What is online graduate school like? Writing, writing, and writing some more.
The first semester of my master’s in MLS program I took Molecular Diagnostics and Advanced Topics in Clinical Chemistry. Now, I will start off by saying that online coursework is not for everyone. You have to be able to budget your time because it is very easy to say “I can do it later”. Next thing you know it is “later” and you haven’t even started on it yet. If you have never taken an online course this is pretty much how it goes and what to expect:
- You usually have weekly deadlines of either papers or discussion board postings. Discussion boards are online forums where an original question is posted and certain students are assigned to answer the question. Then once the original question has been answered, everyone else in the course discusses the question, the original answer, and offers any counter opinions or details that may have been missed by the original poster. Discussion boards are typically mandatory and you cannot answer “Good Job” or “I agree”. You must actually discuss the question and the answers in the thread.
- You typically know the first week of the course when every test or major project/paper is due throughout the entire course. Put these on your calendar / phone / whatever you use to stay on schedule … with reminders! Most projects/papers have to be paced. Don’t try to do them all in one sitting. Just don’t. It won’t work so just don’t do it.
- Be prepared to spend on average 9-12 hours per week per course on assignments and studying. I’ve taken a couple of courses that were as little as 3-4 hours per week and one course that I spent nearly 25 hours per week. Just understand that you will need to dedicate time to your course(s) just like you would in a regular in-person class.
- If there are any “live” webinars, you are usually given those dates and times at the very beginning of the course to give you time to fit them into your schedule … because they are mandatory … unless your dead or dying. I actually really liked these webinars. I was very lucky that in my courses we had some amazing guest lecturers from all over the world – the leaders in every specialty! I have kept in contact with several of them through the years and have been able to network. [Do Not underestimate the power of networking!]
- Don’t even think of copying and pasting your answers from somewhere else because not only the teachers can tell, but so can your classmates because we likely read the same material. Plus, most universities use a service called Turnitin which checks for plagiarism in every … single … thing … you … submit. If you plagiarize you can pretty much hang up your graduate school experience because it is typically an offense that will get you expelled.
- If you do use a reference source (which is usually expected – you always want to back up anything you are stating a fact in a course) you should cite the reference. When citing references, use whatever citation style that is dictated in the course because these can be different depending on the course. Also, learn what is a reliable reference source and what is not. Wikipedia is not a reliable reference source.
- You usually only have two actual tests, if you have tests. Some tests may be entirely essay in format and you have a few days to complete all 14 questions each in 4-8 parts, each with their own essay. Some tests may be a timed multiple choice or true/false – beware of these! Don’t think that you will be able to look up the answers for these types of tests because they are typically timed with very limited time and sometimes you are not allowed to leave the screen you are on without submitting the whole exam. In other words … treat these tests just like you would any other test in a real classroom … STUDY FOR THEM.
Mark Reid, MD once said “You do not study to pass the test. You study to prepare for the day when you are the only thing between a patient and the grave.”
While you may think that as a DCLS you will never be in that position, but think again. One day you will be the only person between a patient and the physician that is interpreting a test incorrectly and about to start the incorrect treatment on a patient. You may the only person between a patient and the physician that hasn’t ordered to correct test to diagnose the patient so that they can finally receive the correct treatment.
I don’t want to dissuade anyone from taking an online course, but I get asked all of the time what it is like taking online classes. This is it. It requires dedication and self-determination. It is very rewarding and I have taken nothing but online courses, and a lot of them, over the last 8 years. But I also do not want to sugar-coat what it is like taking graduate level online courses.
I have learned so much taking these online courses in both the master’s and DCLS programs. These courses, the professors, and the guest lecturers have shaped my knowledge of laboratory diagnostics and I am truly grateful. If you have what it takes to handle online coursework at the graduate level, I highly recommend it!