About to start your masters or just starting?
Check out these 6 tips for masters students below!
Entering a new phase of study can be intimidating and more complex than your undergraduate studies.
However, with the right mindset and knowhow, completing your Master’s degree can be extremely rewarding and a great accolade on your CV.
#1: Think like a Fresher
As you enter the start of your postgraduate studies, your social situation will change. Even if you are continuing at the same university you did your undergraduate in.
Most likely, you will have to rebuild much of your social circle – in which the first few weeks will be key.
Generally, taking the approach of Freshers’ will most likely help you – that is, engage in as many activities as possible. These are, for example:
- Societies and Sports Clubs. Though you may only be there for a year or two, it is still a great opportunity to link with new people.
At the beginning of the year societies and clubs are flooded with new students –don’t worry about sticking out as a postgrad.
- Take part in Student Union run Freshers’ events. Though you might not go to all the clubbing events, there are still an array of more ‘mature’ events, or indeed bespoke postgraduate events that you can take advantage of.
- Actively engage and talk with people in your field of study. During the first month of studies, most people will be in the same boat – keen to make new friends.
Be sure to network and forge some early social bonds while everyone is receptive. Indeed, it offers an opportunity to have a ‘study buddy’ in the future when assessment season comes around.
- Check out our 5 Tops Tips for Starting University if you want to read further.
#2: Structure your Time
Chances are, if you were like me, you were pretty fast and loose in your undergraduate studies when it came to organising yourself.
I remember the last few weeks of my undergraduate studies rushing to squeeze out assignments in the last few weeks, or skim-reading 80 pages of literature before a three-hour seminar.
Unfortunately, as I tried, continuing this strategy into your postgraduate studies or masters degree does not work.
The amount of readings that you will have to trawl through is considerably higher, and far more complex than undergraduate studies.
It was certainly a rude awakening as I found that I had to plan my readings days in advance and break sections into time slots.
I’m sorry, but most of us mortal beings cannot process 150 pages of journal articles in one sitting, and merely reading the introduction and conclusion is not enough.
In my case, I would often allocate a certain number of pages to read each day.
It’s good to know how fast you read (whether an A4 or A5 document) so you have a rough idea of how much time it may block out.
It’s important to take into account however that you will read considerably slower than casual reading, and especially as you make notes.
Some people prefer to allocate a fixed time of reading (say two to three hours per day), but I found this unsatisfying.
An achievement-based approach where you hit a fixed target can give you effective closure, and prevent you worrying about work during the rest of your day (you will after all, still want to maintain your personal life?).
#3: Figure out how You Best Learn
You’ll probably know what kind of learner you are. Some people prefer to learn via lectures, reading, or actively engaging in seminars.
While you may have had some ‘out of the box’ working strategies from your A-Levels or Undergraduate studies, they will most likely become inadequate as you transition to your Master’s degree.
The amount of information you will have to process and understand requires you understand how you best learn. You don’t want to commit time to a learning method that has limited return.
Some people like mind maps, flashcards, highlighting, or working with pen and paper as it can help them absorb the content better.
Many of these methods can be categorised into four categories: Auditory, Visual, Written or Kinaesthetic.
You can get a good explanation of these groups and what style of learning you are here, and possibly a new strategy to adopt.
Knowing how you learn best, can help you to develop your study skills and to work more productively.
➡️Read: How to study from home effectively for some of our top study tips!
#4: Strategise your Assessments
In my undergraduate studies, I could start and finish assessments, days before they were due in.
Needless to say, this isn’t something anyone should condone. However, in your master’s degree, you won’t have the luxury of choice, and you will have to plan well in advance.
I very quickly found that essay questions were considerably more difficult to answer and required far more thought, research and reading to fulfil.
Even if some are the same word count as undergraduate assessments, often the work will produce will have to be more nuanced. However, there are some pitfalls you need to avoid.
Tips for tackling your assignments strategically
- Don’t follow a fixed plan. By the very least, have a rough outline of a plan that offers flexibility. As you research your topic, the scope and shape of your argument will change in an unexpected direction.
Articles you thought were relevant may not be necessary at all, and newly found literature will become far more relevant. Chances are, if you properly research your argument your initial research plan will have little bearing to your final draft.
- Use your study time efficiently. When writing your assessment, you will invest considerable hours into that piece of work. Regularly ask yourself with whatever you plan to do that it is an effective use of your work time.
You don’t want to commit to reading fifty pages of a journal article that has little relevance to your argument.
Or, if you spend two hours creating a timetable and reading list that most likely won’t be followed as your assessment changes, was it a good use of time?
- Don’t be afraid to commit to writing the essay. It’s common to feel uncomfortable about starting the essay as you may lack clarity of what your argument is.
So, you end up sinking into a hole of reading more and more literature in the hopes for a sudden moment of clarity (I recall a time when I had 27,000 words of notes for a 3,000-word essay).
It’s nice when you have an epiphany, but don’t count on it happening every time.
Sometimes, as unpleasant as it may be, forcing yourself to write your assessments will give you clarity of what you want to say and what you’re lacking.
It’s always tough to make a start, but that’s the hardest part.
#5: Keep your Future Career in Mind
Whether you’ve started your master’s as a stepping stone towards a PhD or merely to stay at university for another year, the inexorable question of what your career will still remain. It’s good to allocate time in the week on career development.
Keep in mind that 48% of graduates never land a graduate-level job. You don’t want to contribute to that statistic. Here are some key pointers:
- Keep following the key industries you’re interested in.
- Network as much as possible with people who are associated with those industries. They could offer key insights or help in the future.
- Check the key employability skills requirements many job offers specify. Ask yourself whether you answer these convincingly – do you need additional experience in certain areas?
- Consider a Graduate Coach to best guide you through to the world of employment. If you’re unsure, check out this blog: ‘Why you should consider getting a graduate coach.’
#6: Don’t Forget: You’re still allowed to have fun
The last of our tips for masters students is to enjoy your postgraduate studies.
Many start their master’s degree, with all guns blazing, view that they’ll take their studies more seriously and prioritise work. While in theory, this is laudable, it isn’t realistic.
In reality, you’re merely setting yourself up to burn out in a few weeks’ time. It will most likely impact the quality of your work.
Keeping a balance of alternative activities and time to yourself throughout your postgraduate studies will benefit you.
Most importantly, following steps to look after your mental wellbeing is a good place to work around your weekly schedules.
If you’re unsure of where to start, check out the University of Sussex’s article on looking after your mental wellbeing; it has some great pointers and explanations on how best to manage your mental wellbeing and suggestions for healthy activities.
Conclusion: 6 Tips for masters students
Whether going back to university or continuing from undergraduate, entering the phase of postgraduate studies can be intimidating.
However, with these 6 tips for masters students, you’ll have a good idea of how best to approach this exciting challenge.
Certainly, with this article, you can view your master’s degree not as intimidating, but a hugely rewarding challenge to overcome.
We hope you have found this post sharing tips for masters students helpful!
By Peter Anson