Warm and witty – Alex Rees (MA Welsh Writing in English) blogs about tackling November as a new Master’s student…
I’m nearly at the end of my first term as a Swansea postgrad and I have already learned more about my chosen subject than I gained from the whole year I spent on it in my undergrad dissertation. Maybe this is because I was an idle and diffident undergrad (possibly), maybe the MA allows a better chance to focus on a specific subject (probably) or maybe it’s because the quality of teaching has been excellent (definitely).
One of my worries before starting the MA was whether there would be enough academic support, especially as in my case there had been a four year gap since completing my undergrad. This fear has been completely laid to rest and buried beneath a forest’s-worth of hand-outs. I’ve especially enjoyed the switch from the soulless booming lecture theatre environment, to our cosy CREW den tucked away into a corner of Keir Hardie. The seminar environment allows for a free flowing discussion of ideas and a great opportunity to ask questions, however silly they may seem when they pop into your head. Generally speaking I’ve found that there are no stupid questions and never any simple answers.
So, what is it like to be a postgraduate at Swansea? Well, without sounding like I’m stuck in reality TV mode (always an inevitability by this time of year with the Strictly Jungle Factor deluge), I think it’d be fair to say every postgrad has their own ‘journey’ to take to get here and to continue on to the word-crunching end. As I’ve said, I finished my BA four years ago and so it felt quite daunting to leap back into the academic world. However, having worked almost continuously throughout that time, I can say it has completely altered the way I approach and think about work. I treat my Masters like the job I really want, which I think you have to do to give it the time it deserves.
I’m also very aware of how many amazing opportunities and discounts are available to students (I don’t think I’ve paid more than 90% for anything lately). Paying for the fees out of my own money has been quite the motivator too- rather than having it taken care of by the amorphous ‘Student Loan’ which continues to lurk about, politely coughing in the hope I’ll finally take up a highly-paid job. It’s made me very attuned to getting value for money and joining in with as many of the learning and development opportunities as I can, while I can.
In a way the real work hasn’t yet begun for the MA students, with our first essay deadline the third week in January. Reading books and preparing ideas to discuss in seminars is only the tip of the Deadline Iceburg. Very soon I’ll be entering my book hibernation, unlikely to emerge into the social human world until next February (with time off for good behaviour at Christmas). So I finish with a wish of good luck idea hunting and I expect I’ll probably see you at my second home (the library).
Exciting, scary and busy are all words I could use to describe my first month as an Msc student. From the whirlwind introduction to my new department and lecturers to meeting my fellow students, it has all been an incredible experience. I’m not going to lie, I was terrified on my first day, worried about whether I was going to be able to cope with such a high level of study, whether I would be accepted coming from a different undergraduate subject area and also whether everyone else would be much smarter than I am.. I think I was envisioning rows of people with giant pulsating brains, but of course it wasn’t like that at all. I felt immediately welcomed, and fit in just right. I have had some fascinating conversations with other students, speaking in depth about lecture topics and current issues in the world of conservation and environmental biology, and I have really felt that I have been in good, likeminded company. For me there has also been a noticeable increase in students from outside the UK on my course, which is wonderful, as an environmental biologist I am really happy to hear about the ecosystems that others have studied in their native countries; one day I found myself chatting over lunch with a student from Bulgaria and another from New Zealand about different aquatic species found in their home countries. A high number of overseas students bring a great new dynamic to the class.
One of the most noticeable differences between undergraduate and Master’s level is the workload! Now, I’m sure you’ve heard other Master’s students complain about having work up to their eyeballs and lots of impending deadlines, and they are not lying, there is a lot of work and I have found myself spending until late at night sat in front of a computer in the library trying to decipher a statistics assignment, or reading scientific papers on otters. But honestly, the intensity of the work is one of the things I have found to be one of my favourite aspects of Master’s study. Yes I may be slightly sleep deprived, but I get to immerse myself completely in a subject that I care so passionately about. At the moment I am writing two scientific literature reviews, and I have found myself fascinated by the papers I am reading, sometimes straying from my lit review topic to read up on other areas of interest that have been mentioned in the journals; I feel like my knowledge has grown incredibly just over this month!
As well as bonding with my fellow students, I have found lecturers in my department to be very keen to get to know the Master’s level students, and I have had several chats about my chosen area of interest, with the lecturers and tutors showing sincere interest in my study. I found this to be a refreshing change to undergrad life, where lecturers and tutors often had hundreds of students with broad study interests, so it was impossible for them to get to know everyone individually. This is not the experience I have had at Master’s, I was even surprised to have one lecturer refer to me as a ‘study colleague!’
Of course Master’s life isn’t all work, the newly reformed Postgraduate Society has ensured that I have had plenty of time to socialise with other postgrads, and the conservation and ecology society has allowed me to network even further with undergrad and PhD level students, as well as offering additional fascinating lecture topics and fieldtrips to the Gower and National botanical garden of Wales in Carmarthen, and great volunteering opportunities. In my undergrad years I was a member of the university archery club and shot for the university team, which despite my increased workload I have been able to continue to do, and look forward to our Wednesday socials to let off steam!
…to the Swansea University Postgraduate Blog. Each month we will invite a postgraduate student to write a guest blog for us, providing an insight into what life is like as a postgraduate at Swansea.
The Swansea Postgrad Blog will chart life as a postgrad throughout the academic year for those on PhDs, MScs, or LPCs – the highs and lows, ups and downs, all night study-sessions and late night parties.
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