If you’re here reading this, you’re probably thinking about doing a postgraduate course. Because three (or more) years of studying, writing essays and making the library your second home just weren’t enough!
As someone who decided to jump with both feet into an MA degree just a couple of months before the seminars started, and has now completed said course and become a graduate once again, here are my general thoughts on postgraduate qualifications and what you should consider before applying for one.
Will it Help Your Career?
It’s worth thinking carefully about whether the postgrad degree you want to take is an investment in a career-sense. Far more than your undergraduate degree, (because these are pretty common these days and the first-degree graduate job market is intensely competitive), your postgraduate qualification will open doors to further study and specialist job roles.
So if you’re heading for academia, a Masters or equivalent qualification is often the only route into a PhD, lecturing jobs and research opportunities. If you want to move into work, having a qualification above undergrad level allows you to consider highly specialist and focused job vacancies that require a certain knowledge and skill-set.
My Masters in English and Creative Writing was a career investment in my eyes because it gave me the tools I needed and the confidence in my ability to make a start on becoming a writer, which is what I’ve always wanted to be. It isn’t a vocational degree, it hasn’t put me in particularly high demand like engineering or IT-based qualification might, but it has been an instrumental step in shaping my personal career progression.
That’s what I mean by an investment. It’s got to be worth it in the long run. You’ve done the undergraduate degree and got the fun, the socialising and the hordes of society memberships out of your system, and so your postgrad year should be the more serious, study-and-future-focused one.
Although obviously it should be enjoyable too. Which leads me on to my next point…
Do You Love the Subject?
One thing to be absolutely sure about before applying is that you love your subject.
Whatever course you take, your postgraduate degree will almost certainly involve more independent study, longer assignments, harder exams, the expectation of a more in-depth knowledge base, tons of wider reading and research, and could include elements of work experience and placements as well.
This shouldn’t put you off – if you’re a learning nerd who thrills at the thought of two hour seminars or organised library day trips you’re going to do just fine. You’ll meet a lot of even more like-minded people in your seminars/tutorials /library meltdowns, start to delve into the world of academia, be given opportunities to attend conferences, give talks or presentations yourself, get access to fantastic resources, build up contacts in your field and learn in an environment where you’re treated almost like a novice colleague rather than a student.
But the second week of your semester is not a good time to find out that Microbiology isn’t really your thing. Be committed to your subject in advance, if you apply in less of a rush than I did, use the summer to get prepared and read around. If your enthusiasm flickers and dies at this suggestion then perhaps you’re not quite ready for your postgrad course just yet.
Remember there is no age limit on doing a degree. If you know you love Ancient Middle Eastern civilisations but are just too wrung-out after your first degree, get some work experience, go travelling, explore life, and return to Mesopotamia at a later date.
Are Your Ready for a Lifestyle Change?
Whether you are coming back to study from a break – be that six months or six years – or moving onto a postgraduate qualification straight after finishing your undergrad degree, it is likely to be a culture shock.
The first thing to know is that a postgraduate life can be slightly more isolated than an undergraduate one. Because others around you are likely to be more focused on their studies than which sports team to sign up to or what deals are on at the nearest bar, there isn’t the same situation of everyone going out together all the time. The work – on an Arts and Humanities course at least – is largely independent, supported by maybe once or twice weekly seminars and the occasional office hour with a tutor nearer to assessment deadlines.
It’s worth considering living arrangements as well, depending on how much structure you like to enforce on a work day. I treated my MA like a full-time job, working either at home or in the library between 10 and 6 on weekdays, and giving myself evenings and weekends to socialise and have a normal life when the workload allowed it. This meant lines didn’t become too blurred, helping to keep me stress-free and enjoying the year without falling behind or becoming a total recluse. So if your housemates are running on the same basic schedule as you, it can make things easier.
A key point to note when considering a postgraduate lifestyle versus a full-time working one, is that you have a great deal of flexibility in your day-to-day organisation of tasks, even within a general weekly routine. Every day can be set up differently, helping to stave off monotony and keep you motivated and working at your best.
A good sleep pattern helps a lot, too. Night owl or early bird, pick your bedtime hours and stick to them to maximise your productivity.
When it comes to deciding whether to do a postgraduate course, consider all the factors that might impact on you personally, take advice but don’t rely on it, and try to add up your plans for the future, your interests and passions, and your lifestyle limitations to come up with a formula for ruling in, or ruling out, postgraduate study.
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