First few months of Grad school: What you need to know (Part 1)

*This post was written by Viel Tolentino, a MEd student studying Adult Education & Community Development.

Assignments here, readings there, and oh…wait, don’t forget those presentations.

When you think about how many things you have to do when you are in grad school, you kind of have to brace yourself—there is so much to do and it seems like there is only so little time. My colleagues and I always wonder how it’s possible to juggle school, home, and work at the same time. But by the time you think you’ve got the hang of it, the semester is already over. September and October have flown by and now we are into November—it only seems like yesterday since I’ve accepted my offer and made my decision to go to OISE. At this point in time, I already feel like a seasoned veteran who has got a hold of OISE life and I am making my experience here worthwhile.

I wouldn’t have gotten to this point without a couple of things I’ve learned along the way. And so here, I present to you to Part 1 of the 12 Things You Need to Know About the First Few Months of Grad School--and hopefully, with these insights of mine, you’ll be able to get through your first few months of grad school like a pro!

#1 Graduate Studies are completely different from your studies in Undergrad. 

Depending on what types of courses you’ve taken during your undergraduate degree, you might find grad school much different. I wouldn’t want you to expect that your experiences will be similar to that of your undergrad. In my own experience, my undergraduate was comprised of tests, essays, and presentations. Looking back on my undergrad, there was a lot more lecturing than actual discussion, just because the majority of classes ran for only limited to two hours. When you get to grad school, everything is a little more condensed and there are more opportunities to voice out your opinions, your analyses, and perspectives towards the topic of discussion. As for assessment pieces, professors usually assign research papers, reflection pieces, and presentations. So, expect to be more vocal and open in your grad studies, because your colleagues also come with a vastly different set of perspectives and there is a plethora of opportunities for you to participate!

#2 Organization is key

Organization skills are an asset to have when you are in grad school, because like I’ve said before, there is so much happening at OISE. Your best bet to making sure you stay organized is to invest in a calendar and mark all the important dates once your professor gives you the course outlines. This way, you already know ahead of time when everything is generally due and whether or not you have overlapping due dates. It makes it easier to plan for other things and when you should start your assignments. It also makes sure that you can plan things not related school, such as hanging out with friends or work.

#3 Be Prepared to do the Readings and Always Keep Up With Them 

Yes, I understand—readings are quite overwhelming, especially when each of your professors assign 50 pages at a time. How do you keep with 150 pages per week? And is it necessary to do all of them? While you may think that you don’t have to complete all your readings for all your classes, you might actually want to re-think that! Remember, your professors don’t just assign those readings to overwhelm you, but they are there for a purpose! Those readings not only come in handy when you are discussing it in class, but they are also handy when you are writing those papers/presentations! You need to show that you are able to apply your knowledge from lectures and your readings when it comes to assessments! So don’t procrastinate, DO those readings!

#4 Network, network, network. 

The best part of grad school is the different people you meet in your classes. Each class comes with a unique set of perspectives, values, and experiences. Whether they are working in law, are part of a faculty/staff of a university or college, or just students that are fresh from their undergraduate studies, they all bring something to the discussions. Depending on what you would like to achieve in your Master’s program, your colleagues could help guide you with the various career paths that you would like to take. That’s why it’s important to network with them and get a sense of what their learning goals are, because they could align with your own learning and career goals. If you’re feeling a little shy, just start off with a smile or a hello and then once you establish a rapport with them, you can talk to them about the class and what program they’re in! Your colleagues provide you with a fresh new set of insights and career paths that you may have never even thought of–so network, network, network!

#5 Get Involved With Extra-Curriculars 

Whether you enjoy playing sports, learning different languages, or meeting people in your program—UofT has so much to offer when it comes to extra-curriculars. Extra-curriculars are so important to your student life, just as your classes are. Getting involved really enhances your overall university experience. Within the first week of school, various UofT clubs and associations hold a “clubs week”, this is a great opportunity to talk to members and see what their interests are and how to get involved. It’s a great way to meet friends, faculty, and to get to know your campus!

#6 Broaden your learning horizons with events, seminars, and conferences. 

Speaking of meeting people, at OISE, we have a plethora of events that happen throughout the year. Many of our presenters include current OISE faculty, students, leaders of various fields, and visiting professors from all over the globe. As part of my Comparative International Development Education collaborative program, one of the requirements is to take part in 5 seminars. The best thing about this is that you get to meet other people in different programs! And don’t worry, it’s not just collaborative programs where you have access to these opportunities, but each department organizes various events and conferences. In my department, LHAE, a staff member sends out weekly emails to tell us about events related to Adult/Higher Education and for the most part–they’re almost all free! Again, it’s a great way to enhance your experience at OISE and it also gives you the opportunity to use those networking skills. So, remember to fit those events into your busy schedules!