Case study

Masters graduate — Michael Donnay

After completing his undergraduate degree in the USA, Michael decided to pursue postgraduate study in the UK, where he achieved the MSc Digital Humanities at University College London (UCL)

Why did you decide to pursue a postgraduate course?

I spent five years working as a stage and production manager in the performing arts and when the COVID-19 pandemic started, I took the enforced pause from work to make a career change.

A postgraduate degree felt like the best next step because it would provide me with the structure to learn a new subject area, while also helping me develop connections with academics and professionals working in the field.

Why did you choose this postgraduate course and institution?

The digital humanities programme at UCL was my top choice because of the high quality of research it produces and the balance it strikes between technical and theoretical coursework.

Digital humanities requires both a knowledge of computational tools and a grounding in the research questions of a specific discipline, in my case history. The UCL programme had modules that covered both areas. London also hosts several digital humanities centres, so being in the city was a major advantage.

How did you fund your postgraduate study?

As an international student, the options for student financing were limited and I was not able to secure any competitive funding. As a result, I used my savings to self-fund the degree.

Tell us a bit about the course.

The course covers a wide range of topics, from internet technologies to basic coding to global perspectives on the field. There is the opportunity to customise your course with optional modules, so I took a module on AI (artificial intelligence) technologies that was a fascinating chance to learn something completely new.

The course also includes a dissertation and a work placement, which provided the opportunity to do original research and work alongside digital humanities professionals. That continuing balance between theory and practice was my favourite element of the course.

How was the course assessed?

It was assessed using a mixture of essays and practical exercises, along with the dissertation. The practical exercises allowed me to put the skills I learned into use and included designing a website from scratch and building a digital edition of historical documents. I enjoyed the challenge of having to both write and build things, which made the exam period much less stressful.

How did postgraduate life differ to that of an undergraduate?

I did my undergraduate degree in the USA, so doing a postgraduate degree in the UK meant adjusting to an entirely different system of teaching, course organisation, and marking. I spent less time in the classroom with lecturers and had to take more personal accountability for finishing my work.

What have you done since you graduated?

Since I finished my course, I have been working as the digital projects officer for the Digital Humanities Research Hub at the School of Advanced Study, University of London.

I work alongside researchers and software developers creating digital projects in classics, English, history, and media studies. The role lets me regularly use what I learned on my course, while also using the organisational skills I developed during my previous work in the performing arts.

What tips would you give to others choosing a Masters degree?

  • Talk to people doing the course or who graduated from it. They will have the best perspective on the programme and will be able to tell you the details that you cannot learn on the website.
  • Think about the day-to-day details when choosing a programme. Consider things like your commute, living arrangements, class schedule, and location. While they might not seem important, they will often have just as much impact on your experience as the modules or your lecturers.
  • If you're making a career change, consider whether a Masters degree is the best option. In some fields, a postgraduate degree is just one of several paths into employment. In others, it can be the best way to enter - particularly if you're interested in a research-intensive role. Doing some research about how people in the field got their start can help you figure out if postgraduate study is the best option for you.

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