When I started university I don’t think I was really sure what postgraduate study was, never mind consider it an option. I was the first in my family to go to university, so I didn’t have the privilege of understanding the “system”. As I approached second year, I became keen to integrate myself into the research community of my department. I was particularly interested in social research and started to see it (and a PhD) as genuine career option for me. I knew nothing about how to get there, but knocked on doors of academics and started seriously planning what to do when my degree finished.
It was then that I realised one of the biggest challenges to postgraduate study; funding. I applied for research council funding for my MA and PhD and was unfortunately a reserve candidate. Although I knew this happens to a lot of people, it was a real knock to my confidence and motivation. Once it settled in, I applied for a university widening participation scholarship which offers financial support for students from backgrounds underrepresented in postgrad study. I was delighted to be told I had been successful, and it was the saving grace for continuing my academic work and achieving my dreams of a career in social research.
However, no one prepares you for postgraduate life. It’s hard work. It’s not only a step up from undergraduate level, but the workload is much more intense as well. What makes it even more of a challenge is that many of us have other commitments, which we may not have had before. It's also a step up in terms of independent study, and this can be lonely and daunting at times. It’s a balancing act, and you have to go in prepared to work that little bit harder to reap the rewards of a distinction, but also remembering that it’s not the end of the world if you don’t get the top marks either.
For many of us, the MA is a stepping stone. For me, it’s simply bridging the gap to start my PhD. I reapplied for PhD funding, and with the research and other skills I’ve gained in my MA course, I was offered financial support. If this is your plan too, it’s crucial to understand the challenge of ticking those academic boxes, and getting that funding. It’s a skill we must master, but hard work, passion in your study and self-belief can get you there.
Lauren White, MA Social Research