Surviving Courses in Grad School

If the program you are now starting here at the Faculty of Information is your first graduate degree, you might be wondering what to expect from your courses. How tough will they be? How much reading is required? 

To be honest, graduate school is not particularly different from your undergraduate. If you ever took any upper-year seminars in your undergraduate degree, these classes won’t look too unfamiliar. Having said that, there’s a good deal of reading involved, and projects might be on a bigger scale than those to which you are accustomed. But fear not! This quick and totally unofficial guide to surviving every grad school course will get you through. 

  1. Skimming is your best friend. Realistically, you don’t have time to take four courses; read seven articles per week, per course; keep on top of assignments; and do whatever work and/or volunteering you’ll also be doing. And for students with extra responsibilities, like raising children or caring for other family members? No way do you have time. The solution is to skim. Not every single word of every single article is key. As long as you take away the most major points from what you read, you’ll be fine.
  2. Another best friend: Picking the most important articles. Sometimes, even when you’re skimming, you just don’t have time to read everything. Don’t make a habit of it, but when you’re in a real time crunch you can always just pick the three or four articles in the syllabus for the week which seem most key and read those. 
  3. Pick your groups early. Getting a degree from the Faculty of Information means doing a lot of group work, which is great practice for having to work in teams in your career later on. However, we all know that group work can be pretty stressful. It’s worth your while to seem a bit over-eager and put your groups together earlier in the term than might seem necessary. It will take some of the pressure off later on.
  4. Don’t ask yourself when you have to start something (a paper, a reading, whatever) in order to finish it on time. Instead, ask yourself when the earliest possible date is that you could start it, in order to give yourself lots of leeway. While you wouldn’t be the first to stay up all night to finish a paper for which you didn’t bank enough time, trust me when I say life is much more pleasant without school-induced all-nighters. 
  5. Chat with students who have taken your courses in the past. They can give you tips like, how important are readings, really? What major topics does your professor care about a lot? What’s a good approach to take for projects? You can reach out to students through clubs and student groups, and the iSchool’s peer mentoring program is also a great way to connect with students who have taken some of the same courses as you.
  6. Ask for the extension. If you think you might need an extension, ask for it well in advance. At worst, you’ll get a “no.” At best, you’ll get the extra peace of mind, but submit on time anyway. And if it turns out you do need the extension, you’ll be glad you asked. 
  7. Put a face to your name. Your professors genuinely want to know who you are. Drop by office hours to say hi, or just greet them after class. They’re nice people, and they can also help you out with assignments, etc. later on if they know who you are. Most importantly, they’re interested in knowing you as a person, not just as a GPA.

-Samantha Summers

(Feature image source.)

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