify Your Career Goals
As you pursue your first year of graduate study, keep in mind that you have entered a major stage of professional career development. Your graduate education will provide you with a range of knowledge, skills and abilities that will broaden your employment opportunities.
A major objective for every graduate student should be to become aware of the range of employment and professional opportunities that exist for individuals receiving a graduate degree. Think of your graduate education as a career step, not just a learning experience.
Just as you have an academic plan for completing your graduate degree, you need to develop a career plan that states your major professional goals, objectives, timelines for moving from step to step, and strategies for attaining success.
Take charge of your education and your career objectives! Don't count on others to provide career options. Develop an individual career plan to provide you with a flexible blueprint of your short and long-term professional, intellectual, and personal aspirations. These online tools may help:
http://www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca/e/50516.html (Canadian Institutes of Health Research)
**http://myidp.sciencecareers.org/ (STEM fields)
**https://www.imaginephd.com (Humanities and Social Sciences)
Once you have an individual carer plan, bookmark your calendar to revisit every six months to a year. Your objectives may shift as your scholarly interests evolve. Talking with peers or your graduate supervisor or a career advisor could also help you develop action steps from your plan.
**These websites are not hosted in Canada, and your personal information may be stored or accessed outside of Canada.
A good way to learn about career options is to find out about career outcomes for graduates from programs similar to yours. Ask your research supervisor or other program faculty and check out:
- Alumni profiles at https://www.grad.ubc.ca/campus-community/alumni
- UBC PhD outcomes http://outcomes.grad.ubc.ca/
- Academic professional societies in your area (they often feature types of career opportunities available for graduates)
Be aware that your classmates have similar questions about job opportunities. Talk to them about their plans. Determine whether your ultimate goal in graduate study is to develop specialized skills for a single career path, or to develop a broad skill set that can qualify you for any number of career paths.
Be open to possibilities! Graduate programs cultivate a wealth of skills and individuals who hold graduate degrees are increasingly seeking work in a wide range of fields. If you are having difficulty finding information about a career path, or are struggling to identify potential career options, consider using resources from the Centre for Student Involvement and Careers.
Pay attention to where others from your program are going. Talk to colleagues who are making choices that intrigue you, even if those choices appear to be divergent from your own career goals.
Ask your program's graduate advisor if there are any statistical or descriptive reports on the employment status of recent graduates.
If your program has presentations or workshops on job market issues or career development strategies for graduate students, attend and ask questions. If there is a particular topic or sector you would be interested in learning from, see if you can help organize a session for others in your department.
The Internet can be an essential tool for extending your research into career planning, self assessment, labour market trends, job search, and various occupations. As you begin to identify some career fields that interest you, think about how you could gain further information about what it is like to do that job. Check whether your department, Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, the Centre for Student Involvement & Careers (CSIC), or local professional organizations will be hosting networking events, alumni panels, or employer information sessions.
You can also create your own connections through LinkedIn or by contacting professionals for informational interviews. Informational interviews are short, informal conversations wherein you learn about a particular type of interview by asking questions about the experiences of someone who works or has worked in that field.
For more information or to book a career advising appointment, check out the career resources for graduate students.
It’s natural and normal for your goals and interests to shift over the course of graduate studies. As you progress through your program, you will come to a deeper understanding of your skills and interests. Make sure to periodically set time aside to reflect on and re-evaluate your plans and goals. It is generally helpful to include your supervisor and your committee in these conversations to keep them up-to-date about your career aspirations. They may be able to help with ideas or professional connections.
Especially when a degree spans many years, changes in the world around you may influence your career goals. If you are interested in a particular field, make a point of keeping current on news, technologies, and trends in that field. This will help to make sure that your goals are grounded in reality. If this field has a professional association, you could consider joining and attending local events to build professional contacts in the field.
And remember, life happens while you are in grad school. Changes to your personal situation and priorities may also change and influence your career goals. Make certain your career goals continue to align and complement your life goals.
View the Career Resources for Graduate Students for more information.
Aim For Success
To be successful in completing a graduate degree, students need to develop a number of essential skills. Here are some basic guidelines to assist you as you create a personal plan for graduate school success.
Think about what you really want from graduate school, and identify opportunities to attain those goals.
Continue the mental transition from being told what to do, to deciding what to do.
Don't wait for faculty members to come to find you – take the initiative to build relationships, both within your program and department and within the broader university and academic communities.
Schedule regular meetings with your entire supervisory committee – at least once a year. For guidance on committee selection and policies on who can be a committee member review the committee section of the Handbook of Graduate Supervision.
Recognize the opportunities provided by your full committee for obtaining valuable feedback on your evolving research.
Have a clear purpose for each meeting, and communicate the agenda in advance to your supervisor/committee.
Follow up on items discussed in meetings – keep your supervisor informed of your progress and challenges.
Act as a "junior colleague" – ask questions, advance ideas, show interest and support for shared goals.
You may wish to review information on supervision and advising or use the expectations document here
Track your specific program requirements (e.g., courses taken, comprehensives, research, thesis, etc.)
Schedule periodic meetings with your supervisor and committee.
Take professional development courses.
Need guidance? Email Graduate Pathways to Success to inquire about relevant past presentation materials related to being strategic in graduate school. These articles may also help:
- A step-by-step guide to keeping track of grad school activities
- Begin - and continue - your thesis with the end in mind
Seek input and collaboration from faculty members and your peers – don't isolate yourself.
Attend optional seminars and lectures within and beyond your program or department.
Recognize that some of the graduate students in your program who are further along may have experience and insights in situations you may be encountering.
Attend and present at conferences. Begin thinking of yourself as a member of your profession and academic field.
Be aware of other research in your lab and department. If possible, actively participate.
Seek out ways to participate in your department such as volunteering to join department committees that call for graduate representation.
Your program may require any or all of the following:
- Comprehensive or qualifying exams
- A research thesis or major project
- A practicum or internship
- Public presentation and/or defense of thesis or project
UBC policy states that master's students must complete all degree requirements within 5 years of enrolment (not counting leaves of absence). Extensions may be granted by G+PS if fully justified by the supervisor and program.
Your program may require that you do coursework and an internship.
Doctoral programs will require that you:
- Develop and gain approval for a research proposal
- Pass a comprehensive exam
- Complete a research dissertation
- Defend the thesis at a Doctoral Oral Examination
UBC policy states that doctoral students
- Should advance to candidacy within 2 years, and must within 3 years
- Should complete all degree requirements within 5 years of enrolment and must within 6 years (not counting leaves of absence). Extensions may be granted by G+PS if fully justified by the supervisor and program.
View the Policies and Procedures page for more information.
All UBC researchers are required to:
- Give proper recognition to those who have made intellectual contributions to the content of their publication; refrain from representing others' academic work as one's own (this is plagiarism)
- Comply with regulations governing research involving humans (including review and approval by a Research Ethics Board)
- Conform to UBC requirements for working with animals, biohazards and radioisotopes, and the environment
- Use scholarly and scientific rigor in obtaining, recording, and analyzing data, and in reporting results
Learn more about academic honesty and scholarly integrity. Be proactive by taking a Responsible Conduct of Research online course and visit UBC's Scholarly Integrity site to learn more and complete the Canvas module.
For graduate students taking courses, and for those TAing, learn more about UBC's policies and procedures related to academic integrity and find resources and educational material available to support your learning and work. The Intro to Academic Integrity course is also recommended.
Aim for mastery of skills in organization, preparedness, collegiality.
Take workshops through the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies' Graduate Pathways to Success or the various central UBC centres offering programming. View the calendar of upcoming sessions and resources.
Remember that you have friends and family outside of grad school who can be important for building your support system.
Seek out the many resources at UBC that can help you through the tough times. The student wellness centre provides resources to help with eating and sleeping well, stress & anxiety, depression, and more.
Remember that this will be among the most inspiring and satisfying times in your life.
And, because your mother isn't here: "Get enough sleep, make time for physical exercise, and eat your veggies!"
Adapted from "Being a Successful Graduate Student", a PowerPoint presentation by Jenny Phelps, UBC's Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.
Start Your Thesis or Dissertation Plan
It is never too early to begin developing your ideas about your thesis or dissertation topic. The wise graduate student begins to examine and hone potential research topics during the first term of graduate study.
In some programs, the research supervisor will assign your general research topic, although you may have some opportunity to choose specific projects within the topic area. Other programs expect students to determine their own research topic in consultation with the research supervisor.
The graduate thesis or dissertation is shaped by the procedures, requirements and timelines of the student's individual program, however, here are some general principles you can follow.
Determine early in your program the appropriate process and timelines for research topic assignment or selection.
Discuss your research objectives with your research supervisor and other faculty within your program or on your committee.
Use each course or lab assignment as an opportunity to examine various facets of research and inquiry in your field of study.
If your program expects students to choose their own research topics, be sure to select a topic that is both interesting to you and realistic in terms of the amount of time and resources it will require for completion.
Record your research ideas in a diary or other reference source when you think of them. This can be one way to start writing regularly.
Become familiar with the important research issues and topics in, and vocabulary of, your discipline as evidenced by review of recent publications in the major journals in your field.
You may want to discuss with your supervisor and peers citation management and research data management tools to use to help manage your research project from the start.
Carefully review any research that has been recently published by your research supervisor or others from your department.
Your research supervisor and supervisory committee members will be major sources of support and guidance for you as you pursue your graduate research. Plan to consult regularly with them in order to answer key questions about your topic, methodology, data collection, proposal development, and other facets of your evolving thesis or dissertation.
Keep in mind that as you continue to develop your research, you will begin to develop a mastery of subject matter in your area of specialization. Your supervisor will not always be able to answer every question that you have about your topic, but should be able to guide you in a proper direction as you write your proposal.
A valuable source of guidance is recently completed theses or dissertations produced by students who have completed your program. Ask your research supervisor to recommend particular theses and dissertations from students they have supervised. Learn from those who have gone before you.
Develop networks with graduate students in your program who are nearing completion of their graduate degrees, and seek their permission to attend their final thesis or dissertation defense presentations in order to learn more about the process. Staying connected with these graduate students can also help you to learn the career paths of program alumni and build your professional network.
Although the actual timeline for completion of your graduate thesis or dissertation will be shaped, in part, by your progress and your program's formal requirements, you should begin to think about the process and content of your thesis or dissertation as early as possible.
After determining the topic for your research, there will be a number of stages of subsequent work to:
(a) prepare your proposal;
(b) conduct your research;
(c) write the thesis/dissertation document;
(d) share the research outcomes with others; and
(e) revise the thesis/dissertation.
Try to estimate the amount of time and resources you will need to move through each stage. Keep your proposed timeline sufficiently flexible in order to allow for uncertainties that may influence your progress toward completion. Break these down into smaller, attainable goals and use these to create term-long and weekly schedules. Need assistance? Contact Graduate Pathways to Success for guidance in building your grad game plan strategy.
Thoroughly review the G+PS guidelines for preparing, formatting and submitting your approved master's thesis or doctoral dissertation.
A literature review should serve as a major summary of scholarly and scientific publications on your research topic. Start early to organize and catalogue your publications using a citation management tool. Speak with your supervisor or visit the Library Research Commons for guidance on selecting the appropriate tool for your thesis.
Subject Librarians are also available to help get you started on your literature review. The Centre for Scholarly Writing and Communication also offers relevant workshops.
The literature review should enable you to demonstrate mastery of skills in two areas: information selection and critical review/appraisal of available literature. A good literature review synthesizes the results of your reading of the literature and critical appraisal into a summary of what is and is not yet known about a topic.
Through a careful literature review, you should ultimately be able to generate new questions or issues that merit further research, thus justifying the focus of your thesis or dissertation study.
Become thoroughly familiar with the formal procedures and requirements in your program for making timely progress toward development and completion of your thesis or dissertation. Be sure that you understand the standard formats for development and presentation of a thesis or dissertation in your program.
Carefully review the latest edition of your program's graduate student handbook, identifying all deadlines, names and locations of program personnel who are involved in getting the thesis or dissertation approved.
For a more complete overview of strategies for developing your thesis or dissertation, view the section on the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies website that talks about Thesis Preparation.
Prepare for Ethical Review
Developing an ethical code of conduct is an essential aspect of becoming an academic and researcher. One part of that ethical conduct is to carry out your research in a socially responsible way. Further, any UBC research that involves animals, human participants and data, and bio-hazardous materials must be reviewed and approved by the appropriate Committee or Research Ethics Board (REB) before you begin any data collection.
- Does your research involve animals, fish, or invertebrates? If yes, familiarize yourself with the relevant UBC policies regarding ethics approval and training at the UBC Animal Care and Use Program website. All personnel involved in animal work are required to take the animal care on-line training course offered by the Canadian Council on Animal Care. The Animal Care and Use Program also offers hands-on courses on a number of procedures.
- Does your research involve bacteria, viruses, plasmids, recombinant DNA, animal tissues, radioactive materials, or other biohazards? If yes, see UBC Biosafety Committee.
- Does your research involve human participants, human tissue, human stem cells or data collected from human participants? If yes, check out the UBC Research Ethics Boards.
For research involving humans, researchers should be familiar with the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research involving Humans (TCPS_2 2018) and are required to complete the online CORE tutorial before starting research.
Go to the Office of Research Ethics website to learn about the entire range of research activities involving humans that require ethics approval. The website provides extensive guidance (and links to training) that will help you develop your research and prepare your ethics applications.
Your research supervisor will orient you to the ethical issues and practices within your field of study. This may include pointing out codes of ethical conduct that guide the professional associations in your field, as well as standards for ethical behaviour among researchers in your department. If your supervisor doesn't volunteer this information, take the initiative to ask about it.
If your graduate program includes specific courses focusing on research methods, you should also receive an introduction to the formal procedures for obtaining REB approval.
Ask your supervisor to explain to you the standard procedures in your department for obtaining ethical approval for animal, human, or biosafety research.
Much of the mystery of obtaining REB approval will be reduced if you have an opportunity to review a few recent REB applications. Please keep in mind that ethics standards are not fixed and that requirements evolve over time.
Ask your research supervisor for permission to review recent applications that have been submitted by them or their students, and ask for suggestions about how to develop a successful application for your own research. Find out how long the review/approval process has typically taken for other graduate students in your department.
UBC Research Ethics Committees and Boards meet regularly.through the academic year. If your research requires full board review, please be informed about the submission dates for the committee or REB you are submitting to. Please note that there is no firm timeline for the length of time from initial receipt of an application to final approval by a review board.
You should allow 5 to 6 weeks for review and approval and note that incomplete or sub-standard applications will take longer to process.
When you are ready to develop your REB application, you must consult with your research supervisor for advice and guidance. Your faculty supervisor will be listed on the ethics application as Principal Investigator (PI). You will be listed as a co-investigator. Faculty advisors are ultimately accountable for the ethics of research conducted by their graduate students.
Your supervisor will offer advice on the proper procedures for completing and submitting the resarch ethics application and providing appropriate attachments. Even so, you need to be able to provide clarifying information about the scope, purpose and objectives of your specific research study. Work collaboratively with your supervisor to ensure that your application accurately reflects your research methods and ultimate research goals.
In some cases, a graduate student's research may qualify for a “minimal risk ethics review”, so it is wise to discuss research risk and participant vulnerability with your research supervisor.
After you have submitted your ethics application, you should stay in close contact with your research supervisor in case changes are required. Discuss all changes with your supervisor.
Note: Changes to research protocols and procedures as well as to documents used in your research require review and approval by the REB. Ensure you have built the revision stage and future amendments (e.g. after piloting a protocol) into your project timeline.
Also: Be sure that your application is approved BEFORE you begin recruitment and data collection.
Review Your Progress
Whether you are in a master's or a doctoral program, you need to take time to evaluate your progress when you reach the middle of your program. Most master's programs are two years. Therefore, this evaluation should occur after completing your first year of study. If you are in a one-year master's program, review your progress after the first term. If you are a doctoral student, review your progress at the end of the second year of doctoral studies and continue to review this regularly, at least annually.
Consult with your supervisor about your rate of progress. Are you on schedule? If not, come up with a plan to make up time.
Master's Degree Students
Check to ensure that you will be able to complete all required courses within the timeline determined by your program.
For research-based masters, ensure your supervisor has approved courses taken to fulfill specific program requirements.
If a comprehensive examination is required for a master's degree in your program, obtain information in advance from your research supervisor (for more information see Comprehensives for Master's Degrees)
Examine the latest online edition of UBC's Calendar to review the academic regulations governing graduate study.
Each student's progress should be reviewed regularly, and at least once per year in June by the home department and Dean of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. If you have not received a feedback letter from your department, talk with your supervisor or graduate advisor.
For master's students who hope to continue into the doctoral program, ask your supervisor about your department's deadlines for application.
All master's students who are in a two-year thesis program should have formed a thesis committee by the end of the first year.
Typically, the committee will contain at least three faculty members from the student's department, including the primary research supervisor.
Review G+PS Guidelines on Supervisory Committees.
Many graduate programs require students to develop a formal thesis proposal and have it approved by the supervisory committee. Check to see if your program has this requirement. If so, follow the steps below.
- Begin writing drafts of your thesis proposal as soon as possible.
- Circulate drafts of the proposal to your supervisor for feedback.
- Present the completed proposal to your supervisory committee for feedback on the research plan.
In many programs, you are required to schedule a formal committee meeting to review and accept the thesis proposal. Check with your supervisor to see if this applies to you. Even if a formal meeting is not required, it is a good idea to meet with your committee to make sure that they support the proposed plan before you begin the work. Use your committee to help strengthen your research.
Typically, the thesis is completed within the second year of enrollment.
Begin conducting your research as soon as possible. The earlier, the better.
Maintain regular contact with your research supervisor to review your progress and get feedback on issues that arise.
Determine the date for the master's thesis defense.
For support creating a comprehensive and detailed progress plan, please reach out to Graduate Pathways to Success for resources or attend a "Designing your Grad School Strategy" workshop.
Take note of all deadlines required in the program for completion and defense of the thesis. If any circumstance jeopardizes your ability to complete your thesis on schedule, talk with your supervisor as soon as possible and make arrangements.
Familiarize yourself with procedures and deadlines for thesis completion and submission to the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies through these sources:
Use this checklist to review your master's degree progress.
Confirm that you have arranged to complete all required courses in your program.
Be sure that your research supervisor has approved courses you have taken to fulfill specific program requirements.
Examine the latest online edition of UBC's Calendar to review the academic regulations governing graduate study.
Consult with your research supervisor about proper procedures for forming the dissertation committee. The committee should have at least three faculty members (including the supervisor).
Select committee members who are:
- interested and knowledgeable about your dissertation topic
- in agreement with your research plan and procedures
- available for consultation during your intended period of research.
Review G+PS guidelines regarding Supervisory Committees.
Meet regularly with your research supervisor to discuss your research ideas and progress.
Begin writing your dissertation proposal as soon as possible.
Set a timeline for conducting and completing your dissertation work. For support creating a comprehensive and detailed progress plan, please reach out to Graduate Pathways to Success for resources or attend a "Designing your Grad School Strategy" workshop.
Make sure that you have mastered all the technical skills necessary to conduct the work.
Circulate the final dissertation proposal to your research supervisor and your supervisory committee for approval before you begin the work.
Some programs require a formal meeting of the advisory committee to approve the dissertation proposal. If so, be proactive in arranging the meeting.
If possible, attend other student dissertation defenses to observe what happens.
Provide regular feedback to your supervisor and committee about your research progress.
Familiarize yourself with procedures and deadlines for dissertation completion and submission to the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies through these sources:
Comprehensive examinations are normally held after completion of all required course work and are intended to test the student's grasp of the chosen field of study.
They are typically taken at the end of the first year of doctoral enrollment and should be completed by the end of the second year.
Consult your research supervisor and departmental graduate student handbook for details regarding procedures and timelines for completing all required comprehensive examinations.
See also the G+PS guidelines around Comprehensive Examinations.
Doctoral students are normally expected to be admitted to candidacy by the end of their second year of doctoral studies but no later than the end of the third year. To advance to candidacy, you must have:
- completed all required coursework
- passed your comprehensive exams
- have a research proposal approved by your committee.
Use this checklist to review your doctoral progress.
If you are experiencing barriers or challenges to progressing in your program, please refer to the Overcoming Barriers section below for guidance.
Present and Publish, Expand your Community
Your career success in graduate school and beyond will be enhanced if you develop the skills necessary to communicate your scholarly ideas and research findings. Presentations will give your research a higher profile, help you build networks with scholars who share your interests, and increase the career options available to you.
Use graduate course assignments as an opportunity to develop and present your evolving research, and get feedback from others.
Ask your supervisor about opportunities for giving public presentations about your research. For example, find out if your program holds colloquia/weekly seminars or journal clubs for faculty and graduate students to present their research. Attend and learn about the procedures for giving presentations. You could start practicing by presenting to your own research group.
Attend or present in University-wide programs, such as Toastmasters clubs or Three Minute Thesis. There are numerous opportunities to present to public audiences beyond the University (i.e Science Slam, Cafe Scientifique, Nerd Nite, SSHRC Storytellers, etc).
Attend job talks by applicants for faculty positions. Observe what makes for good or bad presentations.
In every discipline, there are professional societies which faculty and graduate students can join. It is important to your professional development to attend meetings of those associations to learn about contemporary issues in the field and meet others with similar interests.
Identify the major associations in your discipline, locate their websites, and determine whether you can join the association as a graduate student member. Often, graduate students can join associations at reduced cost if they provide evidence of current full-time enrollment in a graduate program.
Graduate student membership in scholarly associations carries many benefits. Typically, your membership will entitle you to receive the association's official newsletter, one or more journals that it publishes, and other resources that may assist you in developing ideas around your own research. You can also learn how graduate students may become more active within the association.
Learn whether there are official divisions, subdivisions, or special interest groups in your favourite scholarly association. In this way, you may be able to identify and further explore your area of academic research focus or specialty.
Investigate whether the association offers competitions for graduate students to win fellowships, travel grants, or other awards. Pay close attention to submission guidelines and deadlines for all award opportunities. Some associations also offer recognition for outstanding theses or dissertations or awards to travel to conferences. Winning these awards helps to build your CV and resume.
Establish long term relationships with researchers and scholars who share your interests, inside and outside your academic department. These relationships can contribute to successful entry into an academic and/or professional community and ultimately, help you to build your professional career.
Many of the larger academic professional associations maintain graduate student advisory committees. Involvement in graduate student committees will provide you with opportunities to build a professional network, develop your leadership skills, represent your student colleagues, advocate for the profession on a national level, and invest in your future.
Examine strategic methods for networking online with scholars from around the world.
Ask your research supervisor to help you develop your research ideas for presentation at scholarly or professional meetings.
Check professional association websites and talk with your supervisor about deadlines to submit proposals.
Learn what types of presentations are featured at various conferences. Identify conferences where attendees are likely to be interested in your work.
Aim to present your work at the very best national and international conferences. Presentations at prestigious conferences can advance your career. Furthermore, by attending those conferences, you will hear about current research being conducted by the top people in your field, and you may have the opportunity to meet them. Conferences are also great source for job leads.
Work with your supervisor to write a conference submission. Consider (for example) whether you are more interested in presenting a conference paper, a poster session, or an interactive discussion symposium. Discuss order of authorship and tips for writing a successful submission.
When you attend the conference, take the opportunity to introduce yourself to the leading people in your field. Attend social events.
For advice, here are two relevant articles: https://www.universityaffairs.ca/career-advice/from-phd-to-life/making-conferences-work-career/ and https://www.chronicle.com/article/how-to-get-the-most-out-of-a-conference/
Attending a virtial conference? Read https://www.chronicle.com/article/how-to-make-the-most-of-a-virtual-conference
Don't let the cost of conference attendance discourage you from attending a meeting! Ask your research supervisor for details on any travel or conference assistance the department provides for graduate students.
Be sure to consult the G+PS website on the range and requirements for travel awards for current graduate students (search travel in award opportunites).
Graduate students are eligible for reimbursement from the Graduate Student Travel and Research Dissemination Fund once per degree program.
As you begin to write your thesis or dissertation, you also should plan how to publish some portion of your research findings.
Having research publications will increase your career prospects whether you are seeking a career in academia, government, or the private sector. Publishing your original work establishes your expertise and professional identity.
Seek advice from your research supervisor about the types of journals that may be interested in your research. Find out whether your supervisor is willing to be involved in developing your scholarly work for publication in peer-reviewed journals, edited scholarly books, or other types of publications.
Be proactive in discussing issues like order of authorship, who takes the lead in writing the article, and the division of responsibilities for writing and submitting the article.
Learn about the publication process by reviewing articles. Ask your supervisor if you can work with them on journal reviews. Faculty members are often happy to have another opinion. It is important to note that, for confidentiality purposes, it is important to obtain the journal editor's approval for this. Learning how to review other people's work helps you to develop a critical eye for your own work.
The best time to write your work for publication is immediately when it is finished. A delay in beginning to write for publication – even as short as one month – will make the task more difficult.
Recognize that a scholarly publication goes through multiple drafts. Don't freeze up by expecting yourself to write a final version on the first try. Just get something down. It's easier to edit a written document than to begin from scratch.
It is often helpful to use a published article in your research area as a guide for your own writing. Follow the lead of an article written by your research supervisor or another student supervised by them.
Circulate your drafts to your supervisor and to other grad students for discussion. This is particularly helpful when you find yourself stalling out.
Learn from journal reviewers' comments. Don't be defensive about critical feedback; consider it an opportunity to learn from experts. Try to incorporate suggestions for improvement. Most people who review articles genuinely want to help young scholars develop and strengthen their work.
Don't be discouraged if your initial attempts at publication get turned down. Everyone – from Nobel Prize winners on down – has papers rejected. Consider whether you submitted your paper to the appropriate journal and how the paper could be improved for publication elsewhere.
Health and Wellness
Graduate study is arduous work, and sometimes the sheer demands of graduate school coupled with other simultaneous pressures (financial, career, family, spouse/partner needs, etc.) can take a toll on physical and mental well-being.
Nobody has a greater interest in your well-being than you. Know what's good for your physical and emotional health, and take control. Determine the optimal workload and pace that will enable you to complete your work in a timely manner without burning out.
If you have not already done so, you should consider incorporating a strategy for personal wellness into your graduate studies progress and management plan.
Stress and Mood Management Strategies
It is common to experience periods of high stress, fatigue, exhaustion, and even feeling totally overwhelmed by how much you have to get done. What is important is that you manage these feelings effectively, and that you recognize when you may need to reach out for support from others.
Recognize when you're beginning to slow down, lose your interest or your momentum. Realize that peaks and valleys, lows and highs are integral parts of the process. Writing can be the loneliest part of the journey. Recognize when the isolation is wearing you down. Consider joining or starting a peer writing community, attending a graduate student society event, or finding other ways for connecting with peers inside and outside of your program (for example, start a forum post on community.grad.ubc.ca or join a student club).
Although a certain amount of stress can serve as a motivator, too much stress can immobilize you or seriously diminish your progress. Stress interferes with clear judgment and makes it difficult to take the time to make good decisions. It causes difficult situations to be seen as a threat, not a challenge. It damages the positive frame of mind you need for high quality work by promoting negative thinking and damaging self-confidence. It can generate excessive worry and anxiety, confusion and inability to concentrate, difficulty sleeping, impatience and irritability. Behavioural effects of excessive stress include bad moods, being forgetful, changing eating habits, and diminished attention spans.
If you have noticed increased stress during your graduate years, take steps to manage it more effectively. The following will help:
- Be sure to get regular exercise
- Eat well
- Get sufficient sleep
- Maintain hobbies and interests outside of work
- Take time for social activities
View UBC Health & Wellness Self-help: Stress-Management web resources for more information.
Burnout happens when you've been pushing too hard for too long.
The warning signs of burnout are:
- Loss of interest in or questioning the meaning of your studies and research
- Chronic fatigue - exhaustion, a sense of being physically run down and emotionally flat
- Anger at those making demands
- Cynicism, negativity, and irritability
- A sense of being besieged
- Feelings of helplessness
Just as with stress management, burnout prevention requires a number of personal strategies of self-care and, also, the support and assistance from others.
The best solution is to take time away from work to allow your emotional interest to regenerate, get perspective, and re-establish the balance in your life.
Life happens. During any stage of your graduate education, you could encounter a personal event that affects your momentum. Life events such as death or illness of a spouse or family member, divorce or loss of income, planning a wedding, having a child, can disrupt even the best efforts at stress management during graduate study.
Different life events have different impacts. In some cases, however, it may be possible to anticipate events and prepare for them. It may also be useful to recognize the impact of events that have occurred so that you can take account of them.
If you encounter a critical event in your life, talk to your graduate supervisor and graduate advisor about the options available to you.
- Don't simply withdraw and leave others to guess at what is going on.
- You may be able to take a leave from your graduate studies.
- You may also be able to negotiate the timeline for various requirements with your supervisor.
- Your research supervisor and graduate advisor may have encountered such situations before and be happy to help you make arrangements.
If you encounter a serious health matter that is affecting your performance in your graduate studies, pay attention to your health! Visit the UBC Student Health Service.
Make time for regular check-ups, inoculations, and other routine health care.
View UBC Health and Wellbeing for more information regarding many health-related issues and for self-help resources
Sometimes chronic stress and life events can lead to an ongoing anxiety disorder. If you start having severe symptoms of anxiety, take time to identify what is wrong.
There are a number of common anxiety-related conditions, including:
- Panic Disorder. Here, the person experiences waves of panic, marked by such things as feelings of dizziness, heart pounding, sweating and trembling. Often the cause of the panic is not clear to the person, which contributes to their fear. Panic Disorder is a common condition and one that can be effectively treated.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Here, the person can't stop worrying. They worry about catastrophic outcomes (failing exams, flunking out of school, not getting a job) without reason. Days and nights are marked by rumination about feared negative events, most of which never occur.
- Social Phobia. For some students, social anxiety interferes with their ability to give seminar presentations, complete oral exams, defend their thesis / dissertation, or even talk with their faculty members.
- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Frightening events such as assault, rape, and bad car accidents happen to graduate students as often as to other people. For some people, those events result in ongoing distressing memories, nightmares, and the desire to avoid situations and activities associated with the event.
It is important to note that effective treatments are available for these and other anxiety-related conditions. Talk to UBC Counselling Services, access online counselling support, or visit your family doctor to find out what can be done to overcome anxiety.
If you experience high levels of stress at any period of your life - including during your years of graduate study-you become vulnerable to depression.
Mild depression is not uncommon among graduate students. It can signal the beginning of a period of change and growth. It can point you in the correct direction for your future life and career.
If depression becomes immobilizing and reduces your pleasure in life, you may have a depressive disorder. The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health defines a depressive disorder as “an illness that involves the body, mood, and thoughts. It affects the way a person eats and sleeps, the way one feels about oneself, and the way one thinks about things. A depressive disorder is not the same as a passing blue mood. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed or wished away.”
Depression is a common condition. If you do experience depression, recognize that you are not alone. According to the Mood Disorders Society of Canada, about 5-12 percent of men and 10-25 percent of women will have at least one episode of major depressive disorder during their lifetimes. Females have higher rates of major depression than males by a ratio of two to one.
Common signs and symptoms of depression include the following:
- a persistent sad or “empty” mood
- loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed
- loss of appetite or weight loss
- sleep problems
- fatigue, despite adequate sleep
- feelings of pessimism, guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
- indecisiveness, difficulty concentrating
- psychomotor slowing or agitation
- thoughts of wanting to escape, hopelessness, suicidal thoughts
If you believe you are experiencing depression, make an appointment to visit UBC Counselling Services or visit the UBC Counselling Services web site. The counselling staff have considerable experience talking with students who are depressed and are a good source of support. Services and programs are available to help students manage depression effectively.
Sometimes depression can become so severe that it can result in suicidal feelings or thoughts. Suicidal feelings are more likely to occur when people experience stressful events such as major losses or personal setbacks. If you experience suicidal thoughts or feelings, the most important things to do are to:
- Communicate these thoughts to someone. Don't suffer in silence.
- Contact UBC Counselling, or Health and Wellness. UBC Counselling Services also provides information on emergency services.
- Allow yourself time to deal with your feelings. Make taking care of yourself by getting support your top priority.
- Recognize that these feelings are temporary and will subside as you implement coping strategies.
- Recognize that you are not alone. Many people have thoughts of suicide.
- Accept the fact that you are a valuable human being regardless of life set-backs and losses. Don't confuse your human worth with achievement-related success.
The Finish Line
Here are some good strategies for completing your graduate program.
Senior graduate students often have multiple opportunities to become involved in additional research or professional activities. Faculty members will approach them to help with various interesting projects. As well, students have typically developed a circle of friends. The graduate lifestyle - tackling new projects and socializing- can become a pleasant habit. As a result, however, some students begin to drift away from their planned timeline as they move through their graduate programs.
As you move into the latter years of graduate studies, it is important to keep your eye on the finish line. This means that you make completing your degree your top priority and begin planning the next step in your life. Graduate school should be a time-limited phase in your life, not a substitute for life.
Examine your plans for completing your degree. Are you on schedule?
Make a firm commitment to finish as soon as possible.
If you've encountered any obstacles or stumbling blocks to your degree completion plans, build a strategy for regaining your momentum. Strengthen your time management skills to maximize your productivity. For support on your progress and completion plan, please reach out to Graduate Pathways to Success for resources or attend a "Designing your Grad School Strategy" workshop.
Know the UBC Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Thesis Submission Deadlines. A quick Link to Deadlines is at the top of every Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies web page, along with a link to Forms.
Maintain close contact with your research supervisor and committee members. If you are having difficulty sustaining momentum, seek your supervisor's advice on strategies for finishing your work.
Develop a support network with others who will help to keep you accountable and encourage you to finish your graduate degree.
Meet with graduate students from your program who have reached a similar stage and establish ways to support each other in completing.
Discuss completion with your family and enlist their support in finishing up.
Present scholarly papers about your thesis or dissertation research at academic conferences. Contact with other scholars will motivate you to complete your work.
Use the opportunity to widen your professional networks, identify post-graduation career opportunities, and get feedback on ideas developing from your research. This will fix your eyes on your future.
Keep your graduate degree in perspective by recognizing that it is but a step in your broader career development strategy.
Identify the steps you need to take before you graduate in order to ensure a smooth transition from graduate school to the professional world of work.
Begin to target job or postdoctoral opportunities. There is nothing like a job offer to motivate you to finish up!
Overcome Barriers to Completion
There are many different challenges that you may encounter as you continue through your graduate program, including a number of barriers to your progress. Consider whether you need to address any of the issues below.
Barriers or Challenges to Degree Completion
You may find that you will stall out at some point when working on your degree. You may feel as if there is no light at the end of the tunnel, or encounter disappointments or unexpected setbacks. It is important to know that this is a common part of the process!
It helps to put the entire project into a broader perspective. Completing a lengthy thesis or dissertation requires stamina, determination, shrewd negotiating skills, and a willingness to stretch your own intellectual and emotional capabilities.
Tell your research supervisor about your concerns about progress. They will not be surprised or disappointed to learn that you have lost momentum. Faculty will have seen the same thing in other students.
- If you are still at the proposal-writing stage, determine with your research supervisor the precise steps you need to take to prepare the final proposal for formal presentation to your supervisory committee.
- Determine a clear deadline for submitting your proposal, and stick to it.
- Arrange to meet regularly with your supervisor. Having to report on your progress will motivate you.
- Take advantage of any program supports (e.g., workshops) on writing your thesis or dissertation.
Examine your time-management skills. Where are you wasting time? Work with a carefully-designed plan for developing and completing your thesis or dissertation, creating a well-organized listing or even a project flow chart of essential tasks that you must carry out on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Carefully prioritize your tasks by asking yourself, “What is the most important thing I can do right now?” Use your answer to plan your time and get back on track.
View the information on Final Thesis or Dissertation Submission on the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies website.
Need extra support for time management, how to submit and format your thesis, or overcoming perfectionism? Related challenge? Participate in graduate student workshops offered through Graduate Pathways to Success or workshops offered by one of our many campus partners or institutional memberships. There are also many online, on-demand resources available including the Dissertation Success Curriculum.
Your working relationship with your research supervisor and other members of your supervisory committee will undoubtedly influence your momentum and your performance. Periodically examine what is working well, and what needs improvement in your working relationships.
If there is tension in your relationship with your supervisor, the first step is for you to clearly identify for yourself what is going wrong. Here are some common sources of tension:
- Lack of supervisor availability. Your supervisor is not available for consultation.
- Micromanagement. You may feel that your supervisor is overly-directive.
- Lack of support. You may have a sense that your supervisor is unhappy with your performance or even critical.
- Divergent goals. You and your supervisor may have different goals for the research or want to emphasize or give priority to different aspects of the research program.
The next step is to talk with your supervisor. A good way to begin is to ask your supervisor for a candid appraisal of your performance and progress. Try not to be defensive, but rather get a clear idea how your supervisor sees your collaboration.
- You may find that what appears to be a lack of availability or support simply reflects work or personal pressures on your supervisor.
- If your supervisor has some concerns about your work, ask them to give you some details about the problem and some suggestions for how they can be corrected.
- Make some suggestions of your own about what might help you and the research project.
- Keep the discussion focused on finding solutions and not on rehashing past grievances.
Know the role boundaries and what is reasonable to expect from your supervisor. Maintaining appropriate role boundaries is essential for the well-being of both faculty and students. Students need to maintain professional relationships with faculty and develop appropriate support networks for personal issues.
If you and your supervisor can't agree on what steps are needed to get things on course, talk about various options for resolving the situation. This might involve a joint meeting with your program's graduate advisor.
For a detailed discussion of the steps available to you if the problems persist, read “The Working Relationship” in the G+PS Handbook of Graduate Supervision.
Graduate students have a right to emerge from graduate school with good self-esteem. This requires careful and thoughtful management of professional relationships.
If you find you are procrastinating on major responsibilities, determine the reasons. Examine your personal work habits, patterns, behaviours, and feelings to see what steps you need to take to understand and reduce procrastination. Any of these factors may impede your progress:
- Fear of failure, which can result in a form of emotional paralysis or disabling anxiety.
- Self-doubt or endless second-guessing about everything that you think or write.
- Fear of success, which often arises from anxiety about what you will do when you have finished.
- Perfectionism, which can create an inability to either start or finish a major task. Perfectionists tend to be their own worst critics. Nothing is good enough. Constant self-criticism leads to paralysis and avoidance and will sabotage your progress.
- Exhaustion or illness related to ignoring your health.
- Preoccupation with other life problems such as relationships or finances.
- Feeling overwhelmed by the size of a required task, such as writing the entire thesis or dissertation or analyzing a large body of research data.
Procrastination is a mental road-block that you can learn to overcome. Procrastinators tell themselves, “I don't feel like doing it now... I'll wait until I'm in the mood.” Unfortunately, this doesn't work because waiting until you're in the mood may take a long time. Begin with action. Taking action reduces fear and has the effect of “priming the pump”. Once you begin something it will encourage you to do more. You then feel better about yourself which motivates you to continue.
Suggestions for getting started
- Forget about doing something perfectly, just get started.
- Seek out the information you need for making decisions.
- Ask your supervisor for help or direction with your project.
- Try to focus on one aspect at a time.
- Break your task down into a series of smaller steps and distribute these steps over a structured time frame. Taking the smallest step forward will give you satisfaction and increase your motivation.
- Begin with the tasks that you find the most interesting. Success there will motivate you to tackle less enjoyable aspects of the work.
When it comes to writing a thesis or dissertation, it pays to create a personal “writing strategy” that enables you to develop a daily work pattern and a reward system for writing every day.
- Recognize that effective writing involves time for reflection, mulling things over and sitting with your thoughts. This is a natural, creative process, not to be confused with procrastination.
- If you find you are having trouble beginning your writing, experiment with free writing – write about something unrelated to your academic pursuit – and notice your rhythm and spontaneity return.
- Try “talking” your dissertation, i.e., telling a friend or partner what you are trying to write. Expressing your ideas verbally will free up your writing.
- Try joining a writing community to help keep you motivated. Reviewing the Dissertation Success Curriculum may help.
As you progress in your program, you will become aware of a widening array of career and professional options available to you. It's also possible that you will discover a desire to change your career direction or objectives.
If you are thinking about changing your area of graduate study or departing from graduate study altogether, it is wise to consider the impact this would have on your overall career plans.
Be sure to consult with your graduate supervisor and other faculty if you have questions or concerns about the current direction of your graduate study. It's quite possible that they will be able to offer suggestions that can assist your decision making. For overall career planning, you may also wish to seek the advice of a career advisor or check out the resources at the Centre for Student Involvement & Careers.
Be sure to distinguish between a genuine desire to go in a different direction and anxiety-related avoidance.
The costs associated with graduate study can be substantial. Some graduate students are forced to manage with inadequate funds. In some cases, debt loads are substantial enough to interfere with timely degree progress and/or completion.
You need to think seriously about the amount of debt, if any, that you are willing or able to accrue by the time you have finished your graduate study. Financial planning, like career planning, should be an ongoing practice, not something that you put off until you graduate!
As you continue in your graduate program, be sure that you have thoroughly reviewed all possible funding options through your program and UBC. Consult this G+PS website for Awards and Financial Aid.
Be careful not to fall into a “work trap” in your final years of graduate study. A work trap occurs when a graduate student feels compelled to accept employment for needed income but that work slows or even derails the student's progress completing degree requirements. This pattern can cost more money in the long run. Sometimes it is better to find a strategy such as borrowing money so that you can finish up and seek full-time employment with, potentially, higher pay.
If you encounter financial difficulties, be sure to consult with your research supervisor for advice on funding options and strategies.
Read the Tips for funding applications provided on this web site.
Plan Your Next Steps
As you approach the finish line in your graduate degree program, you should be thinking about your next steps. It is never too early to start working on plans for your career after grad school.
As you anticipate graduation, spend time preparing for after graduation. If you have not done so already, this is an ideal period to make connections with individuals working in fields you may be interested in. You can consider using informational interviews or attending networking events to help you do so.
While you still have access to the many resources at UBC, take the opportunity to assess your skills and see how well they connect to the career paths you plan to pursue. Do these career paths align with your core values and work preferences? Ask yourself what activities you have most enjoyed during your graduate years. Consider looking at some job postings and making a list of the typical requirements for that type of position. If you identify gaps in your skills, consider making use of professional development training offered by Graduate Pathways to Success, the Centre for Student Involvement and Careers, or within your department.
You should also estimate a realistic timeline for when to begin applying for jobs. Some job types, such as in academia or consulting, use highly structured hiring cycles and require applicants to begin the application process months before they actually start work. Other types of positions have much shorter hiring timelines.
You may wish to discuss your plans with your research supervisor and/or committee. They may be able to provide valuable advice for your objectives or introduce you to contacts working in your area of interest.
Consider how the skills and capabilities developed in graduate school can be applied more broadly. Recognize how your acquired skills enhance your qualifications for various jobs. Graduate students can underestimate the breadth of skills they have developed. You may view some skills as commonplace when in fact, those skills qualify you for more jobs than you realize.
Conduct a thorough skills inventory based on your graduate experience as you may not be fully aware of the full range of intellectual and management skills that you have developed as part of your graduate work. The following advice from Anne Krook may be helpful:
They’re not “transferable skills”; they’re just skills and Describing your skills in a job letter
Whatever type of career you plan to pursue, you will need the appropriate documents to demonstrate your expertise and experience. Some types of post-graduation opportunities, especially those within academia, will require a curriculum vitae (CV) while others will ask for a resume. All graduate students should understand the difference between these documents and how to prepare them effectively.
A CV should list all of your publications, conference presentations, and other evidence of scholarly activity. It is often helpful to ask your research supervisor for a copy of their latest CV to use as a model. An excellent online guide to developing and organizing the CV is provided by the UC Berkeley Career Center. The Centre for Student Involvement and Careers can provide support with creating and refining a CV, and faculty members from within your discipline are the best source of specialized review.
A resume is typically a much shorter and more tailored document. Examples of resumes can be found on the website for the Centre for Student Involvement and Careers. There are also a number of options to access support around creating and revising resumes, including drop-in appointments and advising sessions.
In 5 years, what would your ideal career situation look like? Life situation? What additional skills may you need and what career steps would you have to follow in order to reach this objective? Creating a “planning window” of five years or more may be helpful when considering your career objectives.
By now you should have identified one or more potential types of job you would like to pursue. It is common and often advisable to apply to more than one type of position. However, it is very important to understand how hiring practices differ in different sectors (i.e. academia vs government or industry), and how to strategically present yourself as the best candidate. If you are applying to different types of jobs, you will likely need to use different documents when you apply. It is a good idea to track the jobs you have applied for, including copies of the job description and your application materials. Some interview requests may come months after the original application and it will be helpful to review these documents.
Use your research skills and your networks to identify the websites or databases where positions are most commonly posted. This is also a good time to identify employers that interest you and look for opportunities to connect with them, whether or not they are actively hiring.
Many positions are never formally advertised and will only be available to you if you engage in networking. Begin to reach out to your contacts and provide as much information as you can about the type of work you are interested in. Encourage them to forward relevant postings to you and connect you with individuals who may be able to help your job search progress.
Make sure you feel confident in the materials you will rely on during your job search. These may include a CV, a resume, cover letters tailored to each position you apply for, letters of recommendation, and teaching or research portfolios. Make use of UBC resources to help create and refine these materials.
Begin to learn about typical interview formats for the types of position you are seeking. Be prepared to practice your interviewing skills and shape your answers to reflect the expectations of a potential employer.
In summary, here are a few steps you can follow:
- Identify one or more potential types of jobs you are interested in pursuing
- Research potential employers and build a network of relevant contacts
- Locate and evaluate relevant job announcements
- Create and update your CV or resume
- Write effective and persuasive cover letters
- Practice your interview and presentation skills
- Reach out to your references, obtain letters of recommendation
- Update your teaching and research portfolios
- Learn about the hiring process, including when and how to negotiate job offers
As with during graduate school, don't forget about your support network. Your peers, your partner, your family, and/or your advisor or committe can help you through the job search process. Sharing your plans and strategy with them could be beneficial.