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Changing direction

One of the most striking things about the people on my MA degree is that many, including myself, hadn’t studied the subject at undergraduate level. Switching departments is quite a common experience when making the jump from undergraduate to postgraduate, and I’ve personally encountered several challenges in shifting from History to Politics. 

Below I offer some advice regarding how to make that transition as smooth as possible, and to help make sure you don’t get overwhelmed by the change. 

1. Read, read, and read some more

Reading widely and broadly on the new subject is crucial. You won’t understand everything in any given book or article at first, but having read over different concepts, ideas, and arguments at an early stage will help consolidate that information when the time comes to put it together in essays or revise for exams. If you come across terminology you don’t know, look it up! By that I mean ask your professor or a more experienced classmate – I don’t need to remind you of the limitations of Wikipedia! 

2. Talk to your classmates 

Many of your classmates will have studied the subject at undergrad, and so will be well-versed in what to you seems specialist and intangible. Talking to classmates can help improve your subject understanding as they’ll often give you more practical, down-to-earth explanations instead of the more abstract, theoretical outlook you may get from a professor. 

3. Let your professor know 

Professors are aware that there is variability in the class regarding prior knowledge and experience, and will usually be prepared to offer you some extra support if you feel you’re slipping behind as a consequence of having shifted departments. It can also be helpful to get together with others who are in a similar situation and let the professor know what level you are coming in to the discussion from, helping them better tailor seminars so they are more accessible for you. 

 4. Don’t underestimate yourself

Lastly and most importantly, try not to panic about not having studied the subject before. Remember that you were accepted onto your PG degree, so the department believes you have the right stuff about you to make a success of it. Given you’ve already been in education this long and, evidently, have done well enough to continue studying, you clearly have a general aptitude for it that can be applied more flexibly than you might think. You’ll find that there will be overlaps between what you studied before and what you study now, and it’s in these overlapping areas that you’ll often get the most out of your study. 

Hopefully some of this will be useful to you in making that change. In any case, remember that time can be the most important factor. Be patient, and you’ll probably be up to speed before you know it!

Alexander Lusuardi, MA European and Global Affairs
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