I just had my first dissertation meeting with my supervisors today: it’s official, I’ve started on the dissertation process. I handed back my last essay, I took my last exam and here I am, still a student, but not for long and with most of my experience in university behind me. I only started my postgraduate degree in September but I can tell you I’ve learned a lot in the last two semesters. So, here are a few advices for people starting, or thinking about starting, a postgraduate degree in September.
Take things one at a time. I can tell you now, and I’m pretty sure it’s not going to shock anyone reading this, a postgrad degree is A LOT. Despite the very little hours spent in the classroom, it requires a massive amount of work in your own time. Dissertation is also a big part of your year, despite not having to worry about it much before the end of semester 2, you can’t help but have it in the back of your head. If you’re like me and you don’t want to keep on the PhD route you’ll have to prepare your CV, motivation letter and go on a proper job hunt (and even if you want to do a PhD, applying for it is not a walk in the park either, according to my friends). All of this kept bugging my mind the whole year before I finally realised this winter that I was actually less productive because I was trying to do everything at once. Your dissertation work can quietly wait the Spring, your job hunt can be delayed until you have the mental space for it, just breath and take things as they come.
There is no such thing as a student stereotype anymore. Yes, as an undergrad you might not realise it fully yet, but most people can tell you’re a student from a mile away. There is such a thing as a student cliché and don’t think I’m criticising it as I’ve fully and happily lived through it in my undergrad. However, something I’ve learning is that it can sometimes narrow your perspective on a lot of things and when I took my gap year in-between my undergrad and postgrad degrees it was a breath of fresh hair I didn’t even know I needed. Suddenly my vision opened on so many things my comfortable student life, full of other student friends, didn’t allow me to see. I knew from the start I was going to come back to university for a postgraduate degree, but as September was approaching, I was kind of anxious about either falling back into my old pattern or feeling out of touch with the people around me. However, in my self-centred way of thinking, I didn’t realise other people would have evolved just like I did and would come from a much more varied background than they did when I was in undergrad. You’ll meet some of the most interesting people you can share a classroom with in your postgraduate studies, be assured of that and believe me you can look forward to it!
Look after yourself. This one is not even specific to postgrad students but I feel like it’s more relevant than ever. As I’ve mentioned before, because there is so much going on in your life, it can be very easy to put you and your mental health last because you feel like you are never doing enough and you don’t have time for yourself. You do. And even if you don’t, you are more important than a deadline to meet. Don’t wait to be on the verge of breaking to reach for help. If you feel like you need an extension talk to you programme director or any professor, they’ll understand and your work will only be better if you are in the right, healthy mindset.
Don’t hesitate to get involved in non-uni related activities. I know, I keep saying that postgrad studies are a lot of work but believe me when I say you’ll have time. Not only you’ll have time but I think that keeping interests and activities outside of what you’re studying at university is absolutely fundamental to take your mind off things and come back with a fresher perspective. Might it be a society, a small job, an art class, going to the gym or knitting on your couch – keep doing what you love. Don’t put all your energy into university as you won’t have enough to finish your year without some recharges, despite what you might think.
These are a few of the advices I have, I hope they are helpful and maybe even help you to go into your postgraduate degree more relaxed.