Professional Careers

The Graduate Wife Dictionary: Vocabulary of Grad School

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When stepping into the world of graduate school, how many of us knew the lingo used? We know we spent a good while asking our husbands, “What does that mean?” when they first started grad school. For those of you starting out on your graduate journey, our team thought we’d create a list of words we’d wish we had known when we started our journey! We hope it helps. -Mandy & M.C.

Working on a Degree

Admissions– Admissions is a general word for the steps a person must go through to officially become a student at a University. Almost all universities have a dedicated admissions office, and all but the smallest have admissions staff that specifically work with graduate students. Some of the steps in the admissions process include taking an entrance exam, submitting an application to the university, applying to a specific program of study (like Music, or Biology), sending in undergraduate transcripts, applying for financial aid, and possibly one or more interviews.

Blackboard and Canvas- Blackboard and Canvas are software programs used to deliver online courses, post reading materials, and record grades and attendance.

Comprehensive Exams- Comprehensive exams are tests (possibly written or oral) given during the last year of a graduate program as a requirement for graduation.

Cohort- A cohort is a group of students going through graduate school together and at the same time. Cohort may refer to all graduate students at a university in the same year, or more specifically those in the same degree program in the same year.

Defense (of thesis or dissertation) – A defense of a thesis or dissertation is when a student presents their thesis or dissertation to a committee of faculty members selected for that purpose. The committee members ask questions about and evaluate the paper. The committee must approve the thesis or dissertation for the student to graduate.

Dissertation- A dissertation is a paper or book written as the culmination of years of research in a graduate degree program (usually a doctoral program) and presented before a committee of faculty in a defense as a requirement for graduation.

Licensing Exam- A licensing exam is a test required by certain professions to be qualified to work in that field. Examples of fields that require licensing exams are education, accounting, nursing and law among others.

Matriculate- To matriculate is to enroll in a university.

Peer Review- Peer review is the practice of submitting a paper to other experts in a field of study for comments and criticism. Peer review is important in academia for validating the results of research studies and maintaining high quality publications. To have a paper peer reviewed means that other experts have looked at it and said, “Yeah, that seems correct, and this is a good paper.”

Thesis- A thesis is a paper written in culmination of a research project as a requirement for graduation, usually from a master’s degree program. While defended, like a dissertation, theses are usually shorter than dissertations.

Thesis/Dissertation Advisor- A thesis or dissertation advisor is a faculty member who oversees a graduate student’s work on his or her thesis or dissertation.

Thesis/Dissertation Committee- A thesis or dissertation committee is a committee of faculty members who advise a student on his/her thesis while it is in progress, and to whom the student defends the completed thesis. At the defense, committee members ask questions regarding the thesis or dissertation and determine if the student’s work is satisfactory for him or her to graduate.

Viva- Viva is a term specific to Oxford and Cambridge Universities in the United Kingdom that is a synonym for a dissertation defense.


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