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When you begin your Masters degree, you normally have in mind the particular skill set and body of knowledge you’ll be graduating with. But what about the other experiences and expertise you gain along the way?
These experiences aren’t just a means of building your CV – as valuable as this may be. They are also a means of developing yourself as a person, allowing you to understand more about yourself and the world around you.
This blog will cover some of the ‘other’ things you’ll learn as a postgraduate, alongside some of the essential skills you may develop for the future.
This might seem an obvious point, but learning how to become a fully independent researcher is definitely challenging.
Not only are you responsible for your own learning, you are also responsible for managing those that you will likely rely on throughout your studies. This could include participants for your research project or volunteers for an event.
You will need to manage your own resources, your time, and perhaps even a budget for your dissertation or project. Taking a lead role will often be expected of you in various contexts.
For many of you, completing the research task (and accompanying thesis or write-up) will be the first large independent academic project you have tackled.
Doing so successfully shows that you can organise the various aspects of a given task, from planning right through to fruition.
Even if academia is not your chosen career, these skills will be particularly useful for leadership and management roles, as well as team building positions such as human resources, and public relations.
Undertaking postgraduate study is a big commitment.
It can also involve some trial and error: finding where your strengths and weaknesses lie, and managing them accordingly.
There may be times during your studies where you aren’t as successful as you hope. However, having a backup plan and noting where you managed mistakes or mishaps shows you’ve thought ahead and overcome the challenges you have faced.
Observing how you have learned from mistakes (and achievements) also demonstrates resilience, particularly if you received criticism or praise for a certain aspect of your research or project. These examples can be a great resource in job interviews, shows your ability to grow, adapt and maintain professional improvement.
Of course, finishing your Masters with a good grade also shows a future employer you can achieve an aim you have set for yourself (or that might be set for you).
These days, a postgraduate course is quite likely to involve opportunities for public engagement. This could be a key part of your course, or an optional extra. In either case, the experience will be a valuable asset.
Organising events and practising public speaking allows you to develop the ability to communicate your research and ideas effectively. You’ll gain the skills to cater to a variety of audiences, some of which you may encounter again in future careers.
You will learn how to improve your presentation skills such as delivery and timing, as well as effective audience engagement. These skills will be particularly useful for interviews, training roles, and even public relations.
Other transferrable skills such as design techniques, promotion, participant liaison, and an understanding of user experience will also make you a respected candidate for a variety of career roles.
Public speaking is also a huge confidence boost. Not only will you overcome the fear that most of us have when facing a large group of people, you’ll likely gain valuable feedback from your peers and audience members which will prove useful for future projects and events.
Research isn’t all about reading books and journal articles. It’s also about investigating different sources - not just types, but places too.
It’s about networking and meeting new people, trying out new approaches such as interviewing people and attending focus groups, or taking part in new activities to really delve into the subject you are researching.
By doing this, you are capitalising on the best means of investigating your subject, and having the confidence to take on different roles – the interviewer, the archaeologist, the journalist, and so on.
As such, you are showing a future employer that you are adaptable to change, and willing to take on new challenges – things which are expected of you in most working roles.
You are also showing your commitment to a task, your ability to improvise effectively, and a capacity to use your initiative.
This isn’t just a case of prioritising your coursework in relation to work or social commitments.
It could mean knowing when to constructively compromise on your ideas for a given project (whether joint-run or independent). It may also be a case of learning to step down when you would rather take the lead, or even knowing when to be independent in your research and when to ask for help.
On the other hand, you might also have to prioritise the different commitments you have as a postgraduate student. For example, you may have extracurricular interests which you want to pursue alongside your studies.
What if you come to a point where you have to prioritise one over another? This could be a result of needing to better manage your time, or feeling that one activity benefits you more than another does.
An employer will want to know how you can manage to work both independently and in a team, how to manage different commitments simultaneously, and how well you can meet deadlines for different tasks.
If you can show how you have organised your tasks and experiences effectively, how you benefitted from them, and where others have benefitted too, a prospective employer will be able to see your potential.
Finally, postgraduate study is also an opportunity to be more daring, take chances, and learn to do things differently and effectively.
This could be in terms of instigating fresh and new ideas for a proposal or project, having a more controversial outlook on your subject or disproving a theory, or may even be as simple as upgrading the presentation of your work and writing through new, more professional formats and styles.
Thinking outside the box and seeing the bigger picture are also essential skills.
If you can show your ability to see past the initial stages of a thought or idea and understand it in terms of its wider implications, you can show an employer that you can undertake a project with vision and a clear objective.
Through creative thinking, you can also show your ambition, enthusiasm, and capacity for professional progression.
Though we couldn’t possibly offer you an extensive list of the skills you will require as a postgraduate, we hope that you have found the information here useful, and that it has provided an insight into some of the things you can hope to achieve.
After all, each individual’s experience of postgraduate study is very different, and what you will attain from your Masters will vary depending on your tastes and needs.
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