Bumpy road to success

Graphic by Fani Hsieh
Graphic by Fani Hsieh

Undergraduate and graduate studies at Wilfrid Laurier University may coexist on the same campus and under the same dean of students, but the lives of their respective students are polar opposites.

Undergraduate programs at Laurier are course based; students fill their schedules with classes which consist of a set of lectures and assignments, learning content identical to their classmates.

While some master’s programs do have classes like an undergraduate degree, graduate studies often immerse students into research or a particular focus for a long period of time.

Laurier’s two largest graduate programs, their masters of social work and MBA programs, are both professional programs designed to integrate students directly into the working world; in contrast the remainder of graduate programs in the fields of arts and sciences are largely research based.

These research-based programs consist of both research and course work, and if a student is lucky, the role of teaching assistant.

“It’s an option, but it’s more of a ‘you must take’ option, it’s part of your contract,” said Kayleigh Abbott, assistant vice-president of the student experience for the Graduate Students’ Association. “Not everyone has the opportunity to. You want to, because your TA-ship is part of your funding, so you’d like a TA-ship.”

While graduate students who have an opportunity to be a teaching assistant given that there is an undergraduate discipline which corresponds with their research do receive funding in exchange for their work, the timeline of such a position is often not complementary to student life.

“You have to imagine when midterm essays and like final essays are due are the same time that your midterm essays and final essays are due,” said Mae Enriquez, a student in the masters of arts in cultural analysis and social theory. “You’re like scrambling to get all this work done, man you do not sleep at all.”

While the courses and time spent as a teaching assistant are important, the vast majority of a graduate student’s time and energy is devoted to their research.

Students must convene a committee of three individuals from inside and outside their departments to approve their research proposal before any work can begin, after which the entirety of their time is devoted to conducting research and preparing to defend their work.

“Everything else, honestly, is on the backburner. I know I’ve got two other courses that count for real grades, but research is my priority,” said Enriquez.

“You have to imagine […] that your research is something that you’re interested in, it’s something that you love, I mean presumably, and so you want to cater all this time to it.”

The high emphasis on research is however well deserved, as the final product is largely what will determine a graduate student’s success following the completion of their degree.

“Research is really what kind of drives your schedule and how you go through. It’s the ups and downs of your research that really drive where you stand and when you graduate. Like I said a masters program takes two years, it’s give or take, because it depends on when you get your research out and if you want a publication out of it,” said Abbott.

“It’s all about where you call the line. You can call it a little bit early if you aren’t expecting you’ll get a publication out of it, but generally you want to go all the way through and get a publication and then either continue on, either with your studies or into the office, because in the research world publication is all that matters.”

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