Becoming a Masters student

Hi I‘m Beth and I’ve just begun my MA in Human Geography (research) at Newcastle University. I am also the Masters representative in the RGS-IBG Postgraduate Forum, a new position, and thought you’d be interested in my experience of becoming a Masters student!

Beginning a Masters is a rather daunting experience, which for many involves a big change: a new University, a different discipline, moving cities or even countries. For me, I was staying at the same University in the same department, living with friends I had known for three years; but I still felt nervous and apprehensive about what I was beginning. Although I knew that I was passionate about what I wanted to study, research and increase my understanding of Human Geography, I became nervous about my capability and the pressure of transitioning from being an undergraduate to postgraduate. I want to share with you the thoughts I had through this transition, as I know I’m not the only one making it. Firstly, I didn’t know what was expected from postgraduates. I was not aware of how Masters are marked or classified, and I didn’t know how many people would be on my course or how many contact hours each week we would have. I had been told by friends that Masters were hard. People continually had made remarks about the ‘size of the jump’ from final year of undergraduate studies and friends had told me that they “couldn’t do it” and were “done with education”. I disagreed. Despite my nerves, I wanted to learn more and I was really excited to further my knowledge on my interests.

So our first seminar arrived and the first question we were asked was ‘what are your research interests?’ I came to the comfort as I realised that I would now be specialising in an area I really care about. I was fortunate that I knew where I wanted to take my studies for the year to come, and became excited that I would now be trained on how to become an expert within that field and the move away from the broader teaching of the undergraduate discipline. The pressure was built on us throughout our induction week, where we were told to attend talks on ‘thinking of doing a PhD’ and what was expected from Masters Students. For the first time, words such as ‘publications’ and ‘networking’ were becoming common goals and conversations revolved around funding and who had already secured this for their future.

Although at first I felt slightly intimidated, my confidence grew as I began to understand greater what would be expected from us throughout the academic year. After meeting with my module leaders and understanding the requirements and content, I suddenly felt more prepared for the year ahead. I realised that I was capable as we began our first tasks, and although the expectations were higher than when in undergraduate study, the autonomy and depth in our study would mean that education would only become even more interesting. I realised my worries were shared by the friends I began to make and that, although I now need to adjust myself to postgraduate life, I had new first friends who could comfort me by sharing the exact same fears. I came to realise that there was a great support network around, from each other, from other Post graduate students including PhD students, and of course the staff in the department and University wide.

Now, after finishing my first two weeks of teaching, I feel settled in my new routine. I recognise the huge potential my Masters will provide me in providing me with the training I will need to do the PhD I so wish to continue to do. I hope my honesty in this blog can give comfort to others who have felt nervous when beginning a Masters, as although you may know you deserve your place, when being surrounded by bright intellectuals who all have academic strengths that may be different to your own, that it is normal to feel anxious. I hope to help other Masters students through their postgraduate studies by creating a space for conversation and continue to strengthen Masters Student’s support network by integrating them with each other and current PhD students. If you would like to be involved then please follow @PGFMASTERS .