Master of Life: 10 Tips for Surviving a Postgraduate Degree

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You would think, after school, college, an undergraduate degree and finally a Masters, that the art of studying and preparedness would have been honed down to a finely chiselled point. I always presumed that Masters students were the cooler kids of the academic hierarchy, the ones who wear all black and huddle together to smoke those really thin cigarettes and talk in depth about politics and literature and social injustice and knew what they were talking about. They were experts in their fields. They had it together.

Or so I thought, until I became one.

At the start of the term, as I had done so many times before, I trotted into Paperchase, stocking up on all the essentials, swearing that this year I was going to make use of page dividers and ring binders and week-to-view diaries. I bought notebooks with brown covers and slightly yellow pages, supressing every natural urge to buy a set of unicorn pencils and matching dream journal. This was time to get SERIOUS.

Now, here we are. I’m sitting writing a blog post instead of working on my dissertation, because I handed in a chapter last Friday and feel like I’ve earned a break. Have I buggery. I wrote said chapter in a day and a half for no other reason than because it was due. No one has worked that quickly with a fire under them since Joan of Arc. My final deadline- the date by which everything has to be written, spellchecked, bound and submitted with a catchy title and befitting Clip Art cover- is just under month away. Having never written a dissertation before (I don’t have an Honours degree, and smugly thought I’d gotten away with it), I have no idea what I’m doing. None.

As part of my course we had to do two semesters of personal and professional development, which at the time I thought was the biggest waste of time, and now think is the biggest waste of time. But who am I to question the great uni overlords? Just because this particular class was the one ink blot on my record that meant I won’t get a distinction for my overall degree doesn’t mean I’m bitter. In fact, I’m going to put it to use just to spite it, and reflect upon what I’ve learned so far this year. Who knows, if you’re considering a Masters year yourself, it might come in useful, and all those days of wearing bleach stained t-shirts and not brushing my hair will not have been a total waste.

1. Masters students are, in general, a little older than undergraduate students. This means that, while you might think of yourself as the cool older kid, your friends with mortgages and bought cars and free weekends will always look on you as ‘the poor one’ and not fully understand why you’re 28 and stressing about homework.

2. You will spend your student discount more wisely. When I was at college and my loan came in I would immediately blow it all on a ‘new year, new me’ wardrobe because I got 20% off and it wasn’t real money anyway. This time around I get no financial assistance, had to take out a £7,000 loan just to do the course and use my student discount in Scribbler buying elaborate thank you cards for my parents who probably thought I would be out of the house again by now.

3. Personal style develops as you progress through education. If you’re constantly surrounded by ASOS-sponsored undergraduate fashion students, just remind yourself that your holey Nirvana t-shirt and oversized cardigan scream “I care so much about education that my appearance is secondary” and people will see that you’re a proper academic.

4. Time management is key. Instead of putting assignments off until the last minute, write an essay the smart way. Copy one quote from one academic journal per day until you have enough that you only really need to fill it out with words like ‘and’ and ‘that’. You’re a goddamn intellectual tyrannosaurus.

5. Diet and exercise are important. A healthy body is key to a healthy mind. Don’t bog down your coffee with milk and sugar and take it black with an extra shot to get you through that last “1,000 words in an hour” deadline. If you can’t find the time to squeeze in a gym visit, just use the stairs. If your uni is anything like mine, you’ll have delayed at least ten minutes of study time and probably burned off about 7,436 calories huffing your way up eight flights of stairs every time you go for a cigarette break.

6. Technological mishaps are character building. I got the jump on one of my bigger assignments in the second trimester and started writing another section every time we had a relevant lecture. In the space of two weeks I lost my USB, restarted said assignment, then my laptop caught computer AIDS and shut down on me. By the time I finished the manic look on my face was not unlike The Killing Joke but it was done, and now I can laugh about it with a smile that doesn’t quite reach my eyes because I’m crying inside at all that wasted time.

7. In relation to the point above, starting early is also pointless. My third attempt at that assignment got me an A and my lecturer wants to use it as an example for next year’s cattle, thus proof that doing something when you ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO is the easy way to a high-end degree.

8. Socialising with classmates is an entirely different beast than it was as an undergraduate. There’s no cheeky Garage Wednesdays for the postgrad student. Instead, you traipse a laptop around every bar named after a dead poet and sip on a cool pint of craft cider and complain that you’re not being taught enough. Then you realise you haven’t really eaten or slept since September and end up drunker than you would’ve on a cheeky Garage Wednesday.

9. People mean well but a lot of the time they don’t know, even family and your closest friends. They’ll ask questions like “how much more do you have to do for your dissertation?” and you’ll have to sit there and say that it’s on the right track, even though the correct answer is “to get it finished in time, probably sacrifice a virgin to the goat god Baphomet”.

10. However, no matter how dark it may seem, remember that postgraduate students earn more on average than undergraduates in their first entry level job. My longest-held entry level position when I finished my undergraduate degree was signing on, so I’m aiming at an income of over £70 a week. Dream big, people.

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