How to survive a one-year master’s programme in the UK
Most students do a lot of research before applying for a master’s programme in the UK suitable to their personal and professional needs. Yet, a one-year master’s experience can be daunting if you consider it as an extension of your undergraduate degree (which is certainly not the case) or are not prepared for what’s coming your way. In a one-year master’s programme, the reading lists are exhaustive, coursework more demanding and writing essays and your dissertation may seem like a never-ending process.
While I knew that one-year master’s would be intense as I had spoken with my friends from India who were studying in the UK, it was only after the academic session began that I understood what they meant. The department orientation followed by the first few classes gave an overview to my courses and helped me prepare. Yet, there were weeks when I couldn’t move on to the extended reading lists due to time constraints and felt that I required more time to truly understand all that I was reading.
Nevertheless, this year has been full of learning and developing new perspectives. My one-year master’s programme made me realise that if you are disciplined, able to manage time wisely and passionate about the course you are studying, a year in the UK, at your choice of university, can be a life-changing, enriching experience. And here are some of the ways I think you can ensure that:
1. Maintain a regular work routine: A lot of students do a master’s in specialised subjects which they may not have studied in previous degree courses. If this is the case, then it can seem slightly more demanding as the authors you read and the theoretical frameworks aren’t the ones you have read before.
There may be times when a concept goes unexplained during lectures because most students seem to know it. While you should always make an effort to clarify any doubts with your professors and tutors, intensive reading is the key here.
Take some time out to make a to-do list everyday or set a weekly target of what you wish to achieve. You will most likely receive an extended reading list as well an essential reading list. Complete the essential list first! I found Google Scholar and my college library portal really helpful to find the relevant texts.
Many master’s degrees entail weekly assignments so divide your time as per your needs. Many students take longer to write while others require more time to read and absorb the written word. Understand your own academic needs, read, re-read texts and get going. Discipline in studying is the magic bullet here!
2. Be part of study groups: Once you have read your texts, it is important to understand as many perspectives as possible. For this, study groups are extremely important. Nitin George, a Globalisation and Development master’s candidate at SOAS, says study groups and tutorial sessions were immensely beneficial for him.
“Regular tutorial groups are extremely important. This is where you share what you have read and learnt, understand others’ perspectives and are able to synthesize what you study by being a part of discussions. It’s important to actively participate in these groups throughout the academic session,” he says.
Once lectures begin, look out for social media networks of your class; this is where you can begin discussions about study meetings. Additionally, many universities offer tutorials and seminars as an extension to the set lectures. These add-on classes are very helpful to discuss your learning and ideas in-depth and be able to critically evaluate them.
3. Guidance on reading and writing skills: For Roba Alsalibi, an MA Gender Studies student in London from Palestine, the most difficult part of the master’s programme was academic writing.
“My [previous] education was more exam-focused. I didn’t have to submit essays or do a thesis previously which wasn’t helpful at all during my master’s,” she says.
While Roba sought help from tutors and other people to guide her through the writing process, you can look out for learning and teaching development offices in your universities. They usually run many workshops for essay and dissertation writing as well as smart reading throughout the course. Such workshops are helpful to attain the required writing skills – how to form an argument, referencing in essays, writing coherently, among others. Additionally, speak with your tutors, professors and PhD candidates in your department. Learning from someone else’s experience is beneficial!
4. Strong support system is important: Amidst all the academic pressure, it is important that you develop strong friendships with your course mates.
Many of you may end up meeting your fellows before leaving for the UK as a number of universities organise international visits for prospective students. Once you have accepted your university offer, make sure to keep in contact with your college’s international students’ officer to know about pre-departure events in your home country. Leaving your loved ones back home does make one anxious about building new friendships but networking is important.
Once you are in the UK, make sure to meet people during your freshers’ week, interact with your classmates after lectures, and participate in socials and study groups. A sincere conversation over a cup of coffee can make all the difference!
Writing your essays, exams and dissertation can be difficult and you may miss the comfort of being with your family but this is the time when your friends will be there to support you. Thus, it is important that you develop a sense of community with the people around you.
Anisha, an MSc candidate of Development Studies at SOAS says that it was because of her friends, the sense of knowing that she could reach out them and that they will listen, which made her rigorous master’s life easy. Take the weekend off; reward yourself with day trips within the UK to rejuvenate. It is important to stay in touch with your family and keep them in the loop about your personal and academic progress.
There may be times when your master’s is mentally draining. For mental well-being, keep an eye on the student well-being services in your college which provide academic counselling and learning support. Alternatively, you can get in touch with external organisations like Nightline, Sane, among others for confidential support. Contact different community-specific societies within your universities if you face any specific challenge related to language, culture, etc.
Maintaining a disciplined work schedule, being aware of your own well-being and seeking help can enrich your experience for a master’s in the UK. If you meet your deadlines and are able to keep up with the lectures, take some time off, visit the picturesque UK cities for a wholesome experience!