Deciding to further your learning with a postgraduate degree can be both rewarding and daunting in equal amounts, but once you start it’s important to get the most out of it. As a postgraduate student, I’ve come up with some tips to help you prepare for the next chapter. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but the points below really helped settle my nerves before starting my new degree.
Before I started my postgraduate studies, I found it best to split my ‘to-do’ list into 2 sections; mental preparations and physical preparations. Seeing this division meant I was able to focus on key areas of improvement, and most importantly that I didn’t overwhelm myself in the process.
Read around the subject:
In between your undergraduate and postgraduate studies, there is often a period of time that could be used to your advantage. Spend some time looking into the modules you will be taking, or the ones that you are hoping to take, and start familiarising yourself with some of the key components. If the module handbooks aren’t available yet, as this is often the case when modules are tweaked each year, email the lecturers/course directors to find out more information and to get some additional reading.
Think about your dissertation:
Even though it might seem like a far-off thought, it never hurts to start thinking about your dissertation. As your dissertation typically stretches over the entire length of your post-graduate degree, you have to find a topic that will strike the perfect balance between interest and quality. You will find it a lot easier to read about something you’re interested in, especially for the best part of a year, and if that topic also gives you a lot to write about then even better.
Giving yourself additional time to prepare readings or to analyse data is always a good thing, so use it to your advantage.
Be absolutely sure you want to study this topic:
This could have been something you studied at undergraduate level, or something that has always fascinated you, but it is important to be absolutely certain you want to carry on with it. A Master’s degree or PhD is a massive commitment, both financially and personally, so ensuring this path is the right one for you is vital.
You might also start your postgraduate studies and realise that this course isn’t for you, if that’s the case you should speak to someone as soon as possible to consider other options and other courses. At Leeds Beckett there’s a wealth of help available to you, for example the Student Wellbeing Team, who can talk you through any issues or doubts you are having.
Decluttering your work space:
Getting rid of any non-essential items in your workspace will definitely limit the amount of ‘anxious-tidying’, also known as procrastination, you can get up to. The age-old saying “clean house, clean mind” really applies here, and personally I find it far easier to get stuck into some research when I don’t have to worry about piles of paper everywhere or empty glasses all over my desk.
Download/invest in things that make your life easier:
There are several things you can get before embarking on your postgraduate course that will make the transition as seamless as possible. Even though it’s quite basic, remember to stock up on all the stationery you will need, asking for a pen in a lecture is embarrassing to say the least.
Buying a folder for each module ahead of time was something I found incredibly helpful, from day one I was able to compile all of my notes together in a handy binder which was easily accessible. When it came to my exams, my revision notes were right where I needed them.
If you haven’t already, download some referencing software to help with your essays. I use Mendeley for my references, as there is the specific Leeds Beckett Harvard plug-in, but I always make sure to double check everything before submission. Whilst it is a handy tool to use, getting into the habit of reading and re-reading your work is vital.
Join supportive networks:
Having other people to talk to who are going through the same experience as you is something I really appreciated. Many of the courses at Leeds Beckett have a Facebook group, where students and lecturers alike can communicate in a more informal platform. More generally, Twitter is an excellent resource for creating meaningful connections with other people in your field. There’s many groups or users out there that can really benefit your research, give you an idea of upcoming conferences, or just lend a supportive ear.
Hopefully some of these tips will help you with your journey into postgraduate study!