My name is Elisha Chan and I am an Academic Coordinator with the BSA. I am a fourth year CMMB major, so as I approach the end of my degree, I am beginning to think about what to do after graduation. There are a lot of options for students after graduation, and it can be daunting to decide what to pursue. Some of us might head off and begin working in the field, pursue a professional program, or take a well-deserved break! One option that is common among science undergrad graduates is pursuing graduate studies. This post will give you the basics on grad studies at the University of Calgary and will hopefully help you decide what is best for your future.
I interviewed Breton Fougere, a Master's student in her last year in the Finney lab, to learn more about what it takes to pursue grad studies at the University of Calgary. Grad school is an opportunity to further your education in something you are passionate about and tends to be a lot more focused than undergrad. There are two kinds of graduate degree streams: course-based and thesis-based. In a course-based study, you complete a series of courses in your area of study in order to obtain your degree. In the thesis-based study, you will pursue an independent research project under the supervision of a faculty member in your specific research topic.
Since Breton is part of the thesis-based study, I will speak more about this stream. The first step is to look for a Principal Investigator (PI) and contact them! Sometimes the PI will post somewhere saying that they are taking on students or not, but if you are ever unsure and really want to pursue research in their lab then you should send an email. In the email you should give a brief introduction of who you are, why you want to be part of their lab, your CV, and any relevant research experience. Keep it brief and to the point! It is recommended you reach out to the lab you are interested in as early as possible, ideally before the Fall semester is over if you are planning to do grad studies after you graduate in the Winter semester. After a PI has agreed to take you on, you need to determine if they have funding or if you will need to apply for grants or scholarships. With all this information, you will have to fill out a simple application through a U of C portal.
When asked what kind of student would be a good candidate for graduate studies, Breton described a kind of person who is “very self-motivated and interested in a particular topic”. Since grad studies can be (on average) two years of your life, it is really important that you are very invested in your research topic. According to Breton, the biggest benefit of grad studies is being able to learn how to work independently and actually apply the lab skills you learned in undergrad in a way that is relevant to your research project. A lot of jobs nowadays are looking for candidates who have graduate degrees or research experience because it shows good work ethic and time management skills in an individual. If there is advice that Breton would want to share with a potential grad student, she would highly recommend learning about what different PI’s are studying and that if you find a subject you are excited to study, to reach out to the PI early! If you are unsure about whether or not you would fit in a research lab, she also recommended reaching out to past or current lab members to learn about their team and the lab environment.
The University of Calgary also has a Biological Sciences Graduate Students’ Association (BGSA) with different resources that you can check out to learn more about what grad students have at the university.