…by Brendan / from Australia / studying History / Postgraduate
Over the past few months I have been grappling with the sometimes daunting but overall rewarding transition from undergraduate studies to a research-based postgraduate degree as I begin my Masters by Research (MScR) in History in earnest. While moving to a new city in a new country encompasses its own set of challenges, encountering a new structure in my university studies has proven more challenging. This reveals the importance in mentally preparing to encounter this new structure and be proactive in seeking advice and help when encountering any problems that may arise.
It has proven an extremely rewarding experience as I have been forced to quickly accumulate and strengthen the skills that are necessary to succeed at this level of study. Being forced to work independently and effectively manage your time while being accountable only to yourself is a major change between undergraduate and postgraduate MScR studies due to the lack of structured subjects and the removal of regular deadlines for essays and assignments. This increased flexibility can prove difficult to handle at times as it is very easy to neglect research work when there is no strict deadlines. Thus building a productive relationship with your supervisor is vital in order to set both overall expectations and milestones to strive for. Unlike in an undergraduate degree, there is no subject guide that outlines these details for you.
Another positive that is the result of the unique characteristics of the MScR is that due to the small size of the cohort of MScR History students, a close knit group has formed. Group lunches and long discussions when running into fellow students have quickly become the norm. Such interactions have provided great relief as it serves to minimise the impact of a lack of interaction with fellow students due to minimal contact hours in a classroom setting.
Ultimately, I would argue that the way to handle the major difference between undergraduate and post graduate studies, the lack of structure and increased independence and accountability to yourself is to be prepared to seek opportunities to both socialise with your fellow research students and be willing to seek advice and help from the support network personified by your supervisor and the services offered by the university.