I think I’m definitely not alone when I say that I’ve considered giving up on education more than once (sometimes more than once a day) during my postgrad degree. For anyone else in the same position here are a few things I wish I had been told before hand:
- It is a HUGE commitment – you actually have to go to classes – unlike at undergrad where you could just turn your alarm off and roll over. Not only do you have to turn up, but you have to read stuff and somehow prepare an opinion.. all on your own. You are also expected to show face at conferences and plan all of your own meetings – and turn up having read every single paper your tutor has ever published and be prepared to discuss them.
- You will have no money – Masters degrees range from about £4k for an MA to £14k for an MSc at UCL (still crying inside that I turned down their offer). At the moment the only funding English students receive is a postgrad loan for £10k. That’s it. For the whole year. So based on my MSc costing me a nice £7k, that’s £250 per month left to cover rent, food, bills and the occasional bottle of Echo Falls.
- You will (almost definitely) have to get a job – unless you know how to live off £250 a month – which if you do then please send me some tips – then you will have to get a job, and a job that fits around crazy amounts of deadlines and exams. Luckily I got my job at the Hydro through an internal transfer, so I would advise looking for zero hours contracts (yes, they shouldn’t be a thing) but they at least give you the flexibility you will definitely need.
- You will have no life – between working almost 40 hours a week just to afford to live, on top of a full time uni timetable, socialising is almost a thing of the past. You will get far too excited when you see two consecutive days off and immediately plan a trip to see friends or family only for uni to surprise you with a nice group presentation (which require you to actually meet up) for the day after.
- Making friends is a whole new ball game – gone are the days where you could roll out of bed and have a whole social circle around you. If you opt for postgrad halls, don’t be surprised if 95% of your flatmates are either over 40 or international students, neither of which tend to want to even know what Pub Golf is, never mind hold your visor when you’re dying in the toilets of the 6th pub. With the lack of time and money, joining clubs and societies is also difficult as you won’t have a regular schedule – or income – to fully make the most of uni life. Plus, if like me, you’ve completely moved away from your first uni, you’ll just have to make the most of it and pick the most normal looking group on your course which isn’t as easy as it sounds!
- It lasts the whole year – I know this one should be obvious before you start, but masters degrees are a full 12 months. So whilst your friends are off on sunny holidays or pitching tents at festivals, you’ll be dragging your lab coat out of hibernation for a 3 month period in a lab. Masters = no summer.
- It won’t make you any more employable – this one does depend on your field, however in science it’s absolutely true. Most jobs or PhD position’s I’ve applied for have said an MSc would be “desirable”. I have an MSc. Have I got a job? No. Why? Because employers prefer industrial experience to education. How do you get experience? With a job. How do you get a job? With a masters. Catch-22 ring a bell?
So there is a list / rant of my current feelings towards a postgraduate degree. Now remind me again why I’m applying for PhDs?