When I was applying for graduate school, choosing the course-based option for my studies was a no brainer.

I knew that I wanted to work full-time while I was completing the Master’s program – and since I was going to be learning at a distance, the thought of formulating a thesis seemed daunting. Most students who choose a thesis-based Master’s program go into graduate school prepared with an idea of what they want to explore for their thesis. I, on the other hand, could not seem to think of a new ground breaking idea – one that had not been researched before.

And so I began my course-based Master’s program, which fit perfectly with my schedule.

I was able to work full-time during the day and attend my online classes at night. I completed my readings and assignments on the weekends, and was minimally stressed. As I became more engrossed in the topics we were exploring, I too was able to identify gaps in research and felt curious. I was starting to ask more questions and took on additional research outside of the classroom. One of my professors encouraged my curiosities by pushing me to pursue independent research for publication.

Before I knew it, I was taking on the work of a thesis without actually being in a thesis program – the very thing I didn’t think was possible at the time of my admission application. I was initially hesitant to do this, but it turns out that it did not require extra work (the research), to the amount that I was afraid of. It was navigating the unknown world of publication that was the most difficult.

I began to question whether academic journals would take an independent researcher seriously. And I felt like my voice wasn’t valid in the scientific community. Thankfully, my professor helped me to realize that what I had to say was a conversation worth having, regarding an emerging public health issue. She also offered to be my co-author, so I was not alone.

The pursuit towards publication took several months, thousands of hours, and many sleepless nights. At times I thought that the journey would never end but I believed in my research and knew it was important.

I am pleased to say that my research was accepted for publication in an peer reviewed journal and it is scheduled to be published spring of this year (2019).

Ultimately, no matter the path you choose for your graduate school journey, you are not restricted to only course-based learning or writing a thesis.

You truly can do whatever you want to do if you are willing to put in the work.

What is important is choosing a school that will encourage you to reach for the stars and support you if you want to go above and beyond the prescribed schedule.

About the author:

Kaitlyn Irving is a Master of Public Health (Epidemiology) Candidate at Lakehead University. She is in her final year.