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Making the Most of a Masters Degree – Postgraduate Study Skills

Written by Mark Bennett

Postgraduate study can open the door to new experiences and opportunities and there's a good chance it could boost your career. But a Masters is also a big investment of time, money and, of course, effort.

You'll want to make sure an extra degree is worthwhile. And, when you graduate, you'll want to make sure prospective employers see it as worthwhile too.

After all, postgraduate study isn't just another year in university. And a Masters isn't just about putting another three or four letters after your name.

Thankfully, there are ways you can enhance the value of your Masters degree and make your time as a postgraduate really count. This page offers some tips and advice for doing that.

Elsewhere you can view our guide to Masters study and career prospects. Or read about the value of a Masters from an employer's point of view.

Getting more involved with your department

Independent work and self-directed study are a big part of postgraduate study. After all, you're the 'Master' now, right? Or, at least, you're going to be.

Masters degrees tend to involve a lot more self-directed study than undergraduate degrees. You'll probably have a relatively small amount of timetable, with much more time spent preparing for classes and following up on the material they cover.

But working independently doesn't mean ignoring what's going on around you. You're now at the level where you can get much more involved in the work being done by scholars and researchers in your field.

Research seminars, workshops and conferences - getting involved with academic work

Most well-established faculties and departments run internal seminar programs. These allow scholars to present and discuss their research in progress.

Sometimes these focus specifically on the activities of postgraduates - providing a forum for the work done by current Masters and PhD students. Needless to say, these are a fantastic opportunity for Masters students. Even if you don't present your own work, you'll get a valuable glimpse of what more advanced research students are doing in your department.

Many institutions also invite prestigious guest speakers, or organise large academic conferences. These can be a chance to network with other students and scholars and build relationships across your field.

The benefits of extra academic activities for Masters students

Getting involved with these activities and events is very worthwhile if you're considering an academic career.

You'll be exposed to cutting edge work in your subject-area and will have the chance to discuss research with established scholars. You'll also gain an insight into what professional academic scholarship involves. This can be invaluable if you're pondering a PhD after your Masters.

But getting more involved in your department and its scholarship can also boost your CV for non-academic careers.

You may not go on to become a scholar in your subject area, but you'll have gained experience in professional networking and perhaps had a chance to brush up your own presentation skills.

There's also something to be said for going the extra mile to get the most out of your degree. Employers may not be interested in every detail of the seminars you attended or the academic papers you gave. But they'll recognise your willingness to take up additional challenges and opportunities alongside your Masters.

Taking up internship and work experience opportunities

This one may seem obvious, but it's easy to overlook for students in more academic subject areas.

Taking part in an internship can expand upon your degree and allow you to apply subject knowledge outside the classroom or lecture theatre.

But work experience and employer placements also have value in and of themselves. They offer a great opportunity to explore different career paths and professions whilst continuing to build your CV.

Finding internships and placements

Some Masters programs include internships as standard. These could be optional course components. Or they could be compulsory parts of highly vocational degrees such as the MBA.

Even if your Masters program doesn't include an internship you may still be able to take advantage of opportunities offered across your department or institution.

Many universities run wider postgraduate internship and placement schemes in partnership with local businesses. These help the university by boosting the employability of its graduates and help businesses by providing flexible and highly skilled staff. Needless to say, they also help students - like you.

The best way to find existing internship and opportunities is to check the details for your course. Many will already have partnerships set up. If they don't, check your university website to see if any general schemes are available.

Failing these options, don't be afraid to contact local businesses or other employers yourself. Outline the skills you're gaining as a postgraduate and say why you'd be an asset to their organisation.

You're going to be contacting employers and looking for opportunities eventually. Starting now will give you valuable experience - and provide excellent evidence of initiative and enthusiasm for your CV.

The benefits of internships and placements for Masters students

Internships are obviously worthwhile if you're considering a career in a particular field. But they're also a great way to enhance your CV more generally.

The added work experience you gain will broaden your skills and show flexibility. This can impress future employers even if the specific internships you've done aren't directly relevant to their business.

Of course, internships and placements can be a significant extra commitment alongside a Masters. But the smaller amount of timetable involved in postgraduate study can help you here.

You'll probably have time free during the week - perhaps even entire days. Provided you can manage your workload this should leave space for other activities.

What do employers think of Masters degrees?

Whatever you do during your Masters, it's important that you can communicate its value to an employer. We've taken a look at employer perspectives on postgraduate study - including tips for 'selling' your Masters degree.

Contributing to student mentoring and study skills workshops

You may not feel like it yet, but as a postgraduate you're an experienced student, well on your way to becoming an expert in your subject. You've also successfully completed an undergraduate degree - and probably done so quite recently.

As such, you could have a surprising amount to offer other students at an earlier stage of their university journey, i.e. undergraduates.

Getting involved with mentoring

Some universities and departments already run mentoring schemes involving postgraduate and undergraduate students. These often focus on dissertation writing, but many also provide support with general study skills.

Others provide workshops and clinics focussing on academic writing, use of library facilities and other general advice. Postgraduates can be ideal participants in these

After all, who better to offer advice and support with an undergraduate dissertation than someone's who's recently completed one? And who knows more about undergraduate essay writing than someone who's just finished a three-year Bachelors degree?

The benefits of mentoring schemes for postgraduates

Participating in mentoring programmes or study skills workshops won't normally take up much of your time. But the advice you can offer could make a big difference to other students.

It will also give you valuable experience of instruction and knowledge transfer.

These are useful skills in teaching and academic work. But they're also relevant to any profession in which you might find yourself leading a team or taking part in training activities.

Mentoring activities won't normally require much of your time. Universities often run them at specific points in the year, or ask participants to volunteer for short study support sessions.

And if your university doesn't offer these kinds of schemes, why not suggest one? Helping set up a student mentoring scheme is a great way of demonstrating initiative and organisational skills. It's also ideal preparation for anyone interested in an academic or teaching career.

Taking up academic blogging and online networking

The internet doesn't just have to be a distraction from postgraduate work These days it can actually contribute to your studies and help you get more out of your Masters.

Many of today's academics and research students document their work online or form part of virtual scholarly networks.

You don't have to participate directly in these as a Masters student, but you can still learn a lot from them. Academic blogs, discussion forums, Twitter and even Facebook (yes, Facebook) can all be great ways of staying up to date with your academic field.

And, of course, if you do have something to contribute, go for it. Online forums are a great space for reflecting on your work and 'road-testing' ideas in an informal setting - particularly if your university doesn't yet feature any face-to-face postgraduate discussion groups.

Finding online discussion groups

Established academic subject areas will have websites run by scholarly groups and academic societies. These often have dedicated student sections, with discussion forums. Many also maintain Twitter accounts or Facebook groups, allowing you to quickly and conveniently network with other students and scholars in your field.

These groups will often lead you to blogs or other websites run by individual scholars or students. Some are very well established and function as important academic hubs in their own right.

You can also consider doing your own blogging. This can be an excellent way of documenting your course and reflecting on progress during your Masters degree.

Blogging doesn't have to mean building a full website or committing to regular updates. A basic homepage can allow you to describe your academic interests, with the option to add more content as and when you have time. This could be as simple as posting reviews of conferences or thoughts on your course material.

Or, if you don't have the time or material for a blog of your own, why not consider contributing to an existing academic website? Many will be happy to take guest posts from student bloggers.

These don't have to be long and they certainly don't have to redefine your field. But they're a great way to try your hand at scholarly writing and begin to build an identity for yourself as a researcher.

The benefits of blogging and networking for Masters students

Blogging is a particularly valuable activity for budding academics. Today's academics and research students increasdingly use personal webspaces to help communicate their research and increase the visibility of their work.

You may not have quite as much to say about your research as a Masters student, but you will in future. And there's nothing wrong with getting started early.

Blogging can also serve a practical purpose as you approach the dissertation stage of your course. It can be helpful to explore ideas through less formal writing and keep track of the way your research develops.

Getting involved in academic networks and discussion groups can also be worthwhile if you want to pursue a PhD. You'll become acquainted with current scholarship in your field and make useful contacts for the future.

But it's not just future academics that can benefit from getting more involved with their subject online. Professional networking is an important skill in many careers and blogging is an excellent way to present your degree to non-specialists.

Both activities can also make valuable contributions to your CV. Including your degree result is great, but why not also point out the ways in which you went the extra mile and became part of a wider scholarly community? And why simply state your degree subject when you can point to a blog that explains what you actually did during your Masters?

Get in touch with other students at the Postgraduate Forum

There's no need to wait until you've started your Masters to speak to other researchers. Why not get involved with the Postgraduate Forum community now? It's a great place to meet likeminded students and get advice on Masters study.

Considering international study

One of the simplest ways to take your Masters further is to, quite literally, take it further.

Studying in another country can give you access to unique expertise, material and training opportunities. It also provides an opportunity to pick up extra-curricular skills, including extra language proficiencies.

Finding international study opportunities

Moving to another country for postgraduate study might seem like a complicated process, but it's a surprisingly popular choice for today's postgraduates.

The best way to find out what's available is to consult our international study guides. We've looked in detail at higher education systems around the world, focussing specifically on the things that matter to postgraduates.

Our guides will tell you how universities are organised in different countries, what Masters-level degrees they offer, how long programs are and what qualifications you'll need to apply.

We've also put together advice on tuition fees, visas, living costs and working abroad.

The benefits of international Masters study

Studying your Masters abroad can have lots of obvious (and not so obvious) advantages.

The simplest is the chance to study material that you wouldn't have access to elsewhere. Or learn from experts who teach and research outside your country.

It's no surprise that one of the best places to study marine biology is a country like Australia, whose universities actually have access to sites like the Great Barrier Reef. Or that France is an excellent place to study luxury goods marketing - and winemaking.

Study abroad can also have other advantages.

For one thing, it can be a lot cheaper. Not all countries charge more to international students. In fact, some don't charge tuition fees at all (you can find out how much different destinations charge in our country guides and international funding guides).

Whatever you study (and however much it costs) you'll be able to enhance your CV more generally whilst studying abroad. A second language can be an asset in any job and employers will be impressed by your willingness to take on new challenges.

Want to know more about international Masters study?

Our detailed country guides have plenty of information on postgraduate degrees around the world. We've also put together some more general advice on international study, including more reasons for taking your Masters abroad.

Choosing the right Masters degree

There's one simple way to make sure you get the most from your Masters degree. Make sure it's the right one for you.

Postgraduate study can be very specialised and universities can be very diverse. Making the right choice isn't just about picking the 'best' university, or even finding a degree with the perfect course content.

It can also be about finding a place where you'll have the kinds of opportunities described on this page. Opportunities to make the most of your time as a Masters student.

Not every university will be able to offer all the options listed here. The choice you actually make will also depend on your priorities.

Do you want to build up a professional CV alongside your Masters? Pick a university with an established internship programme.

Or are you more concerned with gaining insights into current scholarship and academic networking opportunities? Pick a department with lots of research activity and events.

Are you keen to work in another country or access a global marketplace for your profession? Consider taking your Masters abroad.

Once you've decided what matters to you, it's time to look for a course that fits. And the best place to start is right here, with the huge number of Masters degrees listed in our database.

Good luck!

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Last updated: 03 March 2016