The problem I see with many of our graduate students is that they approach choosing graduate courses the way they chose undergraduate courses. They act as though the department has very specific expectations of courses they need to take, and they try to fill each category based on what is offered. Please don’t do this.
Our graduate program requires a 4 course methods sequence in the first 2 years. We require 3 substantive courses in the first year (Individual, Family, and Prevention). We require an additional 2 methods courses and 4 substantive courses. Each of our 4 areas recommends what courses to take to specialize in that area (e.g., the family area recommends a micro course and a macro course). However, these are RECOMMENDED and are not required.
After you’ve fulfilled the program’s required courses, choose your remaining courses based on what you need to get the job you want, and to succeed in it. Stop trying to check off lists and focus on your needs. Will someone at candidacy say, but she didn’t take 506? Maybe. Convince him why the courses you took are more valuable for what you want to do.
Last year, as Undergraduate Professor-in-Charge, I worked with Kate Hynes on redesigning the HDFS undergraduate website to better help students plan for future careers. HDFS undergraduate students have many more course requirements than graduate students, but they also can choose courses to meet particular requirements based on their interests. We redesigned the website so that they could choose a career path of interest, and as part of that planning, choose courses that would help them develop the knowledge and skills to get there.
I am not writing those kinds of details for you. But you can use these guidelines to sort it out:
1. What statistics and methodology will you need to address the types of research questions you want to answer? Yes, you should think about the analyses you want to do in your master’s thesis. And your dissertation. But more broadly, what career skills will you need? It’s much easier to take a statistics course as a graduate student than as a professor (trust me on this one!). Are you interested in peer relationships? Find a network analysis course. Working with longitudinal data? Make sure you take courses to give you the tools to work with these data. Ask your adviser or other faculty what methodological tools they think you specifically need to do your research, but also ask them what methodological tools they think are the up and coming ones. Or better yet, ask your methods professors.
2. Figure out what content areas you need to understand, and take courses in them. What topics do you want to research? What stage of development? Obviously, if you’re studying a particular stage of development, you should take a course in that stage. If you are studying families, you should take family courses. But more generally, think about your specific interests, and find courses to fit them.
3. Think about the instructors you will have. In our department, we have many award-winning, internationally-recognized scholars. Take a course from someone amazing, even if the course content doesn’t perfectly line up with your career goals, just so that you can take a course with someone amazing.
4. Are you planning a teaching career? What courses will you be expected to teach? Some of our graduates teach in human development and family studies departments, but many teach in psychology and sociology departments, or at medical schools. What courses might you be expected to teach there? If psychology, it’s likely you’ll teach developmental psychology, but will you be expected to teach something in another area? What course could prepare you? If sociology, will you be the family expert? Make sure you have training in the kinds of courses you might teach. If you can’t get the right graduate level training, then make sure you TA the kinds of courses you might teach.
5. Are there areas where you should have academic fluency, even if you never plan to do research in those areas? For instance, I would urge anyone who plans to study individual development in any part of the lifespan to take at least one neuroscience course. You may have no interest in being a neuroscientist, or in even using neuroscience measures. However, given where the field is going, you will be expected to understand neuroscience – when you review manuscripts, when you review grant proposals, when you talk to colleagues, and perhaps, when you collaborate with a neuroscientist to collect spit samples or fMRI data so that you can get your work funded. What fluency do you need to be a successful scientist in your chosen field?
6. Look at course syllabi. Sometimes, you can’t base your decision solely on the bulletin description. Different instructors teach the course with different foci. When you’re choosing a course, find the syllabus from the last time that instructor taught it, and see if it matches your needs/interests. If necessary, email the instructor and ask for a prior syllabus or a brief description. Just don’t ask him to send his syllabus for an upcoming course – it’s unlikely it’s written 2 months beforehand, but it is likely you’ll annoy him by asking.
7. Ask other graduate students what courses they loved. Ask your adviser what courses, or what instructors, you should take. Word of mouth is useful.
8. Want a course on a particular topic, but don’t know where it’s offered? Search for it in one of these ways:
a. If you’re considering a specific semester, look at course schedules in other departments. Areas could include psychology, sociology, biobehavioral health, statistics, communication arts and sciences. See what courses they are offering and if they meet your needs.
b. Go to the graduate bulletin and search for courses by a key word. This process can be a bit clunky, but if you’re interested in a particular topic, can be fruitful. If I search for “qualitative” I find qualitative methods courses in EDTHP, HI ED, CAS, IST, APLNG, CRIMJ, ADTED, RPTM, CI, MGMT, NURS, COMM. I can then use the course scheduling list to see if one is offered next semester.
9. Don’t take courses just to fill a spot on your schedule. If you really can’t find something that meets your needs next semester, then take some independent study credits and work on your thesis, or write a manuscript and get it out for publication. Doing so will serve your future career much better than taking a course as filler.
“The post How to choose your graduate courses first appeared on Eva Lefkowitz’s blog on November 22, 2013.”