Friday, March 23, 2007

I didn’t get into Grad School!

So, you drafted up your statement of purpose. You filled out countless forms. You had your profs write glowing letters of recommendation. And now you’re waiting for those programs to call back. But… what if you don’t get in? It’s not a situation most students have a plan for. Websites dedicated to program applications have pages and pages devoted to how to apply, but not much on what to do if you don’t get in.

REMEMBER-- It’s not the end of the world! I myself am a survivor of the failed application year, and just got into a great program after applying again one year later. The situation IS workable! I have some of the steps that I know helped me, and might help you too.

1. Take a look at your graduation plan. Consult with your faculty and a prof or two. In some cases, your best plan might be to delay your graduation for one year. Or, you can remain a student in your program. Spend that year taking extra high-level coursework. If you already have an advisor in your faculty, you might be able to spend the year doing some research work—a HUGE plus on applications.

2. If you are going to graduate this year, why not consider enrolling as a Special Student? See if your faculty allows this—it’ll enable you to take some extra courses to demonstrate your dedication to the area. For info on becoming a Special Student at the U of M, go to

3. A year off to work, provided you work in the field in which you want to continue to study, is not at all a detriment. In fact, it can be a huge bonus! For example, a year spent in a lab can be a big asset in a biochem application. Going into social work? Work at a crisis centre over the year!
What about applying for other, similar programs? Some are easier to get into than others. For example, if you want to go into psych but are really interested in volunteerism or health, why not consider some Rec. Studies programs?

4. Consider a one-year certificate course in a related field. You might be able to get an applied counseling certificate before our psych grad school program, or a medical technician certificate before med school, or a personal trainer certificate before a physiotherapy program.
Try to identify weak points in your application an fix them. You could take the time this year to re-write the GRE or MCAT, without having 27 credit hours on top of studying for the big test! Look at where you might have been lacking (work/research experience, volunteerism, etc.) and do it this year!

5. Devote more time to researching programs. Remember that you’re deciding how to spend the next several years of your life. Costs and funding differ by institution and program. Look at restrictions or bonuses offered to non-local applicants. If you’re prepared to move, look at out-of-province or U.S. programs.

Don’t get discouraged if you don’t make it in the first time you apply. Advanced degree programs are very competitive. Use this year to build up you profile and make those applications for next year even more stunning than they were this year!


Friday, March 16, 2007

Online Dictionaries

I have discovered that one of the most helpful resources for my writing has been an online dictionary. When I am in the midst of writing, it is helpful to have access to a dictionary to look up the meaning of a word, find a new word, or use a new word in a different way. There are several good online dictionaries from which to choose.

Choice Dictionaries
The dictionary of choice amongst editors is the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, which can be found at the website: This website is helpful because it provides the meaning of the word in question in its verb, adjective, or noun form. It also has a list of the contexts in which the word is found along with its meaning. Finally an etymology or history of the word is provided to the researcher. This dictionary also has a Spanish-English dictionary.

The Oxford English Dictionary can be accessed from the e-library link from the website. By searching the databases by name under the “O,” you can access the OED. The OED offers many unique features like new words just recently added from colloquial usage, quarterly updates of new words added to the dictionary, and featured additions of words now a part of the English language as slang. Another feature of the OED is a learning resource for university level students to use with a tutorial to follow highlighting how to use the OED online. also offers a display of all the contexts in which a word is used such as slang, business, general, art, computing, medicine, miscellaneous, religion, science, sports, technology, and phrases. The word is listed in its category along with the name of the dictionary where the meaning is found. also displays the results of several different dictionaries’ definitions. This website also has some other unique features such as a translator, where text can be entered and instantly translated either to another language from English or from another language to English. It also has a crossword puzzle dictionary and a “word of the day” in both English and Spanish. This site includes and

Many Meanings
A great example of the importance of a dictionary to determine the many meanings associated with a word is the word mean” As a noun, mean may signify intentions or purposes, or a mathematical calculation of the average. As an adjective describing a noun however, mean means offensive. If you add an “s” to the word mean, its meaning changes to several possibilities, depending on the context in which it is used. Means may be understood as a method to attain an end, an indication, or it can represent wealth.

Have you become annoyed by my use of the word mean so often? Well, as previously mentioned, also has a great feature: the Reading the same word repeatedly may cause you to lose interest in a paper (sometimes your own paper). If you type in the overused (repeated) word, a comprehensive list of alternative choices with a similar meaning will be displayed. Just be careful when choosing a replacement word: words have nuances that will affect how a reader understands them.

Online dictionaries may not be the cure for writers’ block, but they are a great resource.
Happy writing.

Cindy Isaak-Ploegman