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There's no getting around the fact that postgraduate study can be a step up from undergraduate study. I mean, that's the point, right? It will be challenging and it may seem a bit daunting. It makes sense to know what you're going to be facing and to be prepared for it.
But there's also something else you should be prepared for:
The fact that being a Masters student is brilliant, fulfilling and - believe it or not - often a lot of fun.
You'll retain much of the freedom you've always had as a student (and yes, you can still go out). But you'll also be developing some great new skills and subject knowledge whilst having your eyes opened to new professional and academic opportunities.
So, if you're thinking about a Masters (or getting ready to start one!), here's some of what you've got to look forward to:
You may feel you’d gotten this pretty much down by the end of your undergraduate degree. But the more likely reality is that you still partied as hard as ever and just about managed to write that essay the night before it was due.
I'll be honest: you probably can’t get away with that as a postgraduate and you probably wouldn't want to. But that doesn’t mean you'll be spending a year locked in the lab or library whilst your department issues warning photos of you (and your fellow postgrads) to the staff at the student union bar.
It simply means you’ll be more responsible for your own learning. And you'll soon realise that this doesn't have to weigh you down - or keep you from the 'student-ey' things you used to enjoy (and perhaps still do).
And if you do find yourself opting for a few more relaxed evenings, getting through some niggly emails or working through some seminar reading with a glass of wine. . . well, that's not so bad.
In all honestly, the prospect of ‘adulting’ will probably begin to feel nicer than the thought of standing outside a bar at 4am trying to hail a taxi home.
This one is a big part of that 'adulting' thing. And your Masters is going to make you absolutely awesome at it.
Truly, your postgraduate schedule will impress the most organised and opportunistic of people.
In between networking, researching, studying, and holding-down a part-time job in most cases, you’ll be amazed at the number of things you can achieve in one day – and by 6pm, might I add.
One seminar, two meetings, three books and a trip to the library to swap them for another three? Sure thing. That might all sound a bit hectic, but, once you're into the swing of things, your Masters may not be anything like as stressful as you expect. And do you know how it really feels to be organised and on top of multiple commitments and challenges? Good. It feels good.
Plus, if you’re really organised, days off become A THING. Honestly, I’m not lying.
Get good with your schedule and you could now enjoy that elusive entity called ‘the weekend’ - one that involves a bit of rest and relaxation, rather than just wondering when Saturday became Tuesday.
OK. So the opportunities you'll have during a Masters aren't 'endless'. For one thing, a Masters is usually only a year or two long and very few courses allow you to go skydiving (if you can see one in our course search, let us know).
But, thanks to your new-found juggling capabilities and precise schedule, you’ll notice that finding time to take part in extracurricular activities is a lot easier than it was during your undergraduate degree.
And what better time than now to do something you never had the chance to before?
You could begin your own academic blog, join that committee you never got round to participating in, or even take on an internship which will benefit your studies.
You’ll also likely find that academic opportunities crop up more and more, too.
Now that you’re taken more seriously as a postgraduate student, you’ll have excellent chances to follow your own research interests and receive the support of your department as you do.
Plus, the networking you do during a Masters and the extra opportunities you take advantage of can be great preparation for a PhD.
There’s nothing like really getting into the nitty gritty of your academic subject.
As your Mastery (ahem) develops and you learn to make better use of university resources, you’ll become inspired and motivated by the nuances of the topic you are studying.
A Masters is about much more than just comprehending more of your subject. As you progress you'll get to engage directly with ideas at the cutting edge in your field. That may all sound a bit vague (and perhaps even a bit daunting), but trust me, once you're ready to start doing it, it's really just very, very cool.
Defining a new take on an academic theory, disproving a piece of evidence, or working towards a solution to major problems and challenges in your field are all realistic possibilities now that you're a postgrad.
Of course this aspect comes into its own during your dissertation as you get the freedom, time and support to work on an extended topic because it interests you and you think it matters. Now's the time when you'll take that final step from student to scholar, leading on your own project with the resources of your university and the expertise of your supervisor behind you. Trust me, it'll feel pretty great.
None of this means that postgrad study will be easy. In fact, it's the difficulty of a Masters that makes the experience so satisfying and valuable.
And you will make mistakes sometimes. You might even fail some tasks and tests at first. Learning how to do so is one of the many other things a Masters will teach you.
Being ambitious is part of doing a Masters and be able to fail is part of being ambitious. The trick is learning to deal with that.
Since becoming slightly obsessed with his work as an undergraduate, there is a quote from Samuel Beckett which has always stuck with me:
‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’
This is a mantra which postgraduates quickly learn and one which I’ve definitely focused on when studies were challenging. It’s okay to find things difficult, to not always know the answer, and to sometimes need help.
No one goes into a Masters (or any other degree) as an expert. This is a learning experience, not an exam. You will be challenged. You will get better. Eventially, you'll have the chance to get really good. That experience is going to be (almost) as satisfying as the awesome qualification you'll get from it.
Good luck - and enjoy your Masters!
Editor's note: An earlier version of this blog was first published on 18/01/2017. We've checked and updated it for current readers.
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