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Posted on 20 Jan '21

What I Learnt Taking a Gap Year Before My Masters

After studying her undergraduate degree at the University of Oxford, our Student Ambassador, Rosie, decided it was time to take a break before continuing on to a Masters. Here she shares with us what she did in her year out, the skills she learnt, and how the experience helped prepare her for postgraduate study at Cranfield University.

I decided that I needed a break from education after finishing my undergraduate degree. Many friends were going straight into a Masters (which is okay too), but I could not think of anything worse than going straight from the academic intensity of a final year (particularly at Oxford), to learning a brand-new degree. The burn out was real.

But that doesn’t mean postgrad study was a decision I made at the last minute. In fact, the opposite was true as I took extra time to plan and prepare. Here’s how that happened.

Thinking about a Masters during my degree

I actually knew from second year onwards that I wanted to do a Masters because my degree didn’t specialise in the area that I was most interested in. So, in my down time (okay mostly whilst procrastinating) I researched courses, and in final year I attended both in-person and virtual open days. Open days are an incredible tool – I know that right now you may not be able to visit places in person (I didn’t visit Cranfield Bedford until my first day here), but you can still use online open days to speak to current students, and also to the academics who may be able to advise you on who or where may be best for your research interests.

For me, deciding early on that a Masters was something I wanted to do allowed me to properly think about where I’d like to live, what my interests were, how much it would cost and how I would fund it. But I knew that I’d need more time to plan all of this. (A large part of me taking a year out was also because of this need to fund my degree myself.)

Making the most of my year out

Around March of final year, having just handed in my dissertation, I started looking into possible year-long jobs. This was a good time to start looking, and I wouldn’t recommend leaving it much later.

I knew that the job I was looking for wasn’t ‘end-game’, so I didn’t put any pressure on myself to make sure it was related to my degree. I just wanted something that would the opposite of sitting at a desk for hours, as I had been doing during finals – though I had to keep telling myself not to be picky and to just apply, apply, apply. By June, I had been offered a year-long job in a primary school as a ‘gap student’, starting in September. This job was minimum wage, and technically for post A-Level gap year students, but it was the best thing for me.

My main roles were to provide classroom support and oversee all break times both outdoors and indoors. I thoroughly enjoyed being part of the lessons and helping less confident children reach their full potential. Having spent time with a variety of learners, I was also able to develop my own flexible teaching styles to suit children of different abilities. I had the chance to plan and deliver lessons in archaeology to children aged 7-9, which has given me the idea to potentially work in outreach archaeology in the future - for example going into schools or working with groups in museums.

Unfortunately, after the lockdown started in March 2020, I was furloughed. I tried to use the time productively by making YouTube videos. I also continued to teach archaeological topics but now did so online, and for an older audience. I became part of a second, collaborative channel called The StudyTube Project, which shared a new teaching video every evening and have discussed several topics including archaeological isotope analysis and what we can learn from the human skeleton. Researching and making these videos helped me to ease back into academia and lead me to explore further topics that I hadn’t covered at undergraduate level. I also discovered online courses in various aspects of archaeology and forensics, which introduced me to topics that I could then talk about in my Masters scholarship applications and interview. I loved every minute of it! I would recommend looking up free online courses if you want to get a taste for a subject or ease yourself back in after a break.

Returning to education

I started at Cranfield University in October 2020 doing Forensic Archaeology and Anthropology. Cranfield is a postgraduate only university, which does mean that campus is quieter than a normal university - something I wasn’t anticipating loving so much before COVID. Compared to my undergraduate degree, there seems to be much more of a focus on you and your research at Cranfield. Tutors are very interested in where you want to take research and, because all students are working at a postgraduate level, there seems to be more equipment (or at least more access to equipment) and a higher level of trust to use it.

If I’m being honest, postgraduate study hasn’t been quite how I envisaged it, though I’m sure anyone at university right now can probably relate. It has still been great, and I’ve been lucky enough to have had two full weeks of really cool practicals so far. The course is assessed mostly by assignments, five of which were due in the first week in January so it’s probably best that I couldn’t leave my house over Christmas anyway (if we don’t laugh, we’ll cry right?).

If you want to see a visual representation of my course so far, then you can watch the video I made for FindAMasters.

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