Advice for Undergraduates Contemplating Graduate School

INTRODUCTION

Students intending to pursue graduate studies are urged to plan their programs carefully, and TO seek the advice of the department student advisor and/or other faculty members.

Undergraduates from our department have pursued graduate studies at the U. of Alberta, the U. of Calgary, U.B.C., Simon Fraser, and the U. of Waterloo, among many other universities.

Reasons for going to Graduate School

  1. Interest in research. The predominate focus of a graduate degree is to increase knowledge in an area.
  2. Interest in learning the subject in-depth (specializing).
  3. Certain jobs require a graduate level degree. A PhD is required for teaching at university. An MSc is typically required to teach at the college level,

What makes a good graduate student?

Talent - interest in research and in expanding knowledge - curiosity - ability to work independently - self-motivation and hard work - reasonably good communication skills.

Structure of a graduate program

A computer science/mathematics graduate student will take a number of graduate level courses in computer science/mathematics, and then write a Master's thesis (unless the program is a course-only program). If a PhD is then contemplated, the student will take more courses, write a qualifying exam and later a comprehensive exam, after which full-time study will be devoted to research problems, ultimately resulting in the writing of a PhD thesis.

Research consists of solving a significant research problem, by finding novel approaches to it, or by applying known techniques in a new way; alternatively, it could consist of developing a new theory which promotes better understanding of an area.

Undergraduate courses

Since the University of Lethbridge is a liberal arts university and does not offer a true honors program, students tend not to have as many courses in their majors as students graduating from some other universities. Students should be aware of this and compensate by taking as many upper level courses in their majors as possible, as well as courses from closely-aligned areas. A broad selection of upper level courses in a major is advised. Independent studies can be used to achieve this objective while at the same time developing a student's abilities to be self-motivating and independent.

Computer Science students should take additional mathematics courses, as the number of required mathematics (two) is inadequate, and include some of the more theoretical CS courses such as 3630. Mathematics students should consider taking additional courses in CS, Physics or other disciplines with a strong mathematical content. The math program here is weak on the Analysis side, so independent studies following up on Math 3500 should be considered - Math 3310 and 4650 should be included in your program. Statistics students should take several independent studies in statistics as well as the full calculus sequence and perhaps courses in econometrics or finance.

Standards

Most graduate schools select academically strong students. Your GPA should be at least 3.0; however, a GPA of 3.5 or better is recommended.

Fs or Ds in a student's major are detriments. Course withdrawals are typically looked on very unfavorably as well.

Failure to take a full load of courses, unless there is a reasonable explanation, is viewed unfavorably. The implication is that if you have not taken a full load, then you either cannot handle the workload or you do not have the ability to do well unless you can concentrate on just a few courses at a time. That is, good marks on a full course load is a better indication of ability than good marks on a partial course load.

Research Experience

Experience as a summer research assistant, or involvement in a research program, is viewed very favorably. This is one aspect where the University of Lethbridge has a significant advantage, as it is relatively easy to get such experience at a smaller university.

Student marker experience is also helpful. Graduate schools often provide funding to students in exchange for teaching related duties, so having marking experience is useful. Good communication skills are a definite asset.

Funding

In September of the final year of undergraduate studies, students with GPAs of at least 3.5 are strongly urged to apply for NSERC's Postgraduate Scholarships (PGS). The university has a quota of approximately 15 of these for the Sciences (including the MIS program of the Faculty of Management). The scholarship provides a significant amount of money (about $20,000), which means as a graduate student does not need to take teaching assistantships (TA), which although they provide teaching experience, slow your progress and are a distraction from the primary research focus.

Computer Science students studying in Alberta who hold a PGS are eligible for an iCORE top-up which can almost double the amount of support. The graduate school will handle the details.

Selecting a Graduate School

Does the university have research strength in your area of interest? Consider the reputation of the school. The size of the school is important - bigger is usually better since a bigger school is more likely to offer a range of graduate courses and seminars. and have fellow students with whom you can interact.

In the late Fall, the PIMS invites some math and CS students, nominated by the department, on a "graduate weekend". Students interested should make the Chair of the department aware of their interest in participating.