I’ve been meaning to sit down and write this blog post since I broke up for the Christmas holidays, but as usual life gets in the way! In some ways it feels like the right time to write this post having submitted and received feedback for my last assignment of the semester! Before I start, some context: I am studying part-time for an MA in English Lit – which means I do one module per semester, over two years with a dissertation at the end of the second year (full-time it’s two modules per semester over one year + dissertation). Here are some (honest) thoughts on my first term as a masters student…
Going into an MA, not quite knowing what to expect, I found the expectations of me as an MA student weighing much heavier on me than the expectations did at undergrad, and it felt a little overwhelming. I had heard the horror stories of neverending reading lists and unreasonable workloads and frankly, I was worried about it. However, what I expected couldn’t be further from reality. Yes, I found the work challenging but not overwhelmingly so – it felt like a natural progression from third year and the workload was (generally) quite manageable. There was one week though where I had weekly reading to do (a novel, selected letters, and critical material) but I also desperately needed to write a detailed essay plan for an essay due in about a weeks time and throwing that into the mix made the workload a bit of struggle!😂 It definitely made me realise how stressful a full-time MA could be because if my workload was double, I think I’d probably struggle. But as a part-time student (something I would definitely recommend if you’re considering a literature MA) everything seemed to balance itself out well. For context, generally, I am a really slow and thorough reader. I find it difficult to skim read novels because when I do, I miss important plot details and generally lack any understanding of the text. This has hindered me all the way through my undergrad and so far, my masters too because I just cannot read as quickly as some of the other people in my classes – but this is okay! It means that a lot of the time it takes me an entire week to read a 300-page novel, and sometimes its a struggle when there’s more secondary reading to do, but I love reading so widely and so much (when I manage to squeeze it all in) and despite adding some pressure to your week knowing it’s going to be a bit of a rush to fit everything in, on the whole it’s totally manageable if you manage your time well (something I sometimes don’t do but can only blame myself for!😂).
I took a module this past term called ‘Exchanging Letters’ which was all about art and correspondence during the twentieth century and I really enjoyed it. I’d never studied a module like it and was totally unique. I studied a lot of writers I’d never even heard of (like Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop) and questioned how I hadn’t ever come across their writing. Also some familiar ones; F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald, Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes, and Flannery O’Connor. It was so fascinating to read their correspondence having also read their novels/poetry. It also raised all sorts of interesting moral/ethical debates about whether reading these letters is an invasion of privacy or not etc. and I thoroughly enjoyed my weekly reading and seminar discussions. I was so nice to take a module that was totally different from something I would usually choose.
ADJUSTING TO MA LIFE:
During the first few weeks of term, the change from one university to another definitely set in and for about four weeks I felt a little like I was just floating through my seminars because none of it had quite sunk in yet. Adjusting to change is difficult but I got there in the end and rediscovered a sense of excitement for my seminars – I think I just needed those few weeks to find my feet a little! The odd thing is, I felt like a first year student (which was horrible) I had this feeling that I should be able to seamlessly transition into this change because I’d done it before?!? (note sure how I came to that conclusion) but looking back I realise I needed to just give myself time to properly adjust. I loved my first term but I’m hoping that the Spring term brings with it a little more contentment!
One thing I have noticed about MA study though is that there is weird thing that happens before and during seminars where everyone (including myself, though I hate to admit it) pretends that they have completed all of the reading and more. (???) and it honestly baffles me week by week. Of course I’m doing the primary reading but all of the extra secondary material doesn’t always fit into my schedule – why do we pretend we do it though? It’s something that Ariel Bissett discussed in one of her YouTube videos about her experience studying for her masters and it really made me realise that it isn’t just me that has observed these things. (Watch it here: https://youtu.be/ZvM6dafZouc). On the whole adjusting to a new university and course really isn’t as scary as I imagined, it feels like the right choice for me and I feel proud to be stepping outside my comfort zone so often while studying for my MA and my experience thus far is positive.
I have a few things I would suggest doing when you start an MA (things I definitely wish I’d done).
- Make yourself a study timetable – sounds v. simple, and v. GCSE-esque, but honestly, blocking out your week with important, non-moveable things like part-time job, seminars etc and then planning when you have time to sit and do your reading is THE most helpful thing because it a) helps you stop procrastinating your work all week and panicking the day before, and b) means you can fit in social things around your reading much easier (and feel less guilty about it because you know you’ve had a few productive hours that day).
- Make a group chat with the people in your seminar group(s). Seems scary to ask people to join a group chat when you’ve only just met each other but it’s actually super helpful to know that you can just text them if something is confusing you etc. It’s also nice because you can organise going for coffee which is a good way to make new friends!
- Use your tutor’s office hour. I am v. guilty of not doing this and I really regretted it. At undergrad I went to office hours all the time and quickly realised how beneficial doing so was to my essay writing. But when I started my MA was terrified by the prospect of dropping into an office hour for some reason. (disclaimer: my tutor was lovely so there was absolutely no need to be worried about it) but I wish I had gone, and part of me feels that not using their office hour impacted my marks a little because I didn’t have as much clarity as I usually did while writing my essays. But it’s all a learning curve and helpful in moving forward during Spring term!
If you’ve read all of this then well done you (think this is a super long post) but hope this was (somewhat) helpful! I am generally enjoying being an MA student, and I have already learnt so many new and exciting things! I’ve not long started Spring semester, and so far I’m studying some v. interesting texts so hoping this term will be a good one!