As I approach the halfway point in my MA programme, I am now able to reflect on the reality of what I am achieving. There is an ebb and flow of emotions due to the nature of postgrad study alongside a full time job. While you want to remain focused on the module at hand and the assignment that’s ahead, you are also in the midst of real life, family and work. Unlike those magical, footloose days of undergrad (oh so long ago), I have other responsibilities, deadlines and engagements now. If you are managing to work your way effectively through the modules, the articles, the reflections and discussions, you may find some level of peace amidst the storm.
My stress "management" system goes something like this:
1. Carry your reading with you at all times. You never know when you will have some spare time to sit down and continue the monumental task of "reading everything"!!
2. Don't be afraid to get side tracked on interesting ideas, people, or theories. You may get your best thoughts when off the beaten path.
3. Schedule, schedule, schedule. You can never be too methodical about setting time to read or write. The best line I heard was an off-handed remark by an academic, "as I sat down to write my 500 words...". That phrase stuck with me and I have never stressed to write more than that in any one go. However, don't be afraid to have a "binge" day where you really go at it from dawn to dusk. This is not easy when you have a regular job but who wants to have fun every weekend?!
4. Ask questions when you need to. I have found the support from the university fantastic and I have shed my first instinct to suffer in silence.
5. Manage your reading and information gathered in a methodical fashion. Keep a proper running reference sheet, keep relevant information in the same place, and if you like visuals (as I do), keep a tack up board. Keep reminding yourself when writing an assignment - what is the purpose here? Am I sticking to the topic at hand?
Most of this has been a learning process. The psychology of navigating my way through the complicated terrain of my present life. The things I repeat to myself internally when I feel overwhelmed. But the stress is part of the journey. And while at times stress can be painful, it can also be the thing that propels us to strive towards higher levels of understanding.
Johnna Grech, MA Language, Education and Research