Applying for an online masters degree…

…by James / from Canada / MSc Clinical Management of Pain / 1st year


I’m James and I’m an Edinburgh Master’s student in the program of Multidisciplinary Clinical Pain Management.

I don’t do ‘selfies’, blurred monochromatic self-portraits in a dusty kitchen window are the most I offer.

I’m Canadian, from the West Coast—you may already have correctly inferred that I am a vicarious Edinburgh student, gratefully taking advantage of the years of work put into making this degree accessible digitally. 

I am a student with challenges— I would present that every one of us has challenges unique to our circumstances and the orbiting forces in our lives. However, in this case my meaning is specific: my challenges originate from a scarred nervous system.

I am also not a doctor.

That may seem counterintuitive: why would a not-doctor commit the investment necessary for a medically specialized Master’s [and how would they even get in…?]? 

I got in by writing a note through the Edinburgh website. It went something like ‘…Hello, I’m a street social worker with a specialty in addictions and mental health…I don’t know if I’m an appropriate fit for your Pain Management Program but I am writing to express interest…’

I nearly fell over when a succinct reply was returned: ‘I’m sure the program has space for you, I’ll notify the program head.’

Then began over a month of writing (then rewriting) my Master’s application.

Gratitude conceptually: I am grateful I did not have to use my old Underwood typewriter to do my Master’s application.

I had no idea how much work a Master’s application was. If no one has ever given you forewarning of this allow me to do so now—the stakes are higher and decidedly more formal comparing Master’s paperwork to Bachelor’s paperwork. Reciprocal benefit is evaluated between student and institution: as a team are you and the Institution well matched, do you both concur? It’s ideal if you have a reliable guide to the process—someone equal parts kind and candid enough to say ‘that’s great, except you answered what you wanted to say not what they want to hear. Do it again. Read the questions better!’

Returning to the first curiosity: I am not a doctor—less common perhaps for a medical Master’s but this is a multidisciplinary degree. The last decade I have worked closely with street drug users, people who came to drug use and homelessness by way [first] of alcohol or prescriptions, I have heard the step-by-step histories of how people came to be who and where they are, I have been given vital insights not found in any textbook from gang members, inmates, users and dealers, also people who are none of these but who have found that their personal safety to be more secure among these various groups. I have lost count of how many times a high-risk community member has unceremoniously edited my script of ‘facts understood’ scrawling overtop a correction.

I come from a place of qualitative data: I collect the whys behind the stats. I am consistently the guy in class [after the arguments are made and a consensus of votes is taken] who raises his hand saying ‘…but…’.

My perspective in these posts is unlikely [ever] to be traditional but my intention is to both inform and distract as you consider becoming a student of The University of Edinburgh’s Master’s of Clinical Pain Management Program.

Screenshot 2019-10-18 at 15.44.15
Though there are moments where I pause, daunted by the magnitude of the next 3 years, I am also able to see structure as it builds ensuring the best and most respectful care for patients even when they feel distant.

2 thoughts on “Applying for an online masters degree…

  1. Hi James, what an fascinating background to have for this MSc Pain. I’m sure your fellow students will learn so much from your particular perspective. Yesterday I graduated from the MSc after finishing the 3 years, which were gruelling and all the more rewarding for it. Best of luck, you’ll learn so
    much about the subject and yourself.


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