Starting a postgraduate course is a big step in your career – it’s where you start to specialise and find your niche, so it’s a decision that you don’t want to rush into. It can also be very daunting, so here is a bunch of useful tips to help you take that next step.
Stick to What You Enjoy
The best place to start is simply to think about which aspects of your undergraduate course you enjoyed the most – whether it was a lecture that really captured your imagination or a piece of coursework that you excelled at.
If you can, send an email to the lecturer or head of the course unit and try to arrange a meeting with them to talk about it, and maybe even see if there are any work experience opportunities they know about. Remember, your professors can be your reference for your postgraduate application too!
“…But I Don’t Know What I Enjoy!”
Does this sound familiar? If you don’t know which particular area you want to go into, don’t panic! This is a more common predicament than you may think, and you are not alone.
First and foremost, if you didn’t enjoy your undergraduate degree and thinking about studying the same subject at postgrad level, then you should seriously consider a switch. Think about your reasons for wanting to do a postgrad course and where you want to be.
If you want to continue on in your field but you’re just unsure what step to make, you should arrange a meeting with an academic advisor (or equivalent) to discuss your options. They will be able to give you some valuable insight into what courses your university is offering. They will also hopefully have some knowledge of your academic track record and will therefore be able to point you in the right direction, finding a course or even a career path that suits your strengths.
It can also be useful to book a meeting with a careers advisor. Although they’re unlikely to have specialist knowledge your field, they’ll be able to point you in the right direction and give you information about grants, scholarships, and stipends that your university may offer. For example, it is quite common that a university will take £1000 off the price of master’s tuition if you graduated with a 1st class bachelor’s.
You need to get ahead of the game – sometimes securing a place on a postgrad course can be a bit of a rat race. If you want to be starting your next step before the end of the calendar year, you’ll want to have applied or be very close to applying several months before this. This is a very stressful period and you won’t find yourself with much spare time but it will all be worth it in the end!
This is often overlooked, but is arguably the most important advice here. Take some time to think about your strengths and weaknesses before applying to anything. Weigh up the pros and cons of your current situation – which aspects of your course will you enjoy or be good at? Do you get better results in exams or on coursework? What type of exam (e.g. multiple choice, short-answer questions, or essays) do you typically perform better in?
Be honest with yourself. Are you hard-working or naturally good at your subject? Do you put the hours in or do you cram last minute? Are you good at managing your time? All of these traits will be tested and exposed in the postgraduate world, you have been warned!
Use Your Connections
Knowing someone who is currently on a master’s or PhD program is incredibly useful – get as much info out of them as you can! This may be frustrating if you don’t know many people in your subject area, and I am speaking from experience, but make the most of what you’ve got - even if you think the link between you is tenuous.
This is where starting early becomes very helpful: if you’ve undertaken work experience in a related area then you already have a mini network who you can talk to. Also you may find that they themselves will have useful connections, or they may be able to show you what postgraduate life is like first-hand.
The academic world can seem like a daunting place, but don’t be disheartened! Just be persistent and you’ll find your niche eventually.
Next Step: Find Your Postgraduate Course
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