The skills you need to navigate through your masters is slightly different than when you studied as an undergraduate. Here’s some advice from both sides of the degree – previous masters student Meredith and The University of Manchester’s Professor Ian Scott.
The student: Meredith
Making the transition
Compared to my undergrad degree, my master’s was like entering a foreign country. To be fair, I literally was entering a foreign country (shoutout to other international postgrad students).
I was surprised by how independent my degree was. I had to complete lots of reading and writing in near-complete solitude. With fewer check-ins, I had to take it upon myself to set my schedule and seek help when I needed it.
Preparing for postgrad life
For starters, I recommend getting a good diary and treating it as your personal bible. Pencil in deadlines, assign yourself daily tasks, and organise your work in manageable chunks.
This keeps you accountable for all your independent work, avoids last-minute breakdowns, and gives you plenty of time to seek guidance and feedback before submitting your final product.
Managing it all
My biggest advice is to start early. I get it, Netflix is much more appealing than reading 48 sources on the same topic for your literature review. But if you knock out little bits each day, you’ll avoid feeling overwhelmed right before the deadline hits.
Make small tasks a part of your daily routine, and don’t be afraid to ask your tutors and cohort for help when you need it.
Everything will be fine
You will grow so much during your masters year. Despite all the roadblocks along the way, your master’s will welcome endless learning opportunities. In your coursework and beyond, this is the most critical year of your life to understand, nurture, and become your best self.
Remember, your master’s degree is whatever you make it. So go ahead and make yours the most challenging, fulfilling, adventurous, and purposeful year of your life.
The academic: Professor Ian Scott
The first thing to say, obvious as it sounds, is that a master’s course is not the same as a bachelor’s. Simple you might think, but not as easy to remember in practice.
The work for a master’s is, and should be, and step change from what you did at undergraduate level. This is why we have students do a long dissertation or final project towards the end of their undergraduate degree – that kind of extended research and writing is the closest they will come to master’s work.
For those who continue into postgraduate studies, this a taster of what they will be doing all the time – and with increasing intensity if they’re doing it well.
Again it might sound simple, but a master’s student is a scholar and a writer. At the end of an intense one-year period of master’s study, a student ought to be on the cusp of producing publishable work. Maybe not a groundbreaking article or book, but certainly a small piece of writing that a journal or magazine would seriously consider publishing.
How do you get to that stage? Research, reading, having a curiosity for your subject – in my experience a student must care about these to find success at master’s level. This is a difficult task – reproducing BA work, with perhaps a bit more flourish, is only getting the job half-done.
If you commit to it totally, I think you’ll surprise yourself with how much your research, writing and execution of assessments improves.