Learning lessons outside the classroom

Hi everyone,

Where did the summer term go? Summer is a great time of year to embark on new adventures, spend time with family and engage in some classic warm weather activities. As wonderful as summer is, I think September is increasingly my favourite month because of the new incoming Schulich Medicine & Dentistry graduate trainees I have the opportunity to welcome to Western.

This month, more than 200 new trainees started their graduate studies at our School. It was exciting to see all the new faces at our graduate studies fall orientation and I look forward to getting to know our new trainees over the next couple of months. As I shared at the graduate studies orientation, this is a time in your academic studies to explore your opportunities, forge new collaborations and to determine your research interests. Research is challenging—there is no doubt about that. It requires a certain set of skills and a strong will. I always say, if you’re not interested in what you are researching, or research in general, maybe it’s time to change course or explore different research avenues.

With so much new learning, the first few months of graduate school can fly by very quickly. However, they can also prove to be among the most important ones as they can significantly shape how your project gets started, or when you might be able to write up your thesis and defend it. Make these months count—you will thank yourself later when your project is off to a great start. 

Since the Current Affairs newsletter exists to serve as an information hub and connect our Graduate Studies community about new research and people of interest, I welcome your feedback on topic you would like to read about or would like guidance on.  Please feel free to email me or set up an appointment to visit any time you wish to.

Besides new beginnings and welcoming a new crop of eager and bright trainees, the fall is also all about scholarship applications. I can’t emphasize enough how important they are to your development and success as a researcher.  Please make sure you are aware of all the relevant submission dates, and of course the various rules and regulations surrounding each award or scholarship application. The School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (SGPS) website (http://www.grad.uwo.ca/prospective_students/finances/index.html) is excellent for all the details you will need. Your supervisor, graduate program chairs and assistants, as well as my office, are all great sources of assistance for your applications.

Here are several keys to a very successful time in graduate school:

  • Formulate a clear hypothesis, main objective and purpose for your research project.
  • Organize and hold your first introductory advisory committee meeting quickly.
  • Get into the habit of reading and critically appraising at least two research papers in your field each week.
  • Approach your work and learning with great enthusiasm, dedication and interest.
  • Make sure you have regular advisory committee meetings; twice a year is not out of line.
  • Work on developing great time management skills.
  • Take a few SGPS/Career Centre/ Teaching Resource centre workshops on topics such as leadership skills, preparing resumes, professionalism, oral and written communication, etc.
  • Get to know your fellow graduate students—don’t become isolated. Research is a team event and you likely will make lifelong friends in graduate school.
  • You can’t avoid putting a lot of yourself and your time into it if you want to produce something meaningful. I don’t know of any shortcuts.
  • This will be a very worthwhile experience, and you won’t be the same person you are now at the end of your degree.
  • If things get tough, ask for help. We are all here to see you through it successfully and to share in your success.

I can’t wait to see what each of you will accomplish. If you have any suggestions or would like to meet, please send an email to awatson@uwo.ca.

Andrew Watson, PhD
Associate Dean, Graduate Studies & Postdoctoral Affairs