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5 ways to get ready for grad school

From note-taking to goal-setting, these techniques will jumpstart your Concordia journey
July 27, 2020
By Meagan Boisse and Rachel Andren


Feeling nervous about starting grad school at Concordia?

Don’t sweat it. With a little preparation, you’ll be able to transition into the next stage of your academic journey smoothly.

Kristy Clarke is manager of academic programs and development in Concordia’s School of Graduate Studies. She oversees GradProSkills, a program that provides free academic and professional development workshops available only to Concordia’s graduate students.

Here are the activities Clarke recommends to get ahead of the graduate learning curve:

1.  Academic integrity is fundamental

First things first: become aware of your academic responsibilities at Concordia by completing the mandatory academic integrity module.

This online web tutorial informs graduate students of their responsibilities under the academic code of conduct and points to university resources. It provides information on how to properly cite sources, use copyright-protected works and collaborate ethically with peers.

2.  Make an individualized plan to achieve your goals  

Many pursue grad school to take their careers to the next level. Doing so requires thinking about your professional objectives and how to leverage your education, before even cracking open a textbook.

Preparing an individual development plan can help you map your grad school experience by identifying small goals — and the resources to help you reach them — for each stage of your program.

Clarke recommends individual development plan templates from MyIDP, for natural science and engineering students, and ImaginePhD, for social science and humanities students, which can help you map out your grad school strategy. Concordia students also have free access to the Options for Success online course offered by VersatilePhD.

Plus, you can browse the suggested GradProSkills workshops by program stage. Registration for GradProSkills workshops opens September 1.

3.  Find the right technique to tackle your reading load

Graduate courses have much higher reading and critical-thinking requirements than undergraduate ones, and some academic texts can be very dense, especially if you are not reading in your first language. Googling a topic and reading an article page by page is no longer a feasible strategy. There are more effective methods to use your time and increase your understanding.

Make sure you don’t miss out on important content by taking time to get familiar with alternative reading and note-taking techniques. Take advantage of the Concordia Library’s multitude of online resources, including Zotero. Browse the Health Services critical thinking guide. Find out what works best for you, so you can feel confidently prepared to participate in your classes.

4.  Brush up on the rules of academic writing

“It can be helpful to review academic writing techniques before the start of your graduate studies,” notes Clarke, who suggests students browse the Purdue University Online Writing Lab.

If your program requires you to write a thesis, you might also want to pick up the book Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: A Guide to Starting, Revising, and Finishing Your Doctoral Thesis by Joan Bolker.

Academic reading and writing help is also available through individual consultations with the learning specialists at Concordia’s Student Success Centre and GradProSkills Success in Grad School workshops led by senior graduate students.

5.  Organize your time effectively to limit stress

Adding grad school to your life is exciting but also stressful, especially when working from home. It’s crucial to establish a routine and a dedicated workspace.

Before starting classes, take time to set your priorities and map out a regular and realistic weekly schedule. Don’t forget the fun stuff — such as playing music, working out or chatting with a friend. “Time for fun activities that de-stress us is just as important in your weekly schedule as a class or a job,” Clarke adds.

It is equally important to communicate your plan to your friends, family and peers. Being accountable to others and letting them know what to expect of you will help you stay on track.

And if you ever feel overwhelmed or isolated, don’t hesitate to drop into Concordia’s (virtual) Zen Den for an opportunity to disconnect from your stressors and connect with other students.

For more information on how to excel in grad school, visit Concordia’s GradProSkills.

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