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4 Key Transitions for the Graduate-Level Student

Making the transition from undergraduate to graduate student

By Scott Hibbard, August 2015

fortune cookie with phrase you will be challengedAs a second-year graduate student in Utica College's MS-Financial Crime and Compliance Management program, I can think of four major growth transitions over the last 2 years. First, graduate-level students are mentored by instructors as opposed to being hand-held. Second, graduate students are expected to synthesize ideas because they are up-and-coming leaders in their field. Third, understanding the types of technology used in the financial crime investigation field. Fourth, overcoming immediate challenges such as time management and getting into the rhythm of completing assignments.

Mentoring as opposed to Hand-holding

Graduate school generally reduces the amount of hand-holding instructors perform. Students are expected to have some undergraduate familiarity and/or employment history within some aspect of their field of study. Assistance is certainly given when asked, by instructors and students alike, if students consult their peers, but it is given with higher expectations. Graduate-level instructors are less instructors than mentors. Your fellow students are your peers and support system and they can be a tremendous resource. Utica College employs a cohort model in its Master's in Financial Crime and Compliance Management program so that students can develop professional relationships with each other through the residencies, and establish a support system through graduate school.

Reading and Synthesis of Ideas — becoming Subject Matter Experts

Graduate-level students are expected to be able to read a substantial amount of material that is likely technical in nature and synthesize that material into ideas and concepts pertinent to the class or program. The graduate-level student is regarded as a self-motivated learner and an up-and-coming subject matter expert (SME) who can suggest new lines of inquiry in their chosen area of study. The goal of synthesis is to expand the theoretical and practical knowledge of a field by the students who act as leaders in their chosen discipline. The change from undergraduate to SME is a sharp distinction between undergrad and grad school because the transition is from following to leading.


Some students may not associate FCM with high-technology, but that is the case at Utica College. Graduate students will be able to use tools such as the CASE IdeaWare investigations suite and IBM Analyst Notebook suite to investigate practice data sets and report on details. Advanced Microsoft Excel skills will be developed because of the ubiquitous presence of spreadsheet software. Also, an overview of computer networks and cyber security are provided to acquaint students in the FCM program with cybercrimes they may encounter professionally and need to defend against. The effort is to acquaint FCM students with the technologies that are available, technological concerns that may be pertinent to their profession, and to encourage students to continue to develop or enhance those pertinent technological skills after they complete their master's program.

Some Challenges Ahead

A variety of other challenges may arise such as time management. Start reading early in the week so that you can have a day to ponder the assignment and start the assignment no later than the middle of the week. In fact, an assignment may be due in the middle of the week instead of the weekend, particularly if it is a forum post that requires response from the class. Also, try to finish classwork during the week. This schedule permits you to enjoy at least a portion of your weekend rather than fully consuming it with class work and it allows time for unexpected events. Although time challenges are to be expected, the larger challenge captured here may be embracing the role of expert and expanding your identity accordingly.

Best of luck in your future studies!

About the Author

headshot image of student blogger Scott HibbardScott Hibbard is a second-year Utica College ECM Grad Student (ABT). He is scheduled to submit his ECM thesis by December 2015.

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