How to Survive Your Degree 101: MASTERS EDITION

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Guess what's back, back again. Me-dishing-out-life-advice is back, tell a friend. But really, term-time is upon us and some of you might be heading off to university for some postgraduate fun.

Many of you old friends will remember back in the May of 2014 I wrote a post titled 'How to Survive Your Degree 101 (ish)' and, well, it went down rather well, to the point of somebody explicitly mentioning it as something they liked about my blog in my reader survey. Now that I've officially finished my MA and will be getting my results in November (but not graduating until April; I'll have forgotten I've even done an MA by then), I thought what better time than ever, whilst it's still fresh-ish in my mind, to share some tips I've picked up along the way, and share with you all how I managed to keep up.

Side note: my MA was literary in subject so these tips won't be 100% applicable to more scientific and technical subjects. 

As a little bit of background, I did my MA full-time, which means I did two core modules and two options modules in twelve months, rather than a two-year part-time course. I was one of only two people to choose this option as everybody else had jobs and families and lives to get on with that meant they sensibly chose to space their studies out and give themselves the summer off in the middle. Naturally, we clung to each other, knowing we were the only the people feeling the weight of this unbelievably heavy workload. Although it is doable, I would recommend doing your MA part-time if you have a full-time job, or children to look after, or other commitments that take up most of your day. If I didn't have full stretches of empty days to write essays during, I'm not sure I would have gotten it all done. For my January and April deadlines I had 10,000 words to write, and then I had the summer to plan and write my 15,000 word dissertation. That's a lot of words.

When it comes to writing assignments, be creative and write about what has interested you. There will nearly always be the possibility for you to amend the example questions given to you or make up your own question. Take this opportunity and run with it. From my experience I know my best assignments have been the one where I've written about something I love, enjoyed learning more about, and could write about in an honest manner. Trying to find redeeming features to write about when studying a text you didn't enjoy is going to result in a stunted, unimaginative piece of work. Unlike in your undergraduate degree, your postgraduate tutors will be looking for original ideas backed up with research, rather than someone else's ideas you've found in a book in the library. You're heading further towards research-based studies, meaning it's more about your ideas, rather than answering questions currently and basing everything you say on what someone else has said. I relished the fact I could finally write about comic books, and write about them I did.

Make the most of the resources you have. Whilst at undergraduate level many university libraries are reluctant to offer the service of inter-library loans, this is an important resource to be used at postgraduate level. If your library doesn't have books you believe will be crucial to your research, submit an inter-library loan request through them and find out if another library in the country has the item you need. Some libraries offer this free of charge, some require a small fee, but it's an invaluable resource if not using it risks missing out on something that could really help you move forward. Another thing to look out for is SCONUL Access, a scheme where you can contact another university's library and ask for temporary access for research. Again, the terms of this vary from university to university. Some will allow you to borrow books, some will be reference only, many won't allow the use of electronic resources. But it's worth applying for if you know you're going to be away from your main university for a while, live nearby to another, and know you've got a lot of work to get on with.

Seriously though, you're paying a lot for this degree. Use everything you can.

My final tip would be to practice taking it easy and giving yourself a break. You've got a lot of work to do and it needs to get done, but if you're working from the moment you wake up to the moment you collapse into bed, you're not going to be creating your best work. You're going to be running yourself ragged, then beating yourself up when the feedback you receive isn't as good as you wanted it to be. This is a good time to be practicing scheduling. Separate your day and week off into hour blocks, or however long you can work well for without a break (say 45 minutes, or maybe 90) and designate a task to each of those blocks. Allow yourself breaks, and not silly 10 minute ones either. Proper breaks where you can make yourself a meal, have a long bath or shower, watch an episode of your favourite TV show, read a chapter of your book. Also make sure you use this time to create things that aren't to do with your degree, even if it's a page of colouring-in, or a blog post. You'll still be using your brain, but the pressure to create something perfect won't be there, and you can create for creation's sake. Can you tell I've been reading Big Magic?

So those are my top tips for keeping calm whilst studying for your masters degree. I may think of some more in the future, in which case I'll pop up another blog post. If you have any questions on the topic, please feel free to leave them in the comments below, or tweet me @meganlilli_. Sharing the good vibes.

M x

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