The 10 things my MSc actually taught me
1) There is such a thing as too much coffee. But you can push through that.
2) No matter how health conscious you are, prepare for your diet to change drastically towards the end. My pre-deadline diet consisted of coffee and watermelon in the day, and gin and red wine in the evening. Clean living, balance, normal food groups somehow all lose their appeal. Your taste buds abandon ship and you’re hard-wired towards sugar, fructose and other types of sugar that you definitely do not need.
3) Do still exercise. You need those endorphins.
4) The masters is less about what you study and more about how you study. Especially when you’re doing it part-time alongside work. You graduate with distinction in time management no matter what your final grade is.
5) Last point was a partial lie. You do need to care about the content. You’re going to be swapping your weekends of care-free living for 9 hours class time, so you need to want to be in that classroom, so you don’t get jealous of your friends who are frolicking in the park. I picked well. My lectures were fascinating and my tutors had a way of asking questions that caused more ‘light-bulb’ moments in each uni day than I’d ever had in school. I genuinely found myself thinking ‘There’s no other place I’d rather be than here’, and that was even more important when ‘here’ was a 1.5hr journey each way on a Saturday and Sunday and London was experiencing its one days allowance of summer.
6) Don’t read Time out. It’s just a list of things you don’t have time to do until you graduate. FOMO is not a study motivator.
7) Chunking. This is a studying technique my tutor taught me. It’s not putting off studies until the weekend when you have a whole day for it. (Having all your stacks of papers round you doesn’t magically create absorption of knowledge through the printed type version of osmosis). Instead, it’s scheduling an hour here and there to do it, so that little by little you creep further along your project timeline. You also don’t feel as bad when the weekend is hijacked by writer’s block or some unexpected thing comes up.
8) Monitor yourself. This is related to the last point, it’s also important to know when and how you study best. That means monitoring your energy and receptivity levels. For me, I learnt I take in information better in the morning than after work when my brain has switched off as soon as I log out. It’s somehow magically synced to the power off button on my computer. Knowing this meant that I would wake up a bit earlier to get some studies done before work, and then I wouldn’t feel bad socialising in the evenings, as I’d already accomplished something and could then reward myself for the early starts. All coaches will agree that goals and rewards go hand in hand and it’s important to reward as you go along and not wait for the end. Else you may lose hope before then.
9) Don’t cancel your social life. I thought that’s what I had to do – replace friend time with book time, but I soon learnt that I can’t function like that. Some people may be more introverted than me and relish the excuse that they can cancel plans under the guise of studying, however, I found that I very much need to socialise and see my friends, and so used it as the aforementioned reward.
10) Be prepared for an emotional whirlwind. This is the normal trajectory of change:
- Period of interest and inspiration
- Onset of anxiety due to time shortage
- Unexpected challenges add to anxiety causing feelings of overwhelm
- Period of panic and despair
- Consult tutor, friend, coach or family at this point
- Relief and hope
Repeat loop until you finish, but throughout all trust it will all be ok in the end. You don’t need to know how. It just will be.