anyone doing a research masters in some form of literature at university of Glasgow?

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What is it like working independently and is it different from what you expected? what kind of support is offered? and what are do you plan to do with the degree?
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Keele Postgraduate
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(Original post by word_boxed)
What is it like working independently and is it different from what you expected? what kind of support is offered? and what are do you plan to do with the degree?
Hi word_boxed!

I'm not based at Glasgow but I'm a PhD student in English Literature at Keele University so I can tell you a little bit about the experience of working on independent research and how I find that differs from a taught programme (my MA was a taught masters).

Personally I do love being able to research independently but it is very different from having taught classes. Although I have very good supervisory support - and meet with my supervisors fairly regularly (usually every 2-3 weeks) - research projects are, by their nature, researcher led. So rather than my supervisors telling me what to do or look at next, it's more about having my own research plan and timetable and then having ongoing conversations with them to gain input and additional perspectives, talk about next steps etc.

For me personally, I don't think I was ready to undertake a wholly independent research masters. I took quite a bit of time out of university between my BA and MA so having the structure of taught classes in my MA year allowed me to re-gain the necessary research & time/project management skills - and academic confidence - to become an independent researcher. I was then able to use my MA dissertation to 'test out' independent research before committing to my PhD.

That said, you shouldn't be left wholly on your own during an independent research masters - you're still a student after all and, as such, you do get tuition! In addition to regularly meeting with your supervisor or supervisory team (many research students have more than one supervisor), your university will probably offer research training sessions. At Keele, for example, we have the Keele Doctoral Academy who facilitate academic development sessions on project & time management, disseminating research, open research etc.

You can also gain research training by attending external training events (The British Library and National Archives run some really good ones for literature students, and there are lots of literary academic networks that also run events) and conferences. As part of your course, you may be required to complete a certain number of research training hours per year.

There will probably also be peer-support networks within your university - and within your field. Independent research can be a bit lonely at times - something the pandemic has definitely exacerbated. To counteract this, I would definitely recommend connecting with other researchers in your academic department or school for writing days, knowledge exchange, research forums, coffee mornings etc., as well as joining online research forums such as the PhD Forum (https://www.thephdforum.com/) where you can work alongside other researchers in their online study room and offer mutual support.

I can only speak to my experience of independent research but I hope that's given you a bit of an idea of what to expect! I'm also tagging University of Glasgow into the thread in case they can connect you with a research student at the university to chat with, and PhoenixFortune, mnot, Mr Wednesday who are often on these forums and can maybe share more thoughts on independent research experiences?

Amy Louise
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(Original post by word_boxed)
What is it like working independently and is it different from what you expected? what kind of support is offered? and what are do you plan to do with the degree?
Hi so im a PhD researcher currently,

What is it like working independently?
- It's a two sided coin. You are your own boss in a lot of ways, you have an incredible amount of freedom, and you can drive your work (within reason) where you want it to go. It does also mean their is a lot of pressure & responsibility (ive found this is mostly internal expectations I put on myself) but also from your supervisor. I think one thing that is different is at undergrad you are more along for the ride and the course powers you along, whereas with research you are drawing up the path and powering yourself along. So its a lot more to manage but a lot more rewarding.

is it different from what you expected?
-Not really, but I think most of this is because you just don't know until you do.

what kind of support is offered?
-This will vary massively. Work wise: In my case I have one to one meetings with my supervisor roughly once a fortnight, and meetings with postdocs & supervisor on a weekly basis. My university does offer mental health support, and have some funded societies for postgrad researchers with resources but ultimately they cant do the work but are nice to have as an option.

What do I plan to do with the degree?
- I haven't decided, im mulling over a couple things. I am working on what is an area of interest and rapid growth and have already sniffed around a couple industry employers (I work in engineering related area). Im not planning on staying in academia, I thought I might go work in industry or consulting for a bit then in a few years if I wanted to I could look for opportunities back in at academia but not straight off the bat.
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(Original post by word_boxed)
What is it like working independently and is it different from what you expected? what kind of support is offered? and what are do you plan to do with the degree?
Thanks for the tag Keele Postgraduate

I'm a PhD researcher in Linguistics/Education (and not at Glasgow). Working independently does give you more freedom to explore the finer points of an area that you are interested in, however it can be overwhelming at first, and you need to make sure you define when you have gone too far off track! Your supervisor (or committee, whatever they are called at your institution) should help you with this. The supervisors can also advise you on methodologies, analysis etc. You should be assigned a personal tutor too who you can talk to if you have any circumstances (other than academic ones) which might affect your work.
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Mr Wednesday
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(Original post by Keele Postgraduate)
Hi word_boxed!



I can only speak to my experience of independent research but I hope that's given you a bit of an idea of what to expect! I'm also tagging University of Glasgow into the thread in case they can connect you with a research student at the university to chat with, and PhoenixFortune, mnot, Mr Wednesday who are often on these forums and can maybe share more thoughts on independent research experiences?

Amy Louise
I am in STEM and get the strong impression that life can be quite different for STEM and humanities PG students. There will be some common ground however, including things like (1) develop and curate a good relationship with your supervisor and other members of the team / wider research group, (2) plan and attend regular meetings with your supervisor, (3) be well prepared, e.g. have interesting things / papers / problems identified in advance to discuss, (4) keep accurate and dated notes in a hard cover lab book, bring this to meetings (5) read the literature CONSTANTLY, both focused on the immediate project, and a shotgun of wider stuff for fun and to occasionally find a bit of gold from a different area that applies to your work, (6) keep physically separate backups of your data, documents notes etc so you can’t lose it all in one go, (7) go for lunch, coffee, beers etc with your team regularly, a 30 second chat with an RA or older PhD about a tough problem can save you days of time going down the wrong route, (8) don’t be afraid to be “reset” back to being the no-nothing newbie, it’s an adventure, note down new terminology and odd stuff that others talk about that you don’t understand and look it up or ask about it (9) be aware that you are now a group resource and a real world “cost”, you burn up supervisor research time (bad) but can also contribute to research, paper writing etc (good). If you want something that costs time / money from the group, arrive with a business plan, know what its going to cost, be able to explain what the benefit is (e.g. for asking for support to attend a conference) and have a “lower cost” option ready to suggest if time / money is tight.

Oh and (10) write in well defined paragraphs with sentences of a suitable length that dont give messy looking 1 line over-runs onto the next page ...... see what I did there .
Last edited by Mr Wednesday; 1 month ago
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(Original post by Keele Postgraduate)
Hi word_boxed!

I'm not based at Glasgow but I'm a PhD student in English Literature at Keele University so I can tell you a little bit about the experience of working on independent research and how I find that differs from a taught programme (my MA was a taught masters).

Personally I do love being able to research independently but it is very different from having taught classes. Although I have very good supervisory support - and meet with my supervisors fairly regularly (usually every 2-3 weeks) - research projects are, by their nature, researcher led. So rather than my supervisors telling me what to do or look at next, it's more about having my own research plan and timetable and then having ongoing conversations with them to gain input and additional perspectives, talk about next steps etc.

For me personally, I don't think I was ready to undertake a wholly independent research masters. I took quite a bit of time out of university between my BA and MA so having the structure of taught classes in my MA year allowed me to re-gain the necessary research & time/project management skills - and academic confidence - to become an independent researcher. I was then able to use my MA dissertation to 'test out' independent research before committing to my PhD.

That said, you shouldn't be left wholly on your own during an independent research masters - you're still a student after all and, as such, you do get tuition! In addition to regularly meeting with your supervisor or supervisory team (many research students have more than one supervisor), your university will probably offer research training sessions. At Keele, for example, we have the Keele Doctoral Academy who facilitate academic development sessions on project & time management, disseminating research, open research etc.

You can also gain research training by attending external training events (The British Library and National Archives run some really good ones for literature students, and there are lots of literary academic networks that also run events) and conferences. As part of your course, you may be required to complete a certain number of research training hours per year.

There will probably also be peer-support networks within your university - and within your field. Independent research can be a bit lonely at times - something the pandemic has definitely exacerbated. To counteract this, I would definitely recommend connecting with other researchers in your academic department or school for writing days, knowledge exchange, research forums, coffee mornings etc., as well as joining online research forums such as the PhD Forum (https://www.thephdforum.com/) where you can work alongside other researchers in their online study room and offer mutual support.

I can only speak to my experience of independent research but I hope that's given you a bit of an idea of what to expect! I'm also tagging University of Glasgow into the thread in case they can connect you with a research student at the university to chat with, and PhoenixFortune, mnot, Mr Wednesday who are often on these forums and can maybe share more thoughts on independent research experiences?

Amy Louise
Thank you for the reply and all this information, it's very helpful!
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(Original post by mnot)
Hi so im a PhD researcher currently,

What is it like working independently?
- It's a two sided coin. You are your own boss in a lot of ways, you have an incredible amount of freedom, and you can drive your work (within reason) where you want it to go. It does also mean their is a lot of pressure & responsibility (ive found this is mostly internal expectations I put on myself) but also from your supervisor. I think one thing that is different is at undergrad you are more along for the ride and the course powers you along, whereas with research you are drawing up the path and powering yourself along. So its a lot more to manage but a lot more rewarding.

is it different from what you expected?
-Not really, but I think most of this is because you just don't know until you do.

what kind of support is offered?
-This will vary massively. Work wise: In my case I have one to one meetings with my supervisor roughly once a fortnight, and meetings with postdocs & supervisor on a weekly basis. My university does offer mental health support, and have some funded societies for postgrad researchers with resources but ultimately they cant do the work but are nice to have as an option.

What do I plan to do with the degree?
- I haven't decided, im mulling over a couple things. I am working on what is an area of interest and rapid growth and have already sniffed around a couple industry employers (I work in engineering related area). Im not planning on staying in academia, I thought I might go work in industry or consulting for a bit then in a few years if I wanted to I could look for opportunities back in at academia but not straight off the bat.
Thanks for the reply and information! did you go into your masters/phd with a general idea of a career path? I personally don't and all I know is that I want to generally work in some area of media/entertainment/storytelling, and I know having these degree's probably won't help me but I just really want to do them. I really enjoyed my Bachelor's and want to continue on the topic and feel doing a research masters would allow me the freedom I want, however, my supervisor recommended that I don't do a research degree as he didn't think I'd be able to handle it.
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(Original post by PhoenixFortune)
Thanks for the tag Keele Postgraduate

I'm a PhD researcher in Linguistics/Education (and not at Glasgow). Working independently does give you more freedom to explore the finer points of an area that you are interested in, however it can be overwhelming at first, and you need to make sure you define when you have gone too far off track! Your supervisor (or committee, whatever they are called at your institution) should help you with this. The supervisors can also advise you on methodologies, analysis etc. You should be assigned a personal tutor too who you can talk to if you have any circumstances (other than academic ones) which might affect your work.
Thanks for the reply and information! I've taken a year out in-between my BA and possibly doing an MA so I can think about it and come up with a plan!
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(Original post by word_boxed)
Thanks for the reply and information! did you go into your masters/phd with a general idea of a career path? I personally don't and all I know is that I want to generally work in some area of media/entertainment/storytelling, and I know having these degree's probably won't help me but I just really want to do them. I really enjoyed my Bachelor's and want to continue on the topic and feel doing a research masters would allow me the freedom I want, however, my supervisor recommended that I don't do a research degree as he didn't think I'd be able to handle it.
I have never settled on one career plan.

I have considered a variety and still am. I have always known what options I have but not decided which one I’ll pursue. This goes for both masters & PhD.
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(Original post by Mr Wednesday)
I am in STEM and get the strong impression that life can be quite different for STEM and humanities PG students. There will be some common ground however, including things like (1) develop and curate a good relationship with your supervisor and other members of the team / wider research group, (2) plan and attend regular meetings with your supervisor, (3) be well prepared, e.g. have interesting things / papers / problems identified in advance to discuss, (4) keep accurate and dated notes in a hard cover lab book, bring this to meetings (5) read the literature CONSTANTLY, both focused on the immediate project, and a shotgun of wider stuff for fun and to occasionally find a bit of gold from a different area that applies to your work, (6) keep physically separate backups of your data, documents notes etc so you can’t lose it all in one go, (7) go for lunch, coffee, beers etc with your team regularly, a 30 second chat with an RA or older PhD about a tough problem can save you days of time going down the wrong route, (8) don’t be afraid to be “reset” back to being the no-nothing newbie, it’s an adventure, note down new terminology and odd stuff that others talk about that you don’t understand and look it up or ask about it (9) be aware that you are now a group resource and a real world “cost”, you burn up supervisor research time (bad) but can also contribute to research, paper writing etc (good). If you want something that costs time / money from the group, arrive with a business plan, know what its going to cost, be able to explain what the benefit is (e.g. for asking for support to attend a conference) and have a “lower cost” option ready to suggest if time / money is tight.

Oh and (10) write in well defined paragraphs with sentences of a suitable length that dont give messy looking 1 line over-runs onto the next page ...... see what I did there .
Thanks for the reply and information! It's very helpful!
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(Original post by mnot)
I have never settled on one career plan.

I have considered a variety and still am. I have always known what options I have but not decided which one I’ll pursue. This goes for both masters & PhD.
okay thanks you! it's a lot of money and I feel those around me expect me to have a goal when applying!
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Keele Postgraduate
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(Original post by word_boxed)
Thanks for the reply and information! did you go into your masters/phd with a general idea of a career path? I personally don't and all I know is that I want to generally work in some area of media/entertainment/storytelling, and I know having these degree's probably won't help me but I just really want to do them. I really enjoyed my Bachelor's and want to continue on the topic and feel doing a research masters would allow me the freedom I want, however, my supervisor recommended that I don't do a research degree as he didn't think I'd be able to handle it.
Glad you've found the thread helpful word_boxed!

Personally I went into my MA and PhD knowing I wanted to go into academia in some form or another - ideally I'll get a post-doc or a teaching position when I finish my PhD (although the academic job market is notoriously tough so I'm keeping my options open).

I mentioned that I had a gap between my BA and MA - it was an 11 year gap and was mostly because, when I finished my BA I thought I wanted to do an MA and maybe a PhD but wasn't really sure why. Because I couldn't honestly answer that 'why' question, I decided to go work for a bit until I knew whether committing to an MA and PhD was right for me. It also allowed me to build workplace skills and experience that have really helped me as I've returned to study - and especially as I've moved to being an independent PhD researcher. So don't rule out taking some thinking time if you feel you might need it.

I was also advised against doing my Masters by research and, to be honest, I'm glad I took that advice. I think it would have been too much freedom and not enough structure - I enjoyed the taught elements of my course and do feel they made me a better researcher in the long run. It also allowed me to spend a year building connections in the research community at Keele - meaning I felt much less alone when I transitioned to largely independent work on my PhD. And I was surprised at how much freedom I did have on the taught MA - I still wrote my own research questions for all the assignments, and had complete freedom over my choice of final project. So it was still a big step up in terms of freedom from undergraduate.

Amy Louise
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(Original post by Keele Postgraduate)
Glad you've found the thread helpful word_boxed!

Personally I went into my MA and PhD knowing I wanted to go into academia in some form or another - ideally I'll get a post-doc or a teaching position when I finish my PhD (although the academic job market is notoriously tough so I'm keeping my options open).

I mentioned that I had a gap between my BA and MA - it was an 11 year gap and was mostly because, when I finished my BA I thought I wanted to do an MA and maybe a PhD but wasn't really sure why. Because I couldn't honestly answer that 'why' question, I decided to go work for a bit until I knew whether committing to an MA and PhD was right for me. It also allowed me to build workplace skills and experience that have really helped me as I've returned to study - and especially as I've moved to being an independent PhD researcher. So don't rule out taking some thinking time if you feel you might need it.

I was also advised against doing my Masters by research and, to be honest, I'm glad I took that advice. I think it would have been too much freedom and not enough structure - I enjoyed the taught elements of my course and do feel they made me a better researcher in the long run. It also allowed me to spend a year building connections in the research community at Keele - meaning I felt much less alone when I transitioned to largely independent work on my PhD. And I was surprised at how much freedom I did have on the taught MA - I still wrote my own research questions for all the assignments, and had complete freedom over my choice of final project. So it was still a big step up in terms of freedom from undergraduate.

Amy Louise
Thanks for the reply! I was only planning on taking a year out in-between my BA and MA but I'm on the fence about what I want to do so I'll probably end up taking longer, unless I'm randomly hit with some inspiration anytime soon. I'm not sure if I would want to do a PhD or not, only really thinking about the MA right now. I'm mostly considering a research MA because (yes the freedom) but mostly because the courses I want to do are not offered as distance learning/online courses and research degrees are (and at a cheaper price). I'm unable to move currently and probably not for a while and I desperately want to go to a different university than the one I just finished attending, both because of the very limited course choices there and because the university is not the best, both in terms of the education it provides and its reputation. Very on the fence about everything, thanks for all this information!
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