Welcome week was an odd affair this year as I returned to university for the third time. Being four years older than the average fresher, I was familiar with the booze, parties and introduction programmes that awaited the bewildered teenagers who passed through the gate of King’s College London’s Strand campus in September. But I felt I had been there, done that, and got the scars.
Despite being just as new to the university as these youngsters, I felt a little detached from the typical freshers culture, perhaps reluctant to reenact the ridiculous activities in which freshers traditionally partake. I was relieved to find that my course mates felt similar feelings, many preferring a drink or two, or several in a bar or pub where we could chat and get to know each other. Old and boring? Perhaps. Cheaper? Without a doubt.
This is just one of the differences I have found between undergraduate and postgraduate studies in the last few weeks. There are many more:
- The study style is different, it is far more student led. We are expected to take greater responsibility for our time, our studies and even the definition of our assessment questions and criteria. It is daunting at first, but you soon acknowledge that it is an opportunity to diversify and specialise.
- One immediately feels on a level with tutors and lecturers who all have their own research interests to pursue alongside their teaching. I had thought that there would be even less contact with staff than at undergraduate level, that the tutors would expect us to be more independent, but there is a definite sense of collaboration and mutual interests, which provides a very positive and inspiring learning environment.
- I have noticed a very different attitude towards the course in my class. At the undergraduate level, there seemed to be a large number of students who couldn’t really be bothered, who go to lectures because they have to, and who regard the social life to be the sole reason for attending university. As postgrads, everyone on my course is keen and enthusiastic in lectures, and rather than arranging to meet for “pre-lash” before a big night out, we plan academic discussions over coffee. That’s not to say that we don’t have a social life, or that we are always buried in books, we still enjoy a good night out, but we have all chosen to be here and pay £10.000 for the privilege. Therefore there is a greater focus and attentiveness across the board.
With the step up in intensity and the determination to make the most of it:
What must one do to succeed at postgraduate level?
- Create a routine and try to stick to it – maximise good use of your time and avoid procrastination
- Get the reading done but don’t kill yourself – many lecturers will stipulate the key readings that may be among several books offered (I’ve had as many as nine books suggested for one module for one week…impossible!)
- If you need a part-time job, try to avoid working too many hours and thus affecting your ability to work or enjoy life
- Establish a good work life balance – make sure you make time for your friends and any hobbies that you might have
- Always consider where the degree is leading you – at the beginning of the term we were all given notebooks in which we are encouraged to reflect on what we think we might do following our year at King’s, on the content of the lectures and on opportunities that arise. Writing our thoughts don on paper makes it easier to iron out our thoughts and to clarify within ourselves what we feel.
If you are considering pursuing postgraduate studies and you think you could handle it, go for it. A master’s degree gives your record of further education a bit of a glow, marking you out from the crowd, particularly if your aim is to enter a competitive industry, such as the creative industries. I am delighted to be continuing my studies and I am thoroughly enjoying the different way of learning and living. The course is more multidimensional than I had anticipated and exciting opportunities are popping up all the time.
So have a think if it’s right for you, do a search, and see where it takes you!