GETTING INTO

GRADUATE SCHOOL

There are many resources out there that can give you strategies on getting into graduate school. Usually, the advice is sound, but I find that it comes too late to be maximally useful. There are aspects of the application process that require a long term plan starting early in your undergraduate career.

Letters of recommendation

You generally need at least 2 academic  recommendation letters for your graduate school application. That means letters, not just from professors, but professors who are familiar with your academic work. ‘A’ students can generally find a letter writer among the professors with whom they’ve taken classes. But if the professor only knows you in passing, the letter will be generic, adding little value to your application. If you do a thesis, your research supervisor is an ideal letter writer. Supervisors are familiar with your research skills, writing ability, motivations, personality, and above all, can provide concrete examples to support their recommendations.  But what of the other letter(s)? I suggest introducing yourself to your professors now, no matter what year you are in. Go to their office hours and say “hi”; ask if they have research opportunities in one of their ongoing projects; become a teaching assistant if the opportunity arises. Regardless of whether you end up volunteering for a professor, ultimately the point is that your professors meet you and pay attention to your performance if you’re in their class.

Graduate Record Exam (GRE)

It’s hard to study for the verbal section of the GRE because there are few methods you can use to compensate for a limited vocabulary. Most people end up memorizing lists of words like they’re studying for a spelling bee. The solution is simple, learn Latin. If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, read widely, read often, read outside of your discipline, start now. Newspapers don’t count because they’re written at a grade 6 level (at best).

Other tips and strategies

Consistent with most of my advice, this list is somewhat random and subject to change over time. They aren’t required; they’re only suggestions. The admissions criteria differ between universities. Investigate them now. If you wait until your final semester, you might realize too late that you’re missing a recommended course, failed to take the GRE, etc. Set aside time for volunteer work in the community. Try to join a professor’s lab or research project. Take at least 2 statistics classes and a research methods course. The people writing your recommendation letters will probably have to fill out an evaluation form. Familiarize yourself with the form to make sure that the letter- writer can make an informed evaluation of most of the skills and abilities (e.g., writing ability, industriousness, research ability).  Approach potential letter writers at least a month before your applications is due. Send your letter-writers reminders before the application is due. Writing is very important in grad school. Make sure your Statement of Interest is grammatical. Study for the GRE. There is a General GRE and a subject (e.g. Psychology) GRE. Investigate whether you need to do both. Do an undergraduate thesis. Know why you want to go to graduate school. Talk to current graduate students. Get their opinions of their program. Know as much as you can about professors with whom you want to work. Most have an internet presence. If not a personal web-page, they might be on LinkedIn, or they gave a talk somewhere and the proceedings are published. At the very least, all of our publications are available in the library.
Greg A. Chung-Yan, PhD Industrial-Organizational Psychology

Join an association

It’s a good idea to become a student member of associations relevant to your career interests. You will be kept abreast of current trends in your field as well as receive advice on topics of interest to students, like getting into graduate school. Attend their conferences, too. They are invaluable opportunities to network with professors, practitioners, and students. Incidentally, the most effective way of getting a job is through networking. Societies that I (or my I-O colleagues) belong to: Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) American Psychological Association (APA) Canadian Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (CSIOP) Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) Academy of Management (AMJ) Society for Occupational Health Psychology

GETTING INTO

GRADUATE

SCHOOL

There are many resources out there that can give you strategies on getting into graduate school. Usually, the advice is sound, but I find that it comes too late to be maximally useful. There are aspects of the application process that require a long term plan starting early in your undergraduate career.

Letters of recommendation

You generally need at least 2 academic  recommendation letters for your graduate school application. That means letters, not just from professors, but professors who are familiar with your academic work. ‘A’ students can generally find a letter writer among the professors with whom they’ve taken classes. But if the professor only knows you in passing, the letter will be generic, adding little value to your application. If you do a thesis, your research supervisor is an ideal letter writer. Supervisors are familiar with your research skills, writing ability, motivations, personality, and above all, can provide concrete examples to support their recommendations.  But what of the other letter(s)? I suggest introducing yourself to your professors now, no matter what year you are in. Go to their office hours and say “hi”; ask if they have research opportunities in one of their ongoing projects; become a teaching assistant if the opportunity arises. Regardless of whether you end up volunteering for a professor, ultimately the point is that your professors meet you and pay attention to your performance if you’re in their class.

Graduate Record Exam (GRE)

It’s hard to study for the verbal section of the GRE because there are few methods you can use to compensate for a limited vocabulary. Most people end up memorizing lists of words like they’re studying for a spelling bee. The solution is simple, learn Latin. If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, read widely, read often, read outside of your discipline, start now. Newspapers don’t count because they’re written at a grade 6 level (at best).

Other tips and strategies

Consistent with most of my advice, this list is somewhat random and subject to change over time. They aren’t required; they’re only suggestions. The admissions criteria differ between universities. Investigate them now. If you wait until your final semester, you might realize too late that you’re missing a recommended course, failed to take the GRE, etc. Set aside time for volunteer work in the community. Try to join a professor’s lab or research project. Take at least 2 statistics classes and a research methods course. The people writing your recommendation letters will probably have to fill out an evaluation form. Familiarize yourself with the form to make sure that the letter-writer can make an informed evaluation of most of the skills and abilities (e.g., writing ability, industriousness, research ability).  Approach potential letter writers at least a month before your applications is due. Send your letter-writers reminders before the application is due. Writing is very important in grad school. Make sure your Statement of Interest is grammatical. Study for the GRE. There is a General GRE and a subject (e.g. Psychology) GRE. Investigate whether you need to do both. Do an undergraduate thesis. Know why you want to go to graduate school. Talk to current graduate students. Get their opinions of their program. Know as much as you can about professors with whom you want to work. Most have an internet presence. If not a personal web-page, they might be on LinkedIn, or they gave a talk somewhere and the proceedings are published. At the very least, all of our publications are available in the library.
Greg A. Chung-Yan Industrial/ Organizational Psychology