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“What on earth?” is the question I kept asking myself during my masters year. I thought I had been through the eye of the needle in terms of academic feats; having passed through a grueling 6 month foundation course in science and engineering (i.e. a-levels in 6 months) and a three year hell ride in Electronic Engineering, I thought “What could be tougher than that?”. Boy, was I in for a treat.

I studied for a masters degree after a painful 3 years of engineering and I did this for two reasons:
1. I wanted to pursue that line of work
2. I’m Nigerian, I had no choice (I joke)….but do I?

Post-graduate study is no small feat. Whether you’re studying something familiar or entering a whole new field. Here are some tips on things you can do to come out of your Masters course in one piece.

1. Be VERY Organised
An masters degree is typically 1 year (I understand it’s 2 in America). This means that unlike an undergraduate degree, there is less time to fumble. You cannot afford to be caught slippin’ essentially.

2. Do not miss any classes
Don’t do it. I know sometimes it can be beyond control but missing classes on a masters degree is a great deal more detrimental than missing one in undergraduate studies. Because the time is short, lectures tend to cover a lot more and also the discussions that take place in the class are often very very vital to your understanding of the subject matter. Please for the love of all things good, do not miss classes.

3. Start thinking about your dissertation from day 1
Yes, you heard me, day number 1. This doesn’t mean that you start writing or structuring anything, but I would strongly encourage thinking about what sort of topic you would want to explore. Courses are structured differently of-course, on some you are allocated a topic and on others you chose one for yourself. Whatever the case, starting early will only be of benefit to you. You will also be able to ask relevant questions in your classes that can help you build on your idea for your topic and direct your research.

4. Use every resource available to you
Library, Online resources, lecturers (old and new), friends, family, neighbours, people you meet on the train. EVERYBODY. This mostly pertains to your dissertation. Talk about it with everyone, rationalise your topic in your head (especially if it is one of social impact) and by that i mean one that requires critical thinking rather than lab experiments. Also, don’t expect the end result to be the same as when you started, infact if it is, then you probably haven’t developed it enough.

5. Stay glued to your supervisor
Studying for a masters, your dissertation often forms the bulk of your grades and for this reason, your supervisor should become your best friend. Talk to him/her, share your ideas, but ultimately, never rock-up to a meeting unprepared. Remember that they are there to guide you and not spoon-feed you. If you go to them expecting handouts, you will more often than not get nothing from the meeting. Bounce ideas off them, both the good and bad. and ultimately remember that their word is not law. It is YOUR work, because they suggest a particular route doesn’t necessarily mean you must follow. Believe in your work and have a direction/purpose for your research. If you do not, you will find yourself dependent on direction from your supervisor at every turn. That’s not where you want to be.

Dissertation

6. Allow yourself enough time
I cannot stress this enough. You cannot write your dissertation in 3 weeks. It just isn’t possible. You can probably physically do it with no sleep, but it will almost certainly not be up to par (if you managed to pull this off before, I definitely commend you). I certainly wouldn’t encourage it.

7. Build your network
While i have spent the last 6 tips trying to explain that you need to buckle down, you also need to live. Referring to the first tip, as long as you’re organised, you should definitely leave room to experience new things, meet people, make friends and build your network. You would have heard time and time again that “your network determines your net worth” and the other famous “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. It is true I tell you, spend some time developing relationships because you are likely surrounded by people who will go off and achieve great things (yourself included) so spend some time developing those relationships.

Bonus tip: Explore the town.

During your masters year it is more than likely that you’ll be in a new town. Spend some time exploring the town, you’re only there for a short while.

I really hope this helps someone and I wish all those on the Masters journey the very best.

If you’ve been there or are thinking of studying for a masters, please share your thoughts or questions below.

Until next time

Love,

Reet Petite

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