How hard is postgraduate study? Sarah explains

31 Mar 2022
By Sarah R., Student at University of Edinburgh

So, you’ve decided to do a postgraduate degree. Whether it’s a one-year full-time master’s, or a three-year PhD, you need to be sure you’ve made the right choice. Trust me.

Don’t be surprised if you’re only in class 12 hours a week.

When I reached the end of my undergraduate degree, I wasn’t entirely sure what jobs I was interested in. But I knew the area of research I was passionate about. So I made the daunting decision to commit to a one-year MSc course.

I knew a few people who had done a postgraduate degree, including my mum, so I figured it wouldn’t be that difficult to adjust – it was just a bit more independent study, right?

To help you make the right decision, here’s what you can expect from postgraduate study.

1. Contact hours go way down

One of the biggest changes I’ve found is that the number of contact hours has reduced considerably. Don’t be surprised if you’re only in class 12 hours a week.

I was slightly disappointed by this at first as I expected more. But I soon realised that, even with three full days off during the week (not including the weekend), I still didn’t have enough time to get everything done!

Don’t be surprised if you’re only in class 12 hours a week.

2. Independence goes up a notch

Another thing I thought I was prepared for was the level of independence. Having done an undergraduate honours dissertation, I didn’t think it would be that much of a shock to the system.

I was wrong. Be prepared for getting the bare minimum guidance and structure with assignments – a lot of decisions are left up to you.

3. Don’t try to read everything

Once you’re in the midst of the semester and you’ve got assignments coming at you from all angles, you will not have time to read all the recommended texts before every lecture – you will burn out.

Pick a few and make some general notes on them. Coming across your own literature as you go along will really make the difference and will make the reading feel like less of a chore!

4. Network, even if it feels awkward

There will be a lot of networking events organised throughout the year to prepare you for applying to jobs. Go to them. If, like me, you lack confidence when speaking to professionals and academics, don’t be put off.

Even if you don’t speak to anyone, you’ll at least come out with a better idea of who the employers are in your sector.

Before you start your postgrad studies, you’ll be told it’s going to be ‘intense and quick’, and that ‘you’ll need to hit the ground running’. But these vague statements don’t really prepare you. So I hope this post has been a bit more useful.

Go into the course prepared to work. And at the end of it, you’ll be able to look back and feel proud of what you’ve accomplished (that’s what I’m telling myself anyway).

Enjoyed this article? Give it a like
Sarah is studying MSc Environmental Sustainability at the University of Edinburgh.