If you’re currently a third-year in your final stretch of the undergraduate degree, swimming in a pit of essays, exam timetables and overdue library books then I can assure you that it’s perfectly normal to focus solely on a celebratory double vodka and a bonfire of books to get you through the final hurdle. Coming to the end of your undergraduate degree, though a relief, can often be the most stressful part of your academic study so far.
“So what are you going to do after you graduate?” ask your parents, your grandparents, your mates (the ones who can’t interpret your Basilisk-standard death-glare), your neighbours and your emails. Your inbox is filled with information about postgraduate open days and continuing study. The jobs website is your first call before Facebook. Your heart sinks as a rejection email comes through from a publishing agency, a chemical plant, a graduate management scheme, Burger King.
Some of you may be clear on where you want to go next and already have a career path in mind. Others, most of you in fact, will be panicking without the faintest idea of what you want to do. For those of you who know you want to continue education, I know I’d have really appreciated some advice at this stage. When applying for undergraduate degrees from colleges or sixth-forms, a lot of focus was given to students in helping them through the UCAS applications (remember those? Yeah…yeah I bet you do) but now you’re all grown up and mature there’s not as much support when considering future study.
I’ve now completed half of my MA course in Creative Writing and am considering a PhD and thought I’d use my experiences so far to give you some advice when considering applying for a Masters course at university. I know I could have used some pointers.
Make sure you’re passionate about what you’re going to study
It seems obvious, I know. But remember, this is an intensive course (only 1 year if you go full-time) and it’s going to take all of your energy and focus. You have to love your subject. Do not shrug, scribble down an on-the-spot idea for a dissertation on “Sexual Politics in Paddington Bear” if a) You have no idea how you’ll research it, b) You hate Paddington Bear or c) You’re drunk. If you love what you study, then your passion will shine through, you’ll enjoy what you do and your marks will reflect this positively.
Be prepared for the workload
I mean it. Third-year is stressful. Now imagine that workload and dump a truckload on top. You have to be committed and your tutors and lecturers will expect nothing less of you– you’re mature now after all. Be prepared and have some stress-management therapies to turn to…believe me, meditation and Nescafe will be your saviours.
At the same time, don’t be disheartened. It is only a year after all, and though that year might feel endless when the clock is ticking the word count seems stuck, imagine that sense of pride you’ll have when you have a Masters qualification under your belt.
Apply for funding early
You’ve no longer got the crutch of a student loan to hold you up when the food cupboards are getting empty and you’ve resorted to wearing a pillowcase. There are some great studentship opportunities available though these are few and far between, so make sure you apply for as many as you can as early as you can. Details will be found on the the ‘Funding’ sections of most university websites and it is advisable to keep checking throughout the year– though AHRC studentships (which pay your tuition fees and a stipend for maintenance/living costs) close early, sometimes extra bursaries are released at different stages of the year. Have a look at different organisations and charities to see what they offer or consider a loan. Working and studying part-time appears to be the most popular option for many postgraduate courses (https://www.gov.uk/funding-for-postgraduate-study has plenty of advice on means for funding postgraduate study)
Postgraduate life= less all-night parties
At least if you want to succeed. I’m not saying there are no parties at all, by all means reward yourself now and then with getting trashed and dancing to Toto. But if Freshers’ year was all about drinking dirty pints and compulsively stealing Tesco trolleys, postgraduates are expected to stand back, shake their pens and tut about it over their library books. Or at least sometimes. You’re supposed to be collecting research, not traffic cones.
Don’t take on too many commitments
A full-time Masters course is just that: full-time. Your studies come first and you’ll be doing yourself no favours if you decide that this is the year you’re going to be head of the Paragliding Society, become a bar manager, take up Mandarin Chinese and volunteer by knitting scarves for homeless cats. You WILL burn out.
Be kind to yourself
We’re only human after all. Of course we’re not going to sit there and be able to work every day– some days our heads just aren’t going to be in it. Reward yourself with regular breaks doing things you enjoy. Grab a coffee with a friend. Watch reruns of the dirtiest episodes of The Tudors you can find. Watch sneezing panda videos on Youtube. Go out to the pub. Go for a run. Heck, we live in Swansea Bay, stick your raincoat on (there’s a 98.9% chance it’s raining) and walk along the shore to clear your head. But don’t feel guilty. We all need a break and sometimes stepping away for a little bit can give us insight and fresh perspectives that we otherwise wouldn’t have had if we’d spent the day howling in front of Microsoft Word and punching ourselves in the face.
It’s okay to ask for help
Remember, your tutors and lecturers may be marking your work but they are not your enemies– they want to see you succeed. You’ll enjoy a much closer relationship with your lecturers during your postgraduate years and I feel privileged to have worked with such a wonderful group of people in Swansea University’s English Department. And if you’re entitled to extra support, don’t be ashamed in asking for it. I’ve always been reluctant to get the extra help I’m entitled to with health issues but over Christmas I desperately needed extra support and was overwhelmed with how much both my tutors and Student Support Services were able to make my studies a lot less stressful during a hard time. Student Support Services and the Wellbeing office as well as your lecturers are all there to make your time at Swansea as enjoyable as possible and they are all more than happy to help when you’re having a difficult time.
Do it for YOU
Perhaps the point I’d like to emphasise most of all is that making the decision to continue studying is a big one, and a decision you should be making for nobody other than yourself. This is YOUR future, not anybody else’s. If postgraduate study isn’t for you and you’d rather go into work then that’s brilliant if you’re doing it because it feels right for you despite pressure from others. Your parents may pressure you, peers may pressure you bit when you look back on your life, remember the person who knows you best is yourself and the last thing you want is to realise you’ve lived somebody else’s desires rather than your own. Your goal should be to do what makes you happy, not what sounds more impressive.
And being a confident, self-assured and positive individual is the greatest success of all.
by Natalie Ann Holborow