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How to decide if a postgraduate degree is right for you

Blogger Noorin Malik discusses the thought process behind deciding whether a postgraduate degree is a good option for you 

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    Noorin Malik

    April 5 2018
    Girl studying surrounded by books


    When I began to research my postgraduate options, I realised that the decision to study further was more serious than I had assumed. Asking yourself: “do I want to be a student of this course at this university because the course description says exactly what I want to learn” is probably somewhat misleading. I tried this instead: “do I want to carry out cutting edge research for a full calendar year to work on a project I must initiate myself?”

    The accomplishments that a postgraduate can achieve from further education include personal recognition and a better understanding of one’s strengths and weaknesses. To emerge with a better understanding of these strengths and weaknesses, however, it is wise to analyse the strengths and weaknesses that we learned about when we completed our undergraduate degree. Here are some guiding questions I asked myself:

    1. Do I want to work towards a career in academia?

    2. Am I willing to go beyond online research from the comfort of my home and beyond research in the library?

    3. Do I have the discipline to oversee my own project and immerse myself in the finer details of it?

    4. Am I confident enough to initiate academic conversation with my supervisors and argue about what I will learn and include?

    I was not and still am not ready to take on any of these challenges. Perhaps you know that you are capable of fulfilling these tasks, in which case a master’s might be the next logical step for you. 

    However, your dedication must be long-lasting and if you know that the challenge is not right for you at this point in time, it is okay to delay that postgraduate application. I have to admit that when I read about some of the transferable skills, I was inspired. I would be able to develop leadership skills, meet key targets, collaborate with other academics and organise my own conferences and events. I would gain public speaking skills through creating my own opportunities to receive constructive criticism on my work. I would also be able to show that I can scrutinise new topics and theories, working my way from theory to theory, eliminating some and incorporating others into my work, and produce new results in my field.

    Now reread the four self-evaluative questions and perhaps add this one:

    5. Am I committed enough to see the project through?

    This is a huge factor and if you answered yes, a postgraduate degree might be right for you. 

    Should you study for a postgraduate degree or join the workforce?

    If you do feel positive about taking on postgraduate study, don’t forget about the costs. A master’s in the UK lasts a whole year, and fees begin at £6,000 and can be higher, depending on the university. 

    PhDs last much longer and it is important to consider whether funding will be available, and whether you are willing to put aside full-time work for a year or several consecutive years. Is there a gap in the workforce that you can fill with your postgraduate degree? If you are opting for a PhD, think about how it could lead to a job or help in the pursuit of a career in academia.

    Do not hesitate to take the safer route. Put aside a comfortable amount of savings before taking these years out of your career progression. 

    Being your own manager is absolutely crucial. You have to be disciplined and organised to ensure that you are carrying out the research to the best of your ability. 

    My research into postgraduate options has shown that I am likely to emerge with a new identity and confidence that might just skyrocket. But postgraduate study could also give you low self-esteem because you will be surrounded by members of staff and postgraduates further into their research than you, whose journal articles you will read and who will look like they know where they are heading. They might actually know where they are heading and what outcomes they are chasing so the isolation could be more real than prepared for. 

    After weighing up the pros and cons of postgraduate study, I decided that it wasn’t right for me. Since then, I have opted for a flexible distance study course in a topic unrelated to my career interest, and it’s one of the best decisions I have made in my life so far. Not only does it feel good being able to turn my back on the pressures of further education, but knowing that there are other, more fitting, study options out there has prevented me from taking on a challenge that I don’t feel ready for.

    Now it’s your turn to make an informed choice. Give it some thought and time, and don’t forget to follow your gut instinct.

    Read more: How to write a master’s application

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