Choose graduate courses that align with your goals

If you have a supervisor at the time of admission, ask them if they would be willing to advise you on course selection. Supervisors often advise based on their knowledge of the field, of other professors, and of future course offerings. If you do not yet have a supervisor, consider taking courses offered by potential supervisors and visiting them during office hours. This provides opportunities to assess your compatibility with their expectations and style.


Succeeding in graduate coursework


Factors to consider when choosing courses

  • your program’s course requirements (e.g., mandatory courses, number of credits required);
  • prerequisites for courses you may be interested in later;
  • topics relevant to your project or career goals, or that you’re interested in; and
  • advice from others familiar with your academic programs, background and plans for the future.


If you are a supervisor, remember that well-designed courses at both the undergrad and graduate level can generate interest in your research topic and help you recruit students who are passionate enough to want to pursue graduate studies in your field.

Balancing in-depth knowledge and breadth of knowledge in coursework

For professors and students alike, the question is one of balance. To what extent should coursework focus on giving the student in-depth knowledge about their specific field or research topic? To what extent should coursework serve to provide breadth of knowledge and transferrable skills?


Coursework provides opportunities to specialize or broaden your skillset

The TRaCE McGill project asked PhD graduates about their experiences in graduate school. Several grads mentioned the role coursework played in their professional development:

  • Courses were key to Mehrnoosh Azodi (PhD, Environmental Engineering) in choosing her research specialty and developing her research topic. By taking courses during her Master’s degree, she shared, “I realized that I’m a lot more interested in the environmental engineering aspect of chemical engineering than in the actual chemical/process engineering.
  • Ava Schlisser (PhD, Pharmacology and Therapeutics) wished she had taken courses to broaden her horizons “One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t take any business courses. I felt like there wasn’t enough time, but I definitely could have made the time.”
  • Terrence Bell (PhD, Natural Resource Sciences) reflected that coursework could have been an opportunity to develop more practical research skills: “Because I worked with a lot of new computing tools, there were basically zero courses to help with training; it was just a lot of figuring stuff out on my own. One of the courses that I teach now [as an assistant professor] is one that I developed, to try and give graduate students extended practical experience using sequencing analysis tools.”

Questions for reflection:

  • How can students balance taking courses they need to become experts in their field with courses that might diversify their skills and open up future opportunities?
  • How can courses better prepare students for degree milestones and future careers?

Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International License.
Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, McGill University.

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