First published in The Independent, September 2013
So, you’ve got a Bachelors degree under your belt and you’ve decided to commit to further study. You might be wise with undergraduate experience but don’t expect your first term of the MA or MSc to be an extension of third year. The Masters can be an intense and intellectually fulfilling period of academic development as long as you put the work in. And there is plenty of work to prepare for. Below are my tips for settling into your Masters year, collected with the benefit of hindsight.
Remember how you made friends in first year – If like I did, you’ve moved to a new university for your Masters, it really is a case of starting over and making friends from scratch. I was overwhelmed by the nerves of a fresher to begin with but soon learned that the best way to overcome them was to plaster a smile on my face and start striking up conversations. I had my suspicions that everyone would already know each other but it wasn’t the case and as a student new to the university, I was in the majority. The friends I made were invaluable for combatting feelings of loneliness and isolation during intense periods of private study.
Do as much reading as possible – If there is recommended reading to go with your modules, don’t hesitate to get stuck into it as quickly as you can. The fact that there’s an academic step up between an undergraduate and Masters degree might seem obvious, but I was definitely not as prepared for it as I could’ve been. Imagine that the books you’ve read and the critics you’ve understood are like big guns and the more you have in your arsenal, the longer you survive in the zombie apocalypse that is postgraduate study. Or something like that.
Get to know your personal tutor – They are your academic support facility and there to be utilized as much as possible. Being on good terms with them is really important and if you feel that they aren’t helpful or aren’t a good match for you, just ask to change. Your department will be perfectly happy to relocate you with another tutor.
Get familiar with the printing and photocopying facilities – It’s likely that you’ll be using these a lot so make sure you’ve got plenty of money on your card if you rely on university printers. I spent £25 on printing during my MA but many of my peers spent £30 upwards. Also, photocopiers are a godsend for when you only need one chapter or a few pages out of a massive book and don’t want to carry the whole text home.
Go slouchy – The best buy I made during my MA were a pair of fleece-lined tracksuit bottoms. Yes, really. For those long, solitary working hours at your desk, have some comfy, warm and not particularly stylish garments to live in. No one has to see them apart from your housemates!
Learn to cook – Shoddy nutrition is bad for concentration. You might have been able to get away with living off takeaways and toast during the hazy days of your undergraduate degree but the Masters year is the perfect time to embrace the concept of BRAIN FOOD!
Prepare to multi-task – Unfortunately, having a Masters usually isn’t enough to have employers fawning over your CV, so use this year as an opportunity to supplement your study with work experience and other gems to boost your chances of being singled out. There will be plenty of career-specific conferences and panel talks put on by your department, so get involved.
Remember, you don’t know it all. It’s important to approach the Masters with openness and curiosity with regard to new ideas and new critical perspectives because this facilitates real academic growth. Also, never include ‘The Beginners Guide to Foucault’ in your bibliography. Just saying.