If you’re looking at this it is most likely you’re at least considering a Masters degree. I am currently studying an MSc at The University of Edinburgh and thought some advice and tips on surviving an MSc could be helpful! My name is Emma Stephenson and I graduated from NTU in 2018 with a 1st Class Honours degree in Zoo Biology. If you’ve graduated or you’re in your final year now, you’ll know that it is an understatement to say that final year is more intense than your previous years. I was prepared for my final year, I worked hard, kept a good routine and did well, so I thought ‘well really how different can an MSc be from final year?’
It obviously depends on the course and the university. The University of Edinburgh is an amazing university and I still can’t really believe that they accepted me! So I did know that I would have to really work hard to do well. But for me, it was still way more intense than I expected. So my first piece of advice here is you really do need to be prepared to work harder than you did for your undergraduate degree and work hard from the very start. Assessment wise I had two or three summative assignments for each of my five modules plus any formatives as well! In one way, having multiple assignments is great because it means it takes all the pressure off one assignment. However, if you’re a bit of a perfectionist (like me), you will tend to put maximum effort into something regardless of whether it is worth 10% or 100%. So when I first got my list of assignment deadlines I immediately panicked and thought there was no way that I could do this amount of work on top of full days of lectures four days a week. But a good tip that me and my best friend used in final year was don’t look at the big picture immediately as that is so overwhelming and it can be easy to panic. Instead, break everything that you have to do into ‘milestones’. So don’t look at all your deadlines for the semester and panic! Instead, just work on the first one that is due, and then once that one is underway, look at the next one, and the next one, and before you know it you’ve done them all and survived the semester!
With all that being said, you need to make sure that you have a life outside of university as well! Yes getting a good degree is important as that is why you’re there in the first place. But make sure you don’t make assignments your main focus in life! Make sure you take every opportunity!I know that is a very cliché piece of advice, but it really is true. I’ve had the chance to go on some trips that I would never have had the chance to do had I not been a student on this course. I’ve met some amazing guest lecturers who I most likely have never crossed paths with if I wasn’t in that one lecture. I was also one of two course reps which allowed me to have meetings with senior members of staff in my school, put my name out there, show I am willing to commit to extra work and to be honest, it looks pretty good on a CV! So work hard, but also go and enjoy the (potentially new) city and new friends and new opportunities as the social aspect of being a student can be as important as the academic aspect!
Another important piece of advice would be to do some research before you start. Many course websites will provide an overview of core teaching staff and topics that you’ll cover. Research your lecturers and their research interests so you know a bit about them before you start. This can help with the application process as if you mention aspects of the degree that you are looking forward to then it shows that you are actively engaging with the course, showing your initiative and doing your own research! Additionally, doing your research on staff and topics can especially help later on when it comes to the dissertation! I personally am interested in animal personality and from my own research I knew one of my lecturers had published many papers on this topic, so one day in lectures I just asked her a few questions about it and that led to a chat about potential dissertation topics. I was then lucky enough for her to become my dissertation supervisor and I’m excited to work with her on my project!
At the end of the day you need to remember that an MSc is a whole new level and a big step up. But it’s not impossible, you just need to work hard and have faith in yourself. Yes it will get stressful and I’ll admit it was a struggle at first! But yes it is also such an amazing achievement that provides great opportunities both socially and academically and I am so, so glad I did it!
By Emma Stephenson
Emma is an Alumni Fellow. You can find out more about how to get involved with the Alumni Fellowship Programme here
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