• Postgraduate student profiles english history and linguistics

If you're wanting to find out what it's like to be a postgraduate student in arts and humanities subjects, such as English, history or linguistics, then what better way to find out than seeing what some postgraduate students have to say? Below are some comments from TSR members who are either current postgraduate students or have recently finished their postgraduate studies.

If you're a postgrad student and have more to say then edit the page to add in your own experiences. If you've got more questions on postgraduate study, then visit the Postgraduate forum on TSR and ask the postgrad members who use that forum.

Username: apotoftea

Age: 22

Studying: MA Modern History (mainly British post 1750)

Why did you choose to do a postgraduate course?

Enjoyed my BA far too much, wanted to further my knowledge and it's a requirement for PhD funding.

How did you choose the subject/course type/uni?

Subject was a natural progression given my third year modules and dissertation. Course type - I wanted to further my knowledge rather than going down the research methods routes as unlike most Historians, I was researching in archives from my first year as an undergrad! Uni wise - I went by personal recommendation and they're one of the few places in the South East that teach my subject and research area. They also have a couple of good "names" in the academic world.

How are you funding the course?

How easy was it to get this funding? I'm self-funding by using my UG student loan, savings and working part time. Funding for History MAs is highly competitive.

How is being a postgraduate student different from being an undergraduate?

I feel like I'm in limbo, not an undergrad but not a PhD student. Also and this is my own experience - I feel that less is required of me through the taught courses but more is required through the research and writing.

How are you managing with the work load?

Very easily - I found my BA harder work load wise. Readings for weekly taught modules have been pretty simple and I haven't needed to do the wider reading as I've covered a lot of the topics before. I've only had 6 essays to write between September and June with the dissertation to come. It really hasn't been taxing at all.

What challenges are there with being a postgraduate student?

RESOURCES (for my current uni) - lots of commuting into London purely for secondary texts PhD applications aren't a walk in the park either.

What's the best thing about being a postgraduate student?

You begin to realise how much AND how little you know about your own subject. You start seeing that your BA and its "training" as such (well mine has anyway) has really helped develop my research and writing skills. Being able to write about what the hell you like.

What do you hope to do after you finish your course?

PhD hopefully - most likely taking a year out despite having an unconditional offer

Do you have any tips for someone considering postgraduate study?

Pick the course and uni wisely. So called good reputations do not mean everything and I've learnt that the hard way, to the extent that it feels like a very expensive wasted year on some levels.

Are there any other comments you wish to share about postgraduate study?

Do LOTS of research when looking at courses, resources, teaching and module content - so much of the stuff I've covered this year, I did on my BA in far more detail. MAs are highly useful to see whether you're cut out for the academic world and the writing & researching really helps. A PhD of 100 000 words no longer seems big, it seems quite do-able. Having a part time job is do-able as well.




Username: Adorno

Age: 23

Studying: PhD in Victorian & Twentieth Century British History [Specifically about Wales & Labour Movement]

Why did you choose to do a postgraduate course?

To be perfectly honest, it was always something I'd wanted to do; I took my chances with my MA (which I did overseas) and the right PhD project came along with funding attached and I took it. I'll be the first person in my family to ever attain a PhD and I've always thought that education is one of the few ways I could give back to society (I'll never make a medic).

How did you choose the subject/course type/uni?

I found out about it through an email list which my MA supervisor forwarded to me. I put in an application form, had an interview, and then was offered the place. It happened all very quickly, which is quite unusual.

How are you funding the course?

How easy was it to get this funding? AHRC grant, which was attached to PhD. Normally these things are like gold dust and so I count myself very, very lucky even though in recent months I've not really thought of it like that as often as I should.

How is being a postgraduate student different from being an undergrauate?

To me, there's not a whole lot of difference and I say this because I went to Oxford which gave me a lot of freedom to learn on my own and to explore areas that I wanted to explore. *This isn't a claim for anything because those who love their subject always say this!* The MA I did was very lax, which I found a good thing, and taught me a lot about the subject and how it had developed outside of Britain and this is siomething I definitely want to return to. In fact, I plan on emigrating once I've finished my PhD and picking up those research threads. But I loved the freedom of my undergrad too so I guess the enthusiasm has carried over.

How are you managing with the work load?

I get to decide my own hours - one of the few advantages of a humanities, especially history, PhD. I have spent days reading, days in archives engaging with the past, and days where I just "think" over cups of tea. It is very laid back but in those days where you work, boy do you work! It's less pressurised than I imagine science PhDs to be.

What challenges are there with being a postgraduate student?

I'll be perfectly honest: a history PhD is an extremely lonely experience. History departments all over the world have organised seminars trying to alleviate this sensation but it seems to be permanently there. But that individuality is a marker of a good PhD, and whilst you grow to have wonderful conversations with your brain or the wall and forget that your mug might need a wash, I do think you grow as a person just in different ways to that which society demands. The challenge, ultimately, is to accept that you are being turned into an intellectual with all the trappings of that position. As Billy Bragg once sang: just because I dress like this, doesn't mean I'm a communist!

What's the best thing about being a postgraduate student?

I think there are very deep satisfactions to doing a PhD (specifically) but in general I think intellectual freedom, having time to extend your adolescence as far as you want to take it! Not having to think about the pressures of the "outside world" and ultimately having the space to just explore humanity.

What do you hope to do after you finish your course?

I very much plan on emigrating to Canada. If that proves not to be possible, I'll have to think of a backup plan but that's very much my main target at the moment.

Do you have any tips for someone considering postgraduate study?

Do it! But forget about these degrees in management or business, take a degree that gives you intellectual freedom and reflexivity. Funding is hard to come by but there are ways of getting it and people always manage. Being a true intellectual, I think, comes from understanding humanity and that can often only come from experiencing hardshiip. Read and read lots.

Are there any other comments you wish to share about postgraduate study?

Postgrad is, if not the springtime of our lives, one of the few opportunities that you will ever get simply to do something you love for a whole year or four. Think of it not as a chore but as a gap year, a gap year devoted to understanding humanity, nature, or the very tiniest of objects. I know I sound like a romantic but honestly: this world needs more intellectuals and fewer soldiers, more historians and fewer mangers, more chemists and fewer investment bankers.


Username: Catsmeat

Age: 23

Studying: MA Russian and East European Literature and Culture, School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London (2010/2011) [however, my emphasis has been almost entirely literary]

Why did you choose to do a postgraduate course?

I entered Undergraduate life quite unexpectedly, and found that I enjoyed the challenges and the questions that academic research asks. To be honest, I found myself wanting to make my own contribution to a field of academia. The MA seems to suit this.

How did you choose the subject/course type/uni?

The department offer nearly all modules regardless of what specific MA you are taking; as such, I chose a broad 'area' from which to select those taught elements that have interested me the most. I selected the taught MA (SSEES also offer an MRes) as I was switching fields (from Archaeology and Anthropology), and so did not feel ready, yet, to dive right into independent research. The MA programme offered to 'ease' me in to the intellectual environment and cultural background of Russia.

As for selecting SSEES itself, this was down to its unparalleld resources and in its specific area focus on Russia and Eastern Europe. I wanted to do a literary Masters, and found myself particularly drawn toward Russian. The rest is history.

How are you funding the course?

A combination of personal, family loans, parental funding, and work. And a lot of economising.

How is being a postgraduate student different from being an undergraduate?

Firstly, the environment is so very different that I feel I cannot make a decent comparison. Broadly, though, because I took my BA at Cambridge, SSEES seems an entirely different ball game. It is not less intellectual -that is not what I'm saying-, but it has a very different environment about it. London is a big, metropolitan city; Cambridge is, well, not. I'm used to the city, though, and have lived here for years now. I enjoy being able to treat the MA like a job, to travel to the university, to make use of the resources, and to come home again. I feel much more empowered, and, to be honest, better treated and ultimately more comfortable. I did not particularly enjoy the 'Cambridge experience'.

How are you managing with the work load?

Well, I think. There have been no hiccups so far, anyway. I have found that, ultimately, the work load is up to me. It's interesting, so I spend a lot of time doing it. When I want to do something else, or I can't handle sitting at a desk anymore, I get up and do something completely unrelated. The only pressure is self-inflicted.

What challenges are there with being a postgraduate student?

The community is smaller, and perhaps more spread out. We all have our own lives and identities now. As such, you can at times feel isolated. But not for long. Otherwise, there is the 'anxiety of influence', knowing that as a Masters student, as I constantly remind myself, you have to "master" a field, its methodologies, its structures. It is both motivating and, at times, threatening.

What's the best thing about being a postgraduate student?

Certainly the maturity with which we are treated, and the sense of intellectual rigour that we have about our work. I've had far livlier, more dynamic debates and seminars at SSEES than anytime at Cambridge. That, coupled with the opportunity to undertake an extended dissertation of my own devising, is the main benefit.

What do you hope to do after you finish your course?

I'm in two minds about this, really. I applied for further literary study within UCL, but was not rewarded funding. As such, I've decided to find work and to save money and gain new skills. I would like to return to academia in the future, though I'm convinced that it would be to study for a professional qualification. This suits me better.

Do you have any tips for someone considering postgraduate study?

Yes. Take your work seriously, and get to know its insides and outsides; it makes it much more rewarding that way. Secondly, economise financially and look for ways to boost your employability once you graduate (if you're intending to look for work, that is).

Are there any other comments you wish to share about postgraduate study?

If you have the right mindset about it, postgraduate study is massively rewarding. There are many opportunities to get to know a field of study, to open up new ideas. In this sense, it is less intensive in terms of structured work than a BA degree. This is a good thing, and provides plenty of opportunities to get to grips with new and different ideas.

Username: Angelil

Age: 23 (though I was aged 21-22 when I did the course)

Studying: Linguistics

Why did you choose to do a postgraduate course?

In a world where an increasing number of people have undergraduate degrees, I wanted to make sure I stood out from the crowd a little bit. I was also looking to move abroad afterwards so was looking at universities that were more internationally renowned than my undergrad uni, as well as thinking that seeing as I would probably end up teaching English language it might be an idea to have a qualification that showed linguistic competence. I also wanted to fulfil another academic interest - it kind of led on from my study of Latin and Ancient Greek as an undergraduate. Plus, given that I didn't even know that linguistics BAs existed when I was applying for undergraduate study (if I'd known I probably would have gone for this type of degree before!), to study linguistics afterwards was almost a form of compensation for that

How did you choose the subject/course type/uni?

I've already answered this a little bit above. I couldn't have stayed at my undergrad uni anyway, since they didn't have a linguistics department, but I already knew I wanted to move on and experience somewhere different. I had the choice between a one-year master's course and a two-year one, but went for the one-year one as I didn't really see the difference between the two (at Oxford the one-year and two-year course people took the same exams, had the same choice of modules, the dissertation had to be the same length, and the only difference was the thresholds for pass and distinction). Plus, I didn't want to unnecessarily prolong my international LDR by plumping for a two-year course!

How are you funding the course?

How easy was it to get this funding? Ahem...well...I have generous parents

How is being a postgraduate student different from being an undergraduate?

Socially I found it more difficult to get involved, even though I wanted to be (though I suspect that this was more due to Oxford's set-up than due to postgraduate life generally). I also had to work much harder than I had for my undergraduate degree (again, perhaps also exacerbated by it being Oxford!).

How are you managing with the work load?

As mentioned, it is a lot more than at undergraduate level, but I found that being organised got me through it, as well as a good balance of having fun and doing things outside of studies (it was always important to me to, say, be reading a book that was nothing to do with my course), as well as a good dose of Good Lady Fear (they made a big thing in my course manual of pointing out that people could and did fail my course at times).

What challenges are there with being a postgraduate student?

Extra workload, making friends among undergrads, getting involved socially

What's the best thing about being a postgraduate student?

I liked working at a higher level, and I enjoyed being in a new place and meeting new people.

What do you hope to do after you finish your course?

I had hoped to stay in England for a further year to work and build up some savings before finally moving abroad to live with my long-term boyfriend. However, when I graduated the job market was TERRIBLE and despite having not one but two good degrees, heavy involvement in societies at university (including student journalism, being president/secretary of societies etc) plus work experience in a variety of sectors from media to hospitality, I couldn't get a job for love nor money. I therefore spent a miserable summer on the dole which mostly consisted of eating, watching TV, applying for jobs, and signing on. By the end of August 2008 I was fed up and started applying for jobs in France, where I was offered work almost immediately (which does, thankfully, allow me to use knowledge gained from both of my degrees after all that!).

Do you have any tips for someone considering postgraduate study?

If your department sends you a reading list before you start, make sure you take it seriously and get through as much of the reading as you can before you begin your course. I was abroad when my offer was confirmed after receiving my degree results in summer 2007, and thus had no access to any sort of library facilities or a place where I could buy the relevant books until September. I felt this sorely for the first term, when I felt like I was constantly catching up with everyone (especially since many of them had done linguistics or language degrees as their first degree).

Are there any other comments you wish to share about postgraduate study?

You will have to work MUCH harder than at undergraduate level, so don't just use it as an excuse to defer entering the real world for another year. Plus, try starting job hunting in the January of your course (I started in March and still had an awful time of it, but you can always try!).




Username: RachelBabyfrog / Rachel

Age: 22

Studying: MA Old English Studies at the University of Nottingham

Why did you choose to do a postgraduate course?

I didn't feel ready to give up studying Old English when my undergraduate degree ended.

How did you choose the subject/course type/uni? I chose Old English because I had fallen in love with it whilst studying for my BA. I chose a taught MA because I didn't feel ready to delve into a completely research based course. I chose Nottingham because it was where I did my BA and I knew the department well, plus there's not a lot of places you can do an MA in just Old English, rather than Medieval Studies.

How are you funding the course?

How easy was it to get this funding? With difficulty! I have some parental support, or I wouldn't be able to do it. I am spending my lifetime savings, part of which is made up of bits of student loan I managed to save from undergrad. The last few months are going to be particularly hard money-wise, as there simply isn't much left!

How is being a postgraduate student different from being an undergraduate?

I love how focused I am on my area as a postgraduate. I have spent a lot more time in the library, and a lot less time going out drinking, but that's partly because it feels a lot like I've been there, done that now!

How are you managing with the work load?

With good time management and self-motivation, the work load is okay.

What challenges are there with being a postgraduate student?

I find the biggest challenge is the pressure for originality in everything you write. Sometimes an idea just won't come, and it's maddening as the deadlines draw closer.

What's the best thing about being a postgraduate student?

I love the depth in which I'm studying my subject, and the way in which I can pursue my own interests to such a degree. I have set my own titles for all of my essays, which has been great.

What do you hope to do after you finish your course?

I have the offer of a PhD place here at Nottingham, but unfortunately I didn't secure funding, so I won't be able to take it up in September. I'm considering a career in librarianship.

Do you have any tips for someone considering postgraduate study?

Start thinking about it early and apply for funding from as many places as possible!

Are there any other comments you wish to share about postgraduate study?

I had a well-paid London grad job lined up before I realised that this was what I want to do... but I turned it down, and opted for a year living in poverty and reading Old English poetry. Best decision I've ever made!


Username: tigermoth99

Age: 29

Studying: MA Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London

Why did you choose to do a postgraduate course?

I enjoyed the subject as an undergraduate and wanted to take my study further; in addition, to develop the skills needed for my career

How did you choose the subject/course type/uni? See above for the first half of my answer. I chose my uni because of the reputation of the professors who taught on the course and its central London campus was in close proximity to libraries needed for research.

How are you funding the course?

I'm being funded through the AHRC's Master's Professional Preparation Scheme under the new BGP scheme. It was very hard to get (I'm receiving the only studentship my uni gave out this year) and the application took a lot of time, persistence and hard work. But it was worth it in the end.

How is being a postgraduate student different from being an undergraduate?

The workload is more intense and a lot is expected out of you. You'll also find that it changes your social life and you may not be able to do as much socialising as an undergrad.

How are you managing with the work load?

I'm coping well. Good time management makes it easier to handle.

What challenges are there with being a postgraduate student?

Balancing family and study life. Finding time for myself.

What's the best thing about being a postgraduate student?

The freedom to pursue academic interests that you're passionate about. Having access to a greater amount of resources.

What do you hope to do after you finish your course?

I'm hoping to study a PhD and teach my subject at the university level.

Do you have any tips for someone considering postgraduate study?

Study at the postgraduate level only if you're passionate about it. Doing it for all the wrong reasons will be a waste of time and money.

Are there any other comments you wish to share about postgraduate study?

If you study something you love, you'll find postgraduate study immensely enjoyable.

Also See

Got postgrad questions which aren't covered above? Then visit the Postgraduate Forum to get your answers.


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