There is a common stereotype of the ‘panic masters’; a postgraduate degree undertaken after graduating because you don’t know what you want to do next. For Arts and Humanities students, it is sometimes seen as a last resort to avoid the world of employment for a year. Or as an option only for prospective PhD students.
When I have been asked why I am doing a master’s degree, this stereotype of the ‘panic masters’ ignores the real skills and challenges that postgraduate study can provide. Students are concerned about their future employment prospects, and an MA can help you stand out. Particularly in the current climate. Whilst they provide a natural path to further study, postgraduate degrees such as taught MA programmes, or a research-based MA, have many uses outside of academia:
Naturally, an MA in any subject gives you a more in-depth understanding of the topic you choose to study. Studying for my MA in Contemporary History and International Politics, I have been able to examine the topics of history and politics that apply to the modern world. The relative independence I am given to complete reading and to come up with my own topics to research and discuss in essays gives me a chance to specialise in the topics I am most interested in.
Whilst at undergraduate level I found myself trying to balance more modules over a shorter period, the structure of my MA allows me to focus on taught aspects in the first two terms, and then my research in the summer term and the summer vacation. As a result, I can take more time to investigate new topics and ideas. Ultimately, when applying for jobs this allows me to demonstrate an appetite for independent learning, and an ability to focus on long-term projects.
As a postgraduate student on an interdisciplinary programme, my work also gives me the chance to build connections across different subjects. This is particularly useful in the world of work when issues are often not isolated in one academic field. For example, a job working within a political organisation is affected not just by politics, but by the historical implications that their work has had in the past. In understanding the historical context of politics today, I can apply a more nuanced approach to the issues that I may be dealing with in the future.
Developing new skills
One thing that has surprised me during the first term of my MA has been the sheer range of skills that you are encouraged to apply. The freedom you are given in postgraduate study to apply new methods and ideas is accompanied by research training in new skills and approaches. For instance, I have been able to undertake training on methods within public history, which is an area that I did not get to cover in-depth in my undergraduate degree. This has opened a new world of possibilities to me. By understanding how history can engage with the real world and actively make use of a whole range of sources, it has encouraged me to search for jobs where public history can be of particular use.
Practical careers support
Finally, staying at university for another year also allows you to make use of the opportunities within the Careers department and to develop your newly found skills. Online platforms such as Handshake give students access to practical careers support when applying for work. In addition, the university often offers internships and training opportunities that are specially designed for students. Many of these opportunities are paid, and work alongside a full-time degree, making them more accessible to take part in.
Postgraduate study should not be written off. Whether you are planning on using postgraduate studies as a path into academia, or to develop skills and knowledge for a career outside of university, it is a fantastic chance to build on the skills from your undergraduate degree.
- Read more student blogs about postgraduate study