Student Blog Squad

Hiking the postgraduate vs undergraduate trails – how are they different?

Hello everyone. My name is Ning and I am a Malaysian postgraduate student who is currently undertaking a MSc in Psychology of Sport and Exercise.

someone walking through the woods, balancing on a log

It’s the end of Term 1 of my postgraduate course, and truth be told, it was a steep learning curve for me. The time spent staying at home most of the time has given me a lot of time to reflect on my journey thus far. The journey on my postgraduate route is vastly different from my undergraduate experience. I’m going to share with you five main differences that I’ve picked up between postgraduate and undergraduate.

Female hiker walking on a dry riverbed, surrounded by trees with a blue sky in the distance

Picture of me hiking through a primary rainforest in Borneo, Sabah, Malaysia.

From absorbing to application

I like hiking so I’ll be talking about how this journey of mine is akin to a hike. Undergraduate study is similar to learning how to hike, such as learning the foundations of survival and navigation. In postgraduate study, you’re using the foundation you built and using that knowledge to explore the wilderness, possibly even forging a path of your own! So postgraduate study is about how you use the knowledge you gain from undergraduate study and going in depth and applying that knowledge in real life. For example, in my course I learned a lot about coping styles so I would be thinking about how I see this concept being applied in real life.

Independent learning

As an undergraduate student, aka someone who is still inexperienced in the world of hiking, you’re going out on a casual hike for the first time with a bunch of other newbies, following closely behind a guide as they bring you through the trail to the peak. While you can be curious and ask questions about things you see or survival along the way, at the end of the day you know you have your guide to rely on.

On the other hand, postgraduate is going to be the time where you challenge the wilderness on your own after learning the ropes from your guide. Sure, you may bump into others along the way to the peak, but ultimately the journey you take on is your own. From making your own judgements and using the things you’ve learned to find food, water, and set up shelter. Your guide is your map and compass, and although they provide you with the tools to guide you through your journey, the outcome is purely through your own effort. As a postgraduate student, supplementary readings are really helpful in helping me understand a topic of interest which may not be covered by the academic instructor at times!

Sharpening your machete through practical experience

Undergraduate programs are designed for you to learn basic but important concepts in your course of choice. However, it is well constricted within the confines of your classroom, not counting co-curricular activities. As a novice hiker, you’re learning the basic knowledge of hiking and just started using them for the first time. Meanwhile, if you’re a postgraduate student or a seasoned hiker, you’ll be sharpening your skills by engaging in different real-world experiences through practical experiences, such as placements or attending conferences, which is what I have been doing since enrolling in this course. You’re given the tools and how you use them to your full advantage for your future career advances is entirely up to you.

Connection with your course mates

The other solo hikers you meet on your adventure are going to come with years of their own life stories and motivation to conquer the trail. Your course mates in your postgraduate course are going to come from all walks of life, each with their own career and life experiences upon graduating from undergraduate. It’s not to say that undergraduate students do not have their own life experiences, but most of them have been exposed to the real-world environment which helped to form their own values and motivation to dive deeper into their course of interest, and the same goes for you! The stories and experiences I hear from my course mates are something I cherish a lot as it is connection that is very empowering and most human aspect of us all.

The academic staff – more than just lecturers

Maybe you’re halfway through your solo hike and you need a break or to regain your bearings, so you look for a place to set up camp for the night or stopping to look at your map and compass. The campsite, map and compass are like your postgraduate academic advisors; they are there for you when you need them for some guidance and to remain resilient through this journey. In my course, each of us are assigned an academic advisor who you can look for in case you have any concerns in and outside the classroom. are more like mentors rather than lecturers whose main responsibility is to give lectures. They are people you can engage in stimulating discussions with especially if the both of you have a common topic of interest.

The postgraduate journey may be a tough one when I compare it with my undergraduate experience, from the methods of learning to the learning community you’ll be with. However difficult this journey may be, as long as you feel like this is what you enjoy learning and experiencing in your area of interest, you will appreciate the view at the peak even more.


Hello, apa khabar (how are you?) My name is Ning and I am a postgraduate student from Malaysia who is currently undertaking a MSc in Psychology of Sport and Exercise. Running, cooking, and reading are my go to self-care activities. I really enjoy collecting cooking recipes and sharing the meals I cook with people.

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