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  • Grad School Panel
  • Grad School

    Grad School Panel

    On November 14th, we partnered with MCSS to host the Grad School Panel where we asked some current grad school students at universities like MIT, Cornell, and UofT about the grad school application process, how grad school is structured, and more!

    Q. What does grad school look like?

    • It depends on your country and program:

      • In Canada, graduate students will usually do a 1–2 years masters program, and then have the option of completing a PhD program as well
      • In America, students usually go straight from undergrad to a PhD program, which lasts about five years
    • There are two types of masters programs—professional masters and research-based masters:

      • A professional based masters will help you advance in your career by teaching you more about your area of interest through coursework
      • A research-based masters will provide you with research experience, which will help you decide if you want to move on to pursue a PhD

    Q. What’s the balance between coursework and research?

    • In Canada, there are two options for a masters degree: a course-based masters and a research-based masters. Course-based masters programs focus on teaching students through coursework, and research-based masters programs will contain some initial coursework and then focus on research afterwards.
    • PhD programs are similar to research-based masters programs in that they also start with some initial coursework and then transition into research.

    Q. Should I go to grad school?

    • It is a lot of work, so you should only go if you are very interested in research
    • That being said, it depends on your field and course of study though, so there is no general answer
    • To determine whether grad school is right for you, gain experience with research (preferably early on in your undergrad) to see if you like it
    • For second and third years, you can gain experience with research by completing ROPs

    Q. How to choose what research area to focus on?

    • Ideally, you would focus your research on an area you are passionate about. However, this may not be possible.

    • Things to consider:

      • Is the topic you are researching encapsulated by a larger body of work that you can extend into if you end up wanting to pursue this for long term research?
      • Do you have the resources you need to complete the research? For example, does your supervisor have enough expertise in the area to guide you, are there other people who can offer expertise and advice, etc?
      • If you are very motivated, you may be able to overcome not having enough resources
    • To find a topic, try looking at the universities you’re interested in applying to and see what areas the professors there are interested in, and if they are areas you want to help out with

    • Explore! You can attend readings groups at UTM, like the ML reading group and the CS ED reading group.

    Q. What if I don’t have undergrad research experience?

    • Research is very important for applying to grad school. Most applicants will have very high grades, so you will need good research to distinguish yourself from the other candidates.
    • However, there are people in grad school who did not gain research experience in their undergrad but were still able to gain entry

    Q. What is the application process like?

    • Generally, there are no restrictions on international applicants

    • Grad school application deadlines are usually in the first semester of your final year

    • About three months before the deadline, start compiling a list of schools

    • For each school you are interested in, pick out some profs you’re interested in working with and try to understand what research they do

    • Reach out to profs for recommendation letters early on, and let them know that you want them to write you a letter as soon as you can

    • Start writing drafts of your personal statements

    • Start writing statements of purpose

    Q. How much do grades matter?

    • They’re not the only determining factor
    • What matters the most is the final two years of your transcript usually
    • If you want direct entry into a PhD program, the least you should have is a 3.7 overall gpa
    • For masters programs, you should have at least a B+ average in your final year

    Q. Should I go straight to grad school or work for a bit first?

    • If you’re uncertain about what direction you want to take after graduating, and you might want to do research, then you may want to focus on going into industry first, gain some experience there, then apply for grad school

    • If you didn’t do well in undergrad, then you can go into industry and demonstrate excellence in your job. If you do that for about two to three years, you can reapply and use that experience to stand out in your application, whether that experience consisted of past research experience, or experience leading a technical project.

    Q. How do you get recommendation letters?

    • The best people for references will be those who know you well and can back up your work—that will be people who you did research projects with, who you had multiple positive interactions with, whose courses you took and did very well in, etc

    • Great recommendation letters will speak to your research ability and how you are driven and passionate about the topics you’re interested in, even if they’re different from the topic you will be going to grad school for

    • When asking for a letter, tell your reference how many places you’re applying to as well as where you’re applying to

    • If you have graduated and are working in industry, then you can ask your work supervisor or someone higher up to write one for you. You may need to tell them what to emphasize in the letter—some things in industry don’t translate well to grad school, but some things, like ability to independently lead projects, do.

    • If you feel your reference may have difficulty expressing their thoughts in writing, you can offer to help out by writing a draft for them, or by describing the big picture.