Lark Spartin

Communications Coordinator

Office: EME 2132
Office Hours: 8am-4pm
Phone: 250.807.9435


Supports communications of the College of Graduate Studies unit


Thinking of applying to graduate school? This is an exciting time for you! As a graduate student at UBC Okanagan, you’ll join a diverse and inclusive community of people from around the world who are pursuing advanced degrees and innovative research and scholarship.

That being said, this can also be a stressful time, with many factors to consider as you gather the documentation to complete your application and prepare to start your degree.

To help make this process a little easier, we’ve reached out to our Admissions & Records team to get their advice on the most important things to consider as you prepare for graduate school.

1. Know the “why”

Ask yourself “why do I want to pursue this degree?” That answer can help guide you through your studies. Although that answer may change (and that’s okay), it’s important to have some direction about what you’d like to achieve with your degree. This can help shape your research and the networking and professional development opportunities you pursue.

2. Gather Documentation

Have all of your post-secondary transcripts available in advance of applying. This includes transcripts from any exchange programs you have completed and transcripts from any courses completed, even if you did not attain a credential from that institution. For international applicants, UBC has a guide available listing comparable credentials from different countries as well as grade requirements from those countries.

3. Maximize your references

Plan for your letters of recommendation and ensure they are appropriate individuals to be recommending you for graduate school (a past professor, an employer, etc.). Choose referees who know your skills and experience best, and can communicate your ability to succeed as a graduate student. People often downplay the importance of referees but selecting the right referees for your application is essential to being successful. Check the website for the rules around what is considered an acceptable referee.  Reach out to your referees early as individuals may be on leave, or away when you need the letter. Have a conversation with your referee about the reference and if there is anything specific that needs to be included.

4. Identify potential supervisors

Approach prospective supervisors before applying. Most programs require this. It is okay if you don’t have a set research plan when you are approaching prospective supervisors. Be patient when awaiting replies from prospective supervisors. Faculty members are busy and it may take them a while to respond. You must communicate professionally & respectfully with staff and faculty.

5. Talk Money

Before you start your program, know how you are going to fund your degree (tuition, living expenses, fees). Plan and don’t rely on the possibility of scholarships and awards. Understand the details of your funding sources (is there a time limit on the funding? Is the funding tied to a specific area of research?). When you contact prospective supervisors ask them about potential funding opportunities. Additionally, does your program allow you to work full-time or part-time while you complete it? Are there employment opportunities included in the program (ex. teaching assistantships, research assistantships, internships)?

6. Be a self-starter

At the graduate level, there is not the same level of academic advising available that you may be used to from an undergraduate program. You will need to be self-motivated as a graduate student – do your research, understand your program and its requirements, seek out deadlines, and review policies. 

7. Ensure your application is complete

Ensure that your application is complete and all components, including references, are submitted by the deadline. Proofread your application components before applying (ex. CV, statement of intent).

8. Brush up on academic integrity

You must have a solid understanding of academic integrity and proper citations as a graduate student. This is especially important if you are coming from another country where citing requirements and practices may have been different.

9. Know your program

You must understand the requirements of your program to ensure that you are progressing on track. What are the course requirements? Is there flexibility within the program to explore various areas of interest?

10. Professional development

This is your graduate degree, and you can decide what you want from it. Take advantage of workshops and events that will help you develop and enhance your skillsets. This includes opportunities to network with peers (in your program and beyond) and faculty members inside and outside of your field.

For academic advising and program related questions, applicants can contact their program directly. List of programs 

For study permit and immigration inquiries, please contact International Programs and Services.

Starting graduate school is an exciting but challenging time that is full of unknowns. To help you learn from those who have been there, The College of Graduate Studies had six upper-year graduate students share what they wished they knew when they started graduate school. Read what they had to say below.

Fatima from the Faculty of Health and Social Development, 2nd year Nursing

Connection off-campus is so important for graduate student success. I really encourage you all, especially now, to set up two main points of connection early on in your degree.”

“The first is with your supervisor. In my first year, I did not set up regular meetings with my supervisor. I definitely struggled, and going into my second year I realized that I did not have to go through these challenges alone. By setting up these meetings, I was able to get my questions answered on a regular basis and developed a valuable relationship with my supervisor, which made my experience go much smoother. The Centre for Scholarly Communication (CSC) also played a big role in my success. As a nurse, there was more writing in graduate school than I was used to previously. By reaching out to the CSC, I was able to get help writing a fellowship proposal and organizing many of my final papers. Academically, my grades went up, but I also felt less stressed having extra support. If I could do it all over again, I would start a connection with them much earlier and take greater advantage of the workshops and one-on-one consultations more frequently.


Manjinder from the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies, 2nd year Creative Writing MFA

Firstly, I encourage everyone to learn more about the relationships that we carry as settlers to the land that we are studying on and living on. This was an important part for me as I began my studies on the UBC Okanagan campus as a settler.”

“I took an 11-year hiatus before returning to graduate studies and had a very set idea of what I wanted from my studies when I started. However, as I got deeper into my program, the more I discovered how much I didn’t know. That’s when I learned about ‘The Four Stages of Learning’. The first stage is called ‘Unconsciously Incompetent’, where you really don’t know how much you don’t know. This is where I felt I was in those first few weeks of September. A blissful time I can assure you.  As the term wore on, I entered the second stage which is known as ‘Consciously Incompetent’. This is where you begin to realize just how much you don’t know. And this is an uncomfortable place to be for us graduate students: for all our years of learning, it seems like a back to square one moment. Yet I would like to encourage you to think about how this lack of knowing can open up opportunities for you. I encourage you all to get uncomfortable and really think about how you want to approach all this ‘unknowledge’ that is at your fingertips. Graduate studies will give you the space, the time and the legitimacy to tackle this space of unknowing.

I also wish someone had told me that it is so important to sit down and understand your habits. Ask yourself questions like, ‘When am I most productive?’ or ‘Where do I work best?’ or ‘Do I procrastinate?’ Use that information and work with it. I know that I’ll procrastinate to a deadline, so I’ll set the deadline in my calendars a week in advance – building some extra time for myself to not leave it to the last minute.”


Maya from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, 2nd year PhD in Psychological Sciences

I started Grad School right after undergrad. It was definitely a bit of a rough transition for me because there are huge differences. I really wish someone had told me that it’s a really great idea to always have one project in each stage of development. It takes a while to balance this, but as I began my studies, I would only work on a research project at a time and this would put a lot of pressure on that project, especially if there were delays. If you have another project in development, if one is delayed you can always shift your attention to another project while the other is being looked at by your supervisor, and make good use of your time. Professors do this as well once they are more experienced in academia, so I knew by doing this I was on the right track. Again, I encourage you to keep a healthy balance and not overload yourself!”

“I wish I had realized how important it is to be friends with the other students in your lab. It’s great to have someone who understands how stressful it is and have a resource to talk to that knows what you are going through. It’s also good when this person shares the same supervisor with you. When I began my studies, I didn’t know how to communicate with him. If he was a bit slower at responding to an email, my labmate and I would advocate for each other and remind our supervisor to take a look at the other stuff. My labmate had also been in grad school for a year longer, so she knew her way around and how to work with my supervisor, and she definitely showed me the ropes. She was a great source of support, and if you have this opportunity, I would encourage you to make connections with the other people in your lab.

Finally, I think you should try to take advantage of the connections your supervisor has. I knew that as a student, I wanted to get a breadth of research experience and visit other universities to research there and get experience. I didn’t know how to set this up, but it turns out that my supervisor has many connections in California and all it took was me asking if he could reach out to them and that way I could spend my summer doing research in LA. Your supervisors have a lot of experience, so it is worth talking to them to see if they can connect you with other people in your field. If it isn’t for research experience, maybe it is to sit down with others and talk to someone in the career field you’re interested in. Asking for what you want and advocating for yourself is very important.


Shambhavi from the Faculty of Science, 2nd year PhD in Math

The one thing I wish I knew when I started grad school was how important it is to communicate with your peers. Not only will you be able to talk through how to approach your supervisor, but a lot of valuable research ideas can come from talking it out with other students in your discipline. Your peers can recommend books or resources to help you tackle challenging tasks.”

“Also, have your elevator pitch ready, not just for interviews, but for people like your close friends and parents. Most of the time, when my parents ask me what I do, all I can say is “I code…sometimes.” Which is not a very good answer! I think it is super important to learn how to explain what you do to a layperson, not only does it help you become more proficient in communicating ideas, but it also can give you the assurance that what you are doing is helpful and valuable. It is especially hard in fields like pure math when it is difficult to see an application for something that is not easy. This will help you write a lay summary for your thesis (insert workshop) or even with the 3MT, where you have to explain your research in 3 minutes.


Jody from the Faculty of Education, 3rd year PhD in IGS

I learned that every student that I met would come with a whole new set of experiences and perspectives and there is so much to learn from them! Connect with the other students and build a cohort if you don’t have one. Meet online, that is what I am doing with the Okanagan Faculty of Education. We meet a few times a month, and it is very helpful to see what other students are doing.”

“I realized I would be learning a whole new academic language, even though I came from a lengthy career in education. There was much at this point in time that was brand new to me. My subject librarian was a great help to me, as well as the CSC. Their workshops are phenomenal.

Another recommendation would be to attend every online session that you can that is outside (or inside) of your primary field of study. When you watch scholars from different disciplines, you get different perspectives of research, for instance, through a lens of science, social science, or humanities, or arts-based infused, but you will learn to see those views if you are truly becoming an expert interdisciplinary researcher, and when you watch other scholars, you can take notes and use them in your papers, it does not always have to be something you read. One of my profs encouraged this. I was so surprised how much valuable information I got for my papers from this. IGS is hugely beneficial and you can be so enriched by it, no matter your background of study!

I learned quickly that I had to use a lot of computer storage to store my readings and papers. To be able to save those and highlight them has made my life so much easier.

Be open to everything! Everything is fluid, and there is a lot that is welcome at the university and research ethics board. They are open to new research ideas and unique approaches, so I encourage you to breathe it all in, stay connected the best that you can in these times, but there are advantages to this too.


Ben from the Faculty of Engineering, 2nd year PhD in Electrical Engineering

I wish I had known when I started that this degree is truly yours to make your own. It is important to take time to figure out what you like- how you like to do research, how you like to learn and figure it out as soon as possible to make the future process much easier. Grad studies is a unique opportunity that is open-ended. It is not like undergrad and not as strict on courses.”

“Keep in close, honest contact with your supervisor in regards to what you want to learn and how you want to approach certain problems. Having a say in what you are doing will make you enjoy it more and allow you to be more productive. You have a lot of freedom to take different classes, learn in new ways, research many different ideas and tackle projects many different ways- keeping yourself organized and figuring out your direction early on could help a lot and give you peace of mind in the future.





During these unprecedented times, students are learning to adapt common experiences of graduate studies into an online format. Thesis defence and dissertation examinations mark the culmination of a graduate degree, and having this in an online format proved to be a surprising transition for many. However, there are many resources and tricks available to make this change as seamless as possible. In the following Q & A session, learn how three graduate students who recently remotely defended thrived, what they wished they knew, and what they would do differently:

Tips and Tricks for Defending Your Thesis or dissertation Online

Tina’s tips:

Tina Marten is an Interdisciplinary Studies PhD graduate. Her research Germans on Demand: The Migration of Highly-Skilled German Workers to the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, under the British Columbia Provincial Nominee Program, 2000 to 2015, investigates the migration experience of one ethnic group in British Columbia’s Provincial Nominee Program.


    1. Take time to prepare for the event: Read all the defence rules and make sure you understand them, know how Zoom works, and know who will be in the Zoom room.
    2. Practice, practice, practice your defence! The more secure you feel with the material and the technology, the less you have to worry about it. I found it helpful to do a Zoom practice run with my supervisor and the neutral chair.
    3. Have back-up plans in case the technology fails to work and you will have to, for example, deliver your defence without being able to do a screen share. I sent my PowerPoint to the neutral chair a few days ahead of time. In the case my screen share would not have worked, the chair could have forwarded my PowerPoint to the defence members and I would have talked to them without a screen share.
    4. Keep your visual presentation simple, in case you have to explain it verbally without access to visual aids.
    5. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. At times, I repeated the questions before I answered them to make sure I did understand them correctly.
    6. Keep some paper close by, to jot down some notes, as needed.
    7. Consider what to do with your pets, if you have any. You do not want them to bark or howl next to you during your defence!
    8. Don’t underestimate how important emotional support is. My committee members, internal and external chairs, and IT were all trying to make the best of a difficult situation. I felt supported. However, my remote defence was not open to the public, so I did not have family or others present for emotional support. Since remote defence presentations will be open to the public this year, I suggest bringing one person with you or even have a process observer who can watch your defence and support you.


Alison’s tips:

Alison Trim is a Visual Arts MFA graduate. Her research was based on exploring how drawing enables a deeper understanding of, and response to, place through physical engagement with materials and surface.


  1. Have a clock in the room! It did not occur to me that while I was screen sharing my presentation, the clock on my laptop would not be visible.
  2. Have a quiet space, where you are comfortable, not cold, and won’t be interrupted or distracted.
  3. Have someone around nearby so that when it’s all over you can celebrate/destress! It felt odd and anticlimactic just signing off the computer, rather than having the opportunity to chat and wind down with the committee members afterwards.
  4. Make full use of the split-screen feature on Zoom. Having attended an in-person thesis defence previously, I do feel that the presentation feels more relaxed and conversational in person than via remote defence. The split-screen can help facilitate conversation and can help students feel less isolated. Some people may prefer not to see, but I did not use this feature and found it odd talking to an empty room. Seeing the faces of the committee responding and listening would have helped me to feel I was talking to someone.


Helena’s tips:

Helena Neudorf is a Health and Exercise Science MSC graduate. Her research was focused on gaining a better understanding of the complex interactions between diet and inflammation.
  1. Don’t stress about how to give a virtual presentation – I wish I had realized earlier that it was essentially the same as an in-person presentation, but just in a different format. Fortunately, you don’t have to relearn how to give a presentation, the same principles still apply! Everything you can do in an in-person presentation, you can do virtually: have your PowerPoint in Presenter View (I used a second monitor to make the screensharing smoother), and use the laser pointer feature in PowerPoint to help your audience follow along.
  2. Practice the technology with a friend at least once before the defence, and not just the day/night before. For example, I figured out two weeks in advance that Presenter View didn’t work over Zoom on a single monitor on my laptop, which allowed me time to find a second monitor to borrow.
  3. Make sure you have a few close friends or family members nearby or waiting on Zoom/Skype for when you finish your defence, as you would under normal circumstances. It is a big achievement and one that should be shared and celebrated with the people that supported you along the way! The achievement of a graduate degree is never the work of the student alone, but rather the culmination of many peoples’ efforts and contributions. I hadn’t realized how much I cared about being able to share my defence with my friends and colleagues who helped me achieve my Master’s degree – until I couldn’t. In a way, it helped me realize how much I appreciated and valued them because I wasn’t able to recognize them in the way that I had hoped.
  4. Remember to enjoy the experience! I think the best piece of advice I received was from a post-doc in the lab who encouraged me to try to look forward to and enjoy the experience of getting to share my work with four very respected scientists. I wish I had taken this more to heart in the week leading up to my defence – I don’t think this would have changed my stress level, but it might have helped motivate me throughout the last few days of studying.


At the College of Graduate Studies, we are committed to the best interest of student health, well being, and success. Although we may not physically be together right now, our graduate community is as important as ever. Reach out to our office, your professors, and your peers and support one another.


Master’s thesis defences and Ph.D. oral examinations are currently being held remotely.

Resources to support remote defences are listed below.