My name is Max and I am a second year PhD student in electrical engineering at UBC. I currently conduct research at the Applied Electromagnetics laboratory in Macleod Building at UBC. After receiving my Bachelor degree in the same field, it was an extremely difficult decision to choose graduate studies over an industry path; having a chance to research new topics on one hand and working at a tech company on the other. As a graduate student at UBC, I found my graduate program to be very different from my undergrad for many reasons. In this post, I’ll refer to research that speaks to these differences, and offer my own insights about graduate school and why I love it for those who may have the same dilemma as I had.
An undergraduate degree is an academic degree which is usually offered at higher education institutions such as a college or university. Common types of undergraduate degrees in North America are associate’s degree and bachelor’s degree, which typically takes from two to five years to complete , .
A graduate school, or in short “grad school”, is a school that offers advanced academic degrees such as master’s and doctoral degrees. The term graduate school does not necessarily refer to a separate school. Many universities offer graduate programs. The general requirement is that students must have earned an undergraduate degree.
It took me five years to get my bachelor degree in electrical engineering including a year of internship. Here are some of the key features of my program back then:
- The focus was primarily on learning information that already was (and has been) available and accessible. It often required a great deal of memorization and understanding concepts.
- Undergraduate programs are more general in nature. They include general education courses in a wide variety of subjects that are not part of graduate education . Professors and lecturers typically give you detailed reading lists, organized notes, timelines, project check-ins, and plenty of detailed directions.
- The classes were large and depending on the course could have been up to two hundred students, which was overwhelming. It was really hard to have a one-on-one meeting with the instructors during the office hours. This really made learning challenging as I strongly relied on one-on-one discussions when it came to learning.
I started my graduate studies with a Master of Science degree in electrical engineering at UBC in 2015. I was so drawn and prone to conduct research in my areas of interest. My experiences with graduate school have been quite different from my experiences getting my bachelor’s. There are many reasons that graduate studies interested me so much. Here are some of those reasons:
- There are different sections in graduate school:
- Course work where a limited number of highly-focused courses are taken.
- The research project or otherwise called thesis is means of evaluation by a committee of faculties. Note that there are also programs that are only course-based at universities; an example is master of engineering (MEng) offered at UBC that is completely course-based ,,. Internships and co-ops are also part of this section of graduate Many are research projects or work experience in the field that are supported by an industry partner. These partnerships are beneficial since they create opportunities to learn about industry and its needs as well as providing financial support for research groups at the university. In my PhD, I have worked with two Canadian companies, which helped me to direct my studies toward a path that could fulfill industry demands. This caused both companies to offer me a position after my graduation.
- Graduate programs are highly specialized and could be more advanced than undergraduate programs. This does not necessarily mean that the courses are more difficult. They are directed toward a very specific topic, in which students will be specializing at. I chose courses for topics where I was interested in learning more. This made me be surrounded by like-minded peers and fellows. This has created opportunities to build connection to my community.
- The graduate students are expected to produce high quality and novel results in their research (when they create it), which is often measured by presentations and publication. In spite of putting some pressure, this brings some perks for graduate students such as access to study and research space including offices and laboratories with relevant equipment (e.g. computers and software). Additionally, there is close involvement and support from faculty supervisor(s), often on a one-to-one basis. The involvement is direct and extensive, which creates opportunities to improve communication skills and professionalism on a daily basis. I do have three supervisors that oversee my research progress. I do enjoy working with every one of them and learning different perspectives on a subject matter.
- There’s less of a structure in graduate school compared to undergraduate programs. Graduate schools are more student-led. Students learn how to self-principle throughout the program; in my opinion, this is the most important impact of graduate school.
- In graduate level, the focus switches from learning information to applying it. For example, in my program, we are a designing a new infrastructure for wireless charging applications. So naturally, more time and energy is be spent on investigating the topic from a specific angle and perspective.
- Graduate school is not just school. Being a graduate student is a full-time commitment. In most programs, master or PhD students are paid. There are a lot of opportunities for scholarships, fellowships, and academic awards. I am certain that anybody could go to graduate school without spending out-of-pocket money. Please refer to UBC website (to know more about these awards.
- In Canada, tuition and fees for graduate schools are less than those for undergraduate programs especially for international students. Fees for an international graduate student is roughly one eighth of those for an undergraduate student .
In conclusion, I believe that graduate programs are different from undergrad programs. Graduate school is a career path and ironically not a school. Based on Forbes magazine, there is more job opportunities, security, and wealth for people with a graduate degree; who doesn’t like those?
 “Undergraduate Degrees and Programs”, Stanford University, https://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/articles/2019-05-23/what-graduate-schools-think-about-where-you-went-to-college, Retrieved 2020-01-25.
 “Graduate VS Undergraduate”. Diffen, https://www.diffen.com/difference/Graduate_vs_Undergraduate, Retrieved 2020-01-25.
 “What are the differences between Undergraduate and Graduate programs?”, Study in USA, Retrieved 2020-01-25.
 “What Graduate Schools Think About Your College?”, US News, https://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/articles/2019-05-23/what-graduate-schools-think-about-where-you-went-to-college, Retrieved 2020-01-25.
 “Graduate Degrees”, Stanford University, https://exploredegrees.stanford.edu/graduatedegrees, Retrieved 2020-01-25.
 “Tuition and Fees”, University of British Columbia.