Saturday, 24 August 2019

Reflecting on my MSc education experience: Are postgraduate degrees worth it?

Open statistics book with some glasses on top

Choosing whether education beyond an undergraduate degree is for you, could be a choice that you will have to face. Maybe you have already thought about postgraduate studies but were hesitant, maybe you have made a decision or perhaps the thought of studying an MSc course has not even crossed your mind yet. This is where I come in to play (*evil laugh*). I'm here to tell you all about my postgraduate education experience. The ups, the downs, whether it was worth it. 

DISCLAIMER: Some of my points might not apply to all courses or universities. No course is ever run in the same way. A lot of it is down to the organisation of the staff who are in charge. Sometimes organisation can be lame, which can cause a lot of issues. That's why you need to remember to do your research before you commit to anything.

My experience of choosing a postgraduate course

About more than a year ago, I was approaching the end of my undergraduate course in Psychology. My course friends were frantically searching for their new chapters, applying for MSc courses and all that jazz. For ages, I couldn't really be bothered with education. I have had enough of exams and assignments. I wanted to experience the real world. I thought that another year in education will be painful, stressful and a complete waste of time. 

Fortunately, my MSc course leader managed to persuade me to enrol into the course that I am currently studying: MSc Research Methods in Psychology.

Ask questions before you make a decision about the postgraduate degree

When it comes to making a decision about studying a postgraduate course, the best thing to do would be to ask questions. Ask about deadlines, the structure of the course, exams, responsibilities. Know what you are putting on your shoulders, so that you can at least plan the rest of your life around the course, for instance having a job. Clear communication with staff and those who run a course that you may be interested in, will help you to feel more at ease. 

The postgraduate degree has a lot of benefits. Being an individual is one of them

Being an undergraduate student is painful. There is a lot to learn and to read. Unfortunately, most courses are filled with undergraduates (my one had over a 100). This meant that lectures felt like being inside of a beehive. 

When you are part of a huge group, it's easy to lose your independent thinking. Unfortunately, it's easy to be perceived as just a number in this case, a mere statistic. After all, undergraduate degrees are plentiful. 

That's why an MSc course is useful to have under your belt, it can definitely help you to stand out from the crowd in the job market because you choice to push yourself that extra mile. After all, MSc courses provide more specialisation.

Postgraduate degrees are made up of people who care about learning 

Most of my course mates could not give a flying f*ck about actually making any difference with their education. They could not be bothered with going the extra mile, they couldn't care less about reading journal articles and expanding their minds beyond the simplistic points presented in the lecturers' PowerPoints. 

When it comes to Master courses, independent learning and love for your subject are crucial. If you don't love something, why bother going the extra mile right? That's why postgraduate courses tend to be made up of people who care about learning.  

Postgraduate degrees do not lead to a financial crisis 

Undergraduate courses cost a lot of money. Fortunately, Masters's courses are far cheaper, plus it's only a year. Sometimes studying a Masters's course in the same university as your undergraduate can even give you a discount. My university offered a discount and it was definitely helpful.

In terms of paying off your loan - look at it this way, by having a Masters degree, you will be increasing your chances of getting a better job,  this means that there is a balance between the degree benefits and financial responsibilities.

 I know the thought about money can be daunting, but trust me it's not as scary as you may think. I don't come from the most privileged backgrounds, so if I can manage - you can too. 

Experience with time management and postgraduate course structure 

Undergraduate courses tend to be lecture heavy. In my case, my Master's course consisted of only two days filled with lectures, 9.00am-17.00pm. While these days were filled with learning, the lectures took up just 2 days of my week. 

Other days, I had to involve myself in independent learning, working on assignments, earning money in my actual job. I still had plenty of time to spare and still have a life outside of my Master's course. 

My course offered me the ability to manage my time effectively. I felt like it was not difficult to juggle at all. Before I started the course, I was worried that it will take a lot of my time. Don't get me wrong, it has in some way, but I have enjoyed every second of it. 

Whatever I have done in my Master's course felt like a worthwhile experience and not a pain in the ass. So, if you are thinking about Master courses don't be put off my worrying that you will find it difficult to manage your time. Master courses are far easier in comparison to the number of hoops that you have to jump in order to get an undergraduate degree. 

Postgraduate exams, deadlines, and all the fun stuff 

It felt like I got mad when I was studying for my final exams at the last year of my undergraduate course. I had to drill names of researchers, study years, study facts. The more you can remember the better. So, my exams felt more like a memory test than anything. If you are losing your mind in your undergraduate degree, let me just stress that postgraduate degrees are not as painful. 

(If you are a Psychology student and struggle with these study pressures check out this post where I discuss psychology study tips) 

My MSc course had only two exams. Statistics and advanced statistics. That's it. Everything else was just made up of assignments: working with software, doing peer reviews, thematic analyses - that sort of thing. Every task had its purpose. 

Some Master courses are more practical focused, some are more theoretical, some are the perfect mix between the two. Like I said, do your research. I was lucky that my postgraduate course did not involve the same repetition of constant learning and memorising. 

Postgraduate course and the joys of being in a smaller group 

I mentioned before that not as many people end up doing a postgraduate course, This means that postgraduate classes are comprised of a smaller group. If I remember correctly I think there were about 7 of us in my course. More popular courses, for instance, Clinical Psychology Research had around 20 people. That's far better than a 100 right? 

For me, it was easier to feel like an individual. Class discussions were also more like a breeze, I did not feel like hundreds of eyes watched me as I spoke. Postgraduate courses are far more personalised, when you are in a smaller group, it feels more like you are treated as an individual. 

Being a part of a smaller group is more worth the money because you can get more 1:1 support from staff. 

The importance of self-motivation for independent learning

Postgraduate course may not be suitable for you if you hate independent studies. Undergraduate courses require independent research, though if people want they can often get away from doing the mere minimum and scrape by with a pass. 

As a postgraduate student, you are in charge of your learning. There is an assumption that if you are a Masters student, you are interested in the course and finding more about the material.

There is far more pressure to think outside of the box and to come up with novel ideas in your writing. If you can't be bothered to research from time to time, presenting your arguments in assignment essays will pose a difficulty. 

You have to ambitiously seek for more knowledge and learn reflectively. I think postgraduate courses are more fun if you are able to view learning as a hobby and not a chore. 

Never study because you have to, study because you want to. As a postgraduate student,  I had the perspective of viewing the research process as a game. I think postgraduate courses can teach you the joys of learning new knowledge far better than being an undergraduate student. 

The postgraduate course is like a ride of self-improvement

My postgraduate course has offered me more than an education. It helped me to improve myself and my character. It was like being on a ride of constant self-improvement. 

I have learned more about the research areas that I enjoy, about my writing style and strengths in general. If you are not ready to put yourself out there, if you don't know yourself as an individual enough yet, I would highly recommend going for a postgraduate degree.

 Life is short, so I personally view every chance for self-improvement as a time well spent. 

Quote that says study because you want to not because you have to

The process of postgraduate research project and making a contribution for knowledge

Most likely if you have been an undergraduate, you had to write a dissertation (fun!). I don't know how other postgraduate courses run, but my one at least involved a research apprenticeship (which involved working with one of the staff members in the department) and a research project.

I have just finished my project draft and it took me about 5 months or so to get there. Research projects require a lot of work, time, focus and patience. But I think out of all the modules that I have completed in my postgraduate degree, doing my research project has been the most fun. 

The research process is like being put in a deep end. You have to come up with a novel idea, solve problems when they arise, change things. You have to communicate with your supervisor, meet your deadlines on time. 

There is a lot to juggle. It is stressful but research projects teach you valuable lessons about the real world. Things are difficult. You don't get handed answers on the platter. You have to show initiative and dig deep to find the answers that you want. In the end, it's worth it because you are involved in advancing knowledge in your area of interest. 

When it comes to research projects, be interested in your supervisors' research expertise. Don't just randomly choose a supervisor, get invested in finding more about their research. Find whether their interests match yours. 

Future opportunities and networking 

My postgraduate course taught me the importance of networking. As a postgraduate student, you will naturally spend more time speaking with members of staff from your course department. This is a great opportunity to network and make contacts for the future.

It's also fun to network online with individuals who are subject experts. Sometimes going far in life depends on knowing the right people, postgraduate courses are great for meeting new people. 

Get yourself out there, speak your mind, make discussions and ask questions. Take time to listen and communicate with others. Talk to your course mates, who knows maybe down the line they will help you to conduct great projects. Don't forget to make connections, it will benefit you greatly. 

Are postgraduate degrees worth it? 

Studying Masters has not been a walk in the park. I had some moments of stress, but in life, it's rare to find something that's valuable and easy. I think the course benefits have outweighed the pressures. I think that postgraduate experience will depend on who you are as a person.

Like I mentioned previously if you crave learning, you will find postgraduate education like a fun challenge. I would personally recommend it from my personal experience. 

That was my MSc (Masters, postgraduate, whatever you want to call it) experience. I hope it was helpful. If you have any more specific questions about my degree or psychology or anything like that, please ask me! I will try to answer all of your questions. If you are thinking of postgraduate studies, remember to research and ask questions. Make sure you have clarity before you start a new course. 

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  1. When I left uni (I did journalism) I wanted to get as far away from the media and writing as possible!! I looked at completely flipping the charts and doing an MA in Human Anthropology in Media (?), even attending open days etc, but I still didn't sign up! I feel so done with education right now and really wanna get out to see the world :D Then on the other hand, I love learning new things and I would go back to uni tomorrow!

  2. Human anthropology sounds fascinating!!! Learning is definitely rewarding and fun. Thanks for your comment


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