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The Non-Academic Things I Learned During My Master’s

It’s been a while since I wrote for Development Intern, and I’m here to tell you why.

I must start by saying, that on completing my undergraduate degree in the summer of last year, I had grand plans for my blogging prospects. I was a fired-up newly-grad! I had things to say, founded-opinions to muse on, theories and ideas and people to take from the lecture theatre and into the context of real-world development conversations. I was sure that I would blog monthly. I started a word document with all my writing ideas. I assured my [ED: long-suffering] editor that come September, there would be a blog waiting in his inbox.

September got off to a good start. Despite being in my early twenties, the month of September still for me evokes the start of a new school year. I was full of the joys of buying new stationery, of stocking up on new books from Amazon, and of making grand plans to hand assignments in a few days before deadline (ha ha).

Of course, this year was slightly different: I was embarking on a postgraduate degree at the University of Oxford, and I knew that this was a feat that would not be conquered with new highlighters alone. Still, I was ready for the challenge and I was confident in the choice I had made for the next stage of my academic and professional career.

I was not prepared for the crisis that would follow.

The first term of my postgraduate degree was characterised by a never-ending process of self-questioning.

For someone that has never once lost confidence in the education-related decisions or career choices I have made, this experience was entirely new to me. I no longer had things to say, and the word document remained untouched. Mainly, my crisis areas stemmed from:

1. Funding.

Somehow, writing that cheque at the beginning of term and depleting all my savings felt far more significant than clicking some buttons on the student loan website and borrowing the government’s money. Although the substantive amounts are probably about equal, spending what is already your own money is a much more tangible thing. As a result, you feel under more pressure because you’re only accountable to yourself (that’s for the development people), and you will go stir-crazy in a constant analysis of opportunity cost (that’s for the economists).

2. The course choice.

Those of you who read this blog will hopefully be more likely to understand my choice here, but most people don’t. My undergraduate degree was in Development & Economics; and my MSc degree is in the Social Science of the Internet. Before starting I could defend my course choice to the hilt, but once term got going the link between these two courses seemed increasingly tenuous, even to me. I knew I wanted a development-oriented and Africa-focused career, but I still didn’t know what that was. And instead of helping to clarify that, my Master’s gave me more questions than answers.

3. The Master’s bubble.

Admittedly, a master’s at Oxford is probably the most bubble-like of them all, but I would argue that to do well in any postgraduate course you have to retreat from the real world just a little. Or in my case, don’t retreat from the real world at all and then really struggle to balance the two. Studying at postgraduate level requires a different academic headspace to the one required at undergraduate, so you need to be in the right mindset before starting out. Again with the opportunity cost (but with life choices, rather than money choices).

If this all sounds a bit doom-and-gloom, fear not. My crisis is over, and I’m back to being a self-confident, driven student who still doesn’t know what she’s doing next, but who knows she’s going in the right direction (and who is going to try to blog more). And so, if there are any of you out there who are considering doing a Master’s, I leave you with a few lessons:

  • Be confident that you want to do ‘a’ postgraduate degree. Don’t do a Master’s because you can’t think of anything else to do.
  • When you do choose a degree, be confident in the one you choose. For many of us, a Master’s will be the last stop on our academic careers. Make sure that the course is the right one for you, and that you’re happy for it to be directing and driving whatever you do next.
  • Doing the degree won’t solve everything for you. If you’re thinking about doing a Master’s in the hope that it will give you all the answers about what you want to do with your life: it won’t. It will just raise questions, and throw them right back at you. Be prepared for that.
  • Think creatively. Doing a Master’s degree to get into development does not necessarily equal an ‘MA in Development Studies’. There are a plethora of courses out there that are more specific, more nuanced, and will demonstrate a more innovative way of thinking about development. Read: doing a Master’s in the Internet.
  • Finally, ask yourself the difficult questions. You know that little voice that sits in some corner of your brain and fires stuff at you sometimes? Seriously, listen to him. It’s a pain in the short term, but it’ll stand you in good stead to tackle his questions in the long run.
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3 thoughts on “The Non-Academic Things I Learned During My Master’s

  1. This was the absolute perfect thing for me to read as I frantically finish up my grad school applications due at the end of this month. I’ve been having an existential crisis for nearly a year and kept talking myself in and out of grad school and applying for jobs. I’ve decided to give grad school a shot because I do have specific interests that I’d like to explore and could help me be a better social change communicator, but if it doesn’t work out, I am willing to end up with more questions and be ready to course correct and find the next best thing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Nesima – it’s always lovely to hear positive feedback, so thank you for taking the time to comment. The fact that you’re already having an ‘existential crisis’ can only be a good thing, promise! Best of luck with your applications, and of course, if you ever have any questions feel free to get in touch 🙂

      Like

  2. Pingback: Getting to grips with your social media self | Development Intern

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