27. Masters: Mapping it Out (number 2)

Embarking on a Masters can be a daunting process, regardless of whether you’ve just graduated or are pursuing a degree later in life. You may be venturing to a brand new city on your own with little idea of what the next year or two has in store. The idea of starting afresh and meeting a whole new set of people is both exciting and nerve-wracking, as is the prospect of revving back into gear and throwing yourself head first into the world of academia again. This week’s blog focuses in on those first few weeks of being a Masters student and addresses the all important question of how to negotiate Freshers’ week as an older and wiser postgraduate. However, a quick heads-up: I’m by no means a seasoned party-goer, so this is not the place to hear about the latest tips and tricks on throwing shapes as a graduate student…

  1. Get to know your new surroundings! This may sound obvious and blind to a readership of expert geographers who are likely to welcome any opportunity to survey their immediate landscape, but it’s essential to get your bearings when you first arrive in a new place. As well as taking in all the sights and tourist attractions, this includes finding your nearest Tesco, Boots, and Nando’s. Finding a willing course or accommodation pal to do a walking tour with is a fun way of getting to know a town or city. When you arrive, the university may provide you with a welcome pack and trusty map – one top tip is not to leave this on your desk as you venture out, but to take it with you! Although wrestling with a paper map in the wind may not look as suave or sophisticated as consulting the sat-nav on your phone, the university map often highlights key university buildings and is therefore a trusty asset as you make your way around. An added bonus is that it marks you out as a true, dedicated geographer.
  2. Attend the Freshers’ Fayre! Whilst the prospect of making your way around a set of crowded rooms in the Students’ Union and signing your name up to societies you’ve never even heard of may not fill you with unadulterated joy, attending the Freshers’ Fayre as a postgraduate student is a must. The range of societies on offer is always incredible and you may be surprised to find a new club or hobby that catches your eye. Free from the burden of thinking you have to sign up to every opportunity going, as per first year undergraduates, attending the fayre for a second time can be an enjoyable experience! You are able to kindly decline mailing lists with the excuse that your Masters is set to be very busy and instead, only sign up to the select few that whet your appetite. Being a member of a student society is a brilliant way to meet people outside of your course, make new friends, and occasionally escape from academic work.
  3. Go to events outside of your comfort zone. In those first few days after arrival, it’s worth making the effort to attend social events to meet new and interesting people. Before your Masters officially starts, it can be tempting to think you’ll stick with your course friends and to lean on the idea that you’re only here for a year. Once you arrive at these events, however, it often becomes clear that everyone is in the same boat and many were having similar thoughts! You soon become armed with your tried and tested fact file of yourself, and set of questions to ask those you meet, and very quickly start to enjoy it! Meeting people from outside of your course before you begin can also be a comfort as you know you have a ready set of people to draw on in those initial few days and weeks.
  4. Take time out to study your course handbook. After all that socialising, you’ll be exhausted and never want to introduce yourself to anyone again. Which is just as well as you need to take a few minutes to familiarise yourself with the course content. You may have received most of the information at home before setting off, however, it’s likely that a lot of course material will be given to you on arrival. Timetables, module choices, reading lists, and deadline dates are just a few of the essentials that may be sprung on you in those first few days, which can be overwhelming. It’s worth taking a bit of time to make sure you understand all the minutiae of the course before the work kicks in, or you may find yourself feeling like you’re scrambling to keep on top. In all honesty, the hidden message here is that this is a prime opportunity to whip out your newly bought stationary set and create a colourful (and enviable) timetable.
  5. Do the seemingly mundane essentials. By this, I mean attend the Freshers’ talks that your course or accommodation staff advertise or recommend. This can be everything from a doctor’s surgery induction to IT services help. If you’re a student from overseas, or have been out of academia for a while, these talks can provide essential tips and golden nuggets of information. In particular, the library induction tour is essential, even if you feel like you’ve got the library covered. Universities often have slightly different systems and ways of working, and there’s nothing worse than arriving in week three and realising you don’t know how to find an online journal. In my experience, librarians are always the loveliest people and very willing to help should you find yourself in a book return or printing pickle. When deadlines are approaching, these are the people you hope to have on side, so it’s worth sitting in on those induction talks in Freshers’ week to ensure that you know the basics.
  6. Finally, organise a few course social events early on in the term. Before the onslaught of deadlines and never-ending reading lists heads your way, organise a couple of meals out or events with your fellow classmates. This is a great way to get to know those you’ll be working with for the next year or two in a relaxed environment, as opposed to jointly stressing over the inadequacies of the departmental scanner. After you’ve come out the other side of a hectic Freshers’ week, these are the social events you’re likely to look forward to as a welcome break from the first few deadlines. And you never know, if you take up the mantle of organising a few events early on, you may find yourself elected as a much loved social rep…


That’s all for this week, but if you have any questions or concerns about starting a Masters course, please don’t hesitate to send me an email: aliceewatson@hotmail.com.

Keep your eyes peeled, as the next few blogs in the series will be exploring PhD applications and what to expect when you’ve got one…

Alice Watson

MSc Migration Studies, University of Oxford