What No-One Tells You About Doing A Masters: Five Weeks In

As of last Tuesday, I officially became Emer McHugh, B.A. (NUI), and became an alumna of NUIG. I saw my friends, my other half, my family, hugged and waved at numerous people, paraded around in academic robes and struggled to keep my hat on my head. I didn’t realise how much fun a day it would be. And then I hopped on a bus at 1am, flew out to Birmingham at 6.30am, and arrived back in time for class at 1pm that afternoon.

Welcome back to Postgradland.

I have been immersed in Postgradland (or as it is officially known, a Masters degree in Shakespeare and Theatre at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon) for about five weeks now. I’m glad that now I can focus on something that I really do love, and that I can commune with people who share that same love. The novelty of that wears off in the first week, which is not necessarily a bad thing — it’s just second nature for us all to talk about Shakespeare and early modern theatre, and to natter about what we find so interesting about it.

At the same time, nobody prepares you for what a Masters or any form of postgraduate course entails. No-one tells you what to expect. NOBODY. I’m not asking to be spoonfed here, but after talking to fellow new postgrads, I’ve come to the conclusion that the first few weeks of a Masters is the equivalent of wading around in a deep lake that you thought was just a shallow pond. (Poor metaphor, I know.) It wasn’t what we expected it to be, but I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way. We just went into it blindly, I think. But there’s a sense that maybe, just maybe, we should have pulled one of our lecturers aside, or someone who has gone through it, anyone, and asked a bunch of questions.

So this is for those of you who are contemplating doing a Masters degree. I’m not trying to put anyone off, but these are just my own observations.

1. It is a lot of work. Biggest ‘duhnoduh’ statement, but it is true. You may have six hours a week, but you do have work to complete for those six hours. If you’re a humanities student like yours truly, most of it will be reading. Which is not a bad thing. But there is generally a much shorter timeframe for you to do that reading. So, to quote one of my English lecturers at NUIG, ‘you’ve really got to like reading’.

2. You may feel that you can’t do the work. But that is OK. What was crucial for me was knowing that others felt the same way. Whether they were in the same course as me, whether they were in the same university, whether they were back home in Ireland or here in the UK. A great piece of advice from one of my best friends was that eventually, you catch up to the pace of what is expected of you. That same person has just received his results from his Masters, and he’ll be graduating from his M.IT very, very soon. I’m very proud of him. He also makes a mean cup of tea.

3. You’re not special anymore. Remember when you were the only kid in your seminar who actually talked and took an interest? Remember being the only one who answered questions in your lectures? And over the years during your undergraduate degree, as you attend classes and accumulate good grades, you have slowly built up a very good reputation for yourself. Well done you, but it turns out that you weren’t the only one. More than likely, your fellow classmates didn’t just sign up for this course out of idleness and are there because of their ability, interest in the subject, and intellect. And yes, you may not feel special anymore, but that’s something you need to get used to. It’s also something you can use to your own advantage too, which leads me onto to my next point.

4. You know what’s the coolest thing about doing a Masters? The people. I know it’s something I keep reiterating again and again, but it is true. Especially if you’re interested in something that is quite specialist, like Shakespeare or the eighteenth century. It’s incredibly nice to be surrounded with folk who want to talk about whether Aaron from Titus Andronicus is more sympathetic than Richard II in the pub, or whether that production you saw at the RSC the night before was better the second time you saw it. The lecturers and seminar leaders are just as eager to talk about such topics too. And for once, you’re not the only would-be academic in the room, and those who don’t want to be academics still care about what they’re studying too. For me, that’s just heartening.

So there you have it. While I’m at it, I should refer you to my dear friend Patrick McCusker’s post on a similar topic (albeit it deals more with studying for a Masters abroad). In general, I recommend his blog The Neverending Blog: Part II. It’s funny, insightful, and quite thought-provoking.

And to conclude, here is a banana kitty.

Happy Hallowe’en!

ohdearIcan’thandlehowcutethisis
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