Welcome to life as a postgrad

Congratulations at being awarded a place on your Masters programme!  Well done & welcome to postgrad life at QMUL.

Have you chosen your modules yet? It may seem weird, but as you head off to those first lectures & tutorials that will ultimately lead to your postgraduate degree, we want to challenge you to also be thinking ‘…and what next?’, as the next 12 months will fly by. 

Make sure that early in the academic year, you actually schedule time to research and explore your future options; to attend careers & departmental events; to identify your skills & values; to understand the key skills required for careers that interest you; and to take the time to build a CV that demonstrates you have those skills. 

Thinking about ‘what next’ does not mean that you have to make decisions now, but it does mean that if you do not have much experience or knowledge of graduate work, you need to start exploring & building experience now. It is much easier to first make contact with an interesting organisation by writing to say: ‘I am a MA student at QMUL and really interested in exploring a career in XXXXXXX, I wondered if there would be an opportunity for me to work-shadow one of your colleagues for a few days’, rather than ‘I am a Masters graduate from QM, do you have any jobs’

If you have limited work experience, don’t spend time worrying if any new work experience opportunity is definitely ‘relevant’… if it interests you, just try it… most of us learn best through experiences and it is very difficult to choose a career if you have not had experience of working in different contexts.  If you are thinking of a PhD, take any opportunity to talk to academics specialising in areas of interest, use departmental contacts to speak to current PhD students and check application deadlines.

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Master’s: Balancing work and studies

My name is Natasha and I am currently undertaking MA History – Medieval and Renaissance pathway at QMUL; I also took my BA in Medieval History at QMUL. Additionally, I work part-time for Careers & Enterprise as an Employer Engagement Assistant. Below are my thoughts on working and studying part-time.

Balancing work & studies

After some deliberating, I decided to study for my Master’s degree part-time. I knew that I had to find a way to support myself financially, particularly if I wanted to stay living in London; but I knew that studying full-time and working part-time wasn’t the best idea. I did not see any point in rushing through my studies and not giving it my all as working would inevitably be an obstacle – and even now, balancing work and studies is difficult. It is very important to plan your time wisely: make sure that on the days that you aren’t working, you have a study plan for what you want – and need – to achieve on those days when you are focusing solely on your Master’s. Sometimes this isn’t easy, particularly if you cannot find the motivation, or you have a day where you turn up no results – but persevere and take the time to re-charge your batteries, it is certainly easy to over-do things.


Which leads me nicely to the challenges. Trust me when I tell you that your work/life balance will take a real dip. When I am not working, I use my ‘free’ time to study, and this means that I find it hard to stay in contact and socialise with friends and family. This really is something to be aware of as you, as well as them, will feel isolated. But, by planning your time effectively, it is entirely possible to give yourself a few hours off to let your hair down – and this is essential, particularly for your own well-being.

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Personal statements for Masters degrees – Top Tips

Emily Hogg, Application Adviser

  • Read the university’s requirements: unlike UCAS applications for undergraduate degrees, there is not a centralised system or universal application procedure for Masters courses. Instead each university has its own requirements, and these might be slightly different. Some courses will ask you to answer specific questions; others might specify a word limit. Make sure that you know what each course requires, and you follow the correct guidelines.
  • Don’t simply reuse your undergraduate personal statement: after two, three or four years of an undergraduate degree, you should have learnt new things, acquired a different perspective and be able to articulate your goals and ambitions in a different way than you did when you were at school or college and applied for your first degree. For this reason, it’s more effective to start a new statement than simply try to update your old one.
  • Explain why you want to study the course: in your personal statement, you should explain your motivation for undertaking this particular course of study. Admissions tutors want to know that you are committed and enthusiastic about studying for the Masters, and that you have a detailed and realistic understanding of what the course will cover.
  • Show how the course fits into your wider goals: a good way of showing your motivation is to explain how the Masters will fit into your broader ambitions. Will it provide you with knowledge or skills you will use in your career? Will it allow you to pursue an intellectual interest you care deeply about? Will it build on the knowledge you gained in your undergraduate degree? What are your long-term goals and how does the Masters fit in?

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What it is like studying for a masters

When choosing whether to peruse a masters or not, we recommend that as well as attending an open day at the university, that you also speak to people who have done postgraduate study to find out what the reality is. Finding out as much as you can from a range of people will help you to make an informed decision. If you are thinking about starting a masters course next year, find out what one of our student bloggers thought about staying on at QMUL to do a masters. following her  Read on to find out what further study was really like.

How its going…

The first day (induction) felt really strange because I was back at uni just like I was in the past years but only this time…my friends weren’t there! However in some way I preferred not knowing anyone because when I saw new faces- that’s when it felt more like a new chapter or fresh start which made things more exciting!

I was surprised to see that the staff members and lecturers for masters are mostly different from the ones I had during my undergraduate years. Another thing I was not expecting was that most of my classmates were quite a bit older than me and most had worked or done postgraduate studies before. Also to my surprise, the majority of students (about 90% I’d say) are either International or European non UK students. All of this was completely different to what I was expecting and what I was used to as an undergrad.  It’s interesting how I wanted to stay at QMUL to avoid change however thinking about it now…there has been immense change from my undergrad years to now even though I am at the same university studying in the same department! Small things like the conversations I have with my peers and how my day is structured is now completely different!

Strangely I had expected to have a similar social life to what I did in my previous years as a student…this was definitely not the case at all! I was surprised by the number of students that just attend lectures then go back home or to the library and that is it. The lack of social interaction could be because of the workload or that most of the students are older and settled so do not see the point of socialising with their peers, either way I was not prepared for this and honestly, I didn’t like it!

I do however love the course I am studying. I find most modules very interesting and I really enjoy the way in which there is a lot more application of what we learn to the ‘real world’ and world of work. I find that the lecturers are more engaging and the lectures are more interactive which is helpful given the huge workload!

In conclusion I am glad I chose to do my masters now because at the end of the year- I know I have finally completed my educational years! Knowing this I think will also help me move on and focus better on the next step I need to take. If you are thinking of postgraduate study and are unsure, I would suggest that you speak to a postgraduate student to find out about their experience and know what it is really like.

Scholarships and Prizes for Postgraduate Study

If you are interested in doing a Masters with a focus on European affairs you could receive a scholarship from the College of Europe. The College of Europe is a not-for-profit Higher Education Institution, set up in 1949; Nick Clegg is one of the alum, so is the Head of Chanel in Moscow. It fully-funds 70% of its masters students. Scholarships available internationally and for specific disciplines e.g. History  – https://www.coleurope.eu/website/study/admission/scholarships/college-europe-offers-history-graduates-scholarships-study-its

They’re actively seeking UK students. The Masters are in:

  • European Interdisciplinary Studies
  • EU International Relations and Diplomacy Studies
  • European Political and Administrative Studies
  • European Economic Studies
  • European Legal Studies

Oct-Jan is the application period. It’s a one-year programme based in either Bruges, Brussels or Natolin, Poland. Apart from a degree a UK student needs GCSE French (they stressed that this should not put people off).

There’s also a 5,000 euro prize available for a Master’s theses submitted at a European university between 1 September 2012 and 30 September 2014 inclusive: second, articles by doctoral students, who were in the same period enrolled in a doctoral programme at a European university.

Interested in Postgraduate study?

Then take a look at the new Prospects postgraduate emagazine. It is full of advice related to postgraduate study, from deciding if it is the right choice for you, to picking a course and reading about the experiences of other students. In this edition, for example, you can read about the life of a PhD student, what to think about if you want to study abroad and information on being a postgraduate student in China and Canada. It also contains sections on each subject area, including, for example, teaching and what it is like to do the PGCE. We also have hard copies of the magazine in the Careers Centre if you want to pick one up.

Should I do postgraduate study?

When you are thinking about this question the first place to start is with yourself:

Be honest with yourself about why you want to carry on studying.  Do you love your subject and want to learn more and possibly pursue further research? Or are you thinking that you need to improve your career chances and apply for a more vocational course? Maybe you feel you aren’t ready to leave the university environment? Be honest with yourself about where your motivation really lies.

Secondly, it’s important to think about what sort of organisation you want to work for in the future and where you want to work? Different employers have different attitudes to postgraduate study.  A Masters or PhD is certainly a requirement for a careers in academia and some other areas of work, and it is often expected by overseas employers.  However, many UK employers will treat a postgraduate in the same way as a graduate, so do your research:

Have a look at current job adverts for the sort of roles you want to apply to in the future. Do they specify that a postgraduate qualification is required? If so, is there a particular subject they prefer? Some industries may prefer practical experience over qualifications. There is also the option to study part time, or take a short course, which would allow you to get a qualification AND work experience at the same time.

You could also speak to employers at careers events to hear their perspective on further study, or contact them directly/ask them on LinkedIn. Of course you can always book an appointment to discuss your options with a Careers Consultant. Remember that a masters is not going to guarentee you a job! You still have to ‘sell’ your qualifications to employers on application forms and demonstrate how it will add value to their business.

What to study?
Once you have decided what you want to study, look carefully at the courses. What level of study do you want to apply for, where and what is the cost? The Prospects website has a postgraduate course search.and for a wealth of information on where to study, types of courses and things to consider look on Careers Tagged.

How and when to apply?
Most applications to postgraduate courses at university are made directly to the institutions. Enquiries for doctoral research are best started around December. Most Masters courses have open deadlines but popular courses fill up quickly . Some vocational courses have applications dealt with via central clearing houses and have set deadlines (law, teaching, clinical psychology, social work). Look out for postgraduate fairs and open days: they will give you a chance to meet lecturers, researchers and current students. http://targetcourses.co.uk/fairs-and-open-days.

Getting help and information
Finally talk to your own academic adviser or department about their thoughts and ideas. We have written a number of articles on this blog about various topics linked to posgraduate study…. have a look at them here.