Future You podcast transcript

Is postgrad study right for you? (with University of Reading)

November, 2021

If you're weighing up the pros and cons of postgraduate study and can't decide whether it's the right option for you, this episode of Future You may help - you'll hear from someone who's been there and done it about the differences between undergrad and postgrad study and what further study is really like


In order of first appearance:

  • Dan Mason - editorial manager, Prospects
  • Lottie Jacob - Masters graduate, University of Reading

Episode transcript

Dan Mason: If you're weighing up the pros and cons of staying on a uni for postgraduate study, and can't decide whether it's right for you get the perspective of someone who's been there and done it. In this episode of Future You.

Hello and welcome to Future You the podcast from graduate careers, experts Prospects here to help you achieve your career goals. I'm Dan Mason, and in this episode, we're talking postgraduate study. Is it worth it? How different is it likely to be from your undergraduate degree? How do you choose a course and get funding? What impact will it really have on your career prospects? Well, to start answering those questions, we're going to speak to Lottie Jacob, who studied for a Masters in History at The University of Reading, she provides a really interesting take on the experience of postgrad study, which will hopefully be useful for you, whatever your subject, whichever university you're looking to study at. Just before we get started, if after listening to Lottie, you want to hear more from The University of Reading, check out their own podcast Discover Reading on Spotify, which features conversations with academics, researchers and students. In the meantime, let's get on with the episode.

Lottie Jacob: Hi, I'm Lottie. I'm an assistant student recruitment and access officer at The University of Reading. I work organising post 16 school groups and running the student ambassador scheme. When I'm not doing that, I like to come on podcasts.

Dan Mason: Brilliant. Well, thanks very much for joining me on this one. We're here, obviously, to speak mostly about your experience with postgraduate study. I think it's probably important just for a bit of context to start by going back a bit further to your undergrad study. So could you tell us a bit about what you studied where and what you enjoyed about it, and what your longer term plans were at the time when you were studying at that level?

Lottie Jacob: Yeah, so I was studying History at The University of Reading, I kind of came into this degree with not much idea of what I was doing. Apart from the fact I just really liked history, and being at Reading, the history department were amazing. They really nurtured me and helped build my confidence. So I didn't really have any longer term career plans. So when one of my lecturers sat me down and said, Look, you've got to start thinking about long term, you're really you're doing well, in your degree, why not think about doing a Masters and I thought, oh, hang on a minute, another year of doing what I absolutely love doing, just to have a bit of time to work out what I want to do further as well. It just, the stars kind of aligned. I'd had a really good time. I'm doing my dissertation research at the end as well. And I kind of thought I'd absolutely love to carry that on and continue researching in that capacity. And I just thought, yeah, the skills that I could gain from doing the Masters. I feel like yes, it was the right thing for me right now. But yeah, it wasn't until that last conversation midway through third year, that postgraduate study had even come onto my radar. Before that, I'd kind of thought about going into some sort of marketing or something like that, using the soft skills that you gain from doing a history degree being able to talk about pretty much anything in any capacity. I thought that'd be a good way of using the old gift of the gab.

Dan Mason: Yeah, sounds like a very familiar story to me, as a history graduate myself. So, you've spoken about this already a bit, but was there any consideration of postgraduate study before that meeting or was it that, that sparked the interest and then once you did decide that you wanted to continue a further study, you tell us a bit about what sort of research you did about courses, how you decided that you wanted to stay at Reading to do the postgraduate study, where you looked into things like funding, all that kind of thing.

Lottie Jacob: It wasn't until that point that I'd taken it as a serious consideration. I toyed with the idea, like sort of in my second year as well. And I think it's not necessarily the best thing to do. But I was waiting for a bit of validation. I definitely would say if anyone's in the situation that I was in, don't wait for someone to tell you if that's what you want to do, just go for it. That was so it was something that had been on my radar before but then getting that sort of push was what I really needed. I started just doing a bit of a chaotic internet research sort of thing, like how most students would I reckon I was looking all around the country all around the globe at one point. And it wasn't until I'd finished I actually stopped and started to take it a bit more seriously beyond just like window shopping. I would say being all that looks nice that looks nice, I started looking for courses which had good strong core modules. So at Reading, there was a module going through different approaches to history and also a module on material culture, which was not something that I'd had the chance to look at before, those were really strong selling points for me, as opposed to some of the other universities, which were slightly more fluid with options, which might be good for some people. But for me, I wanted to have that strong structure and then have the freedom to kind of deviate as and when I wanted to. So beyond that internet research, I started, like sending out emails to the people who convened the courses and finding out what the day to day life is like for students. And I just found that Reading, ticked all my boxes, I knew the department, I knew knew the place, and I just, I really loved it there. So I thought, you know, what I think I might just stay on, it's the right, it felt like the right place at the right time. And I know not everyone gets that sort of gut feeling of like, all this is right. But I'm just it takes the boxes for the core modules. And it just, it just felt right. In terms of funding. I did very last minute with my funding, which I really don't recommend it anyone does, I applied for a Postgraduate Loan, and I had not, like I said, I was very disorganised with it. So I kind of assumed it would be like a undergraduate loan, where you get your fees paid for and then maintenance loan. And obviously, I came to the very horrible realisation that it was just a flat rate. And that I would have to sort of sustain myself living, but my research was not the most comprehensive. And I definitely, I definitely would recommend thinking about these things sooner rather than later. Getting yourself in a position of being being equipped with that knowledge really helps you to know where you're going. So, for me leaving it to the last minute for all of these things, like it worked out well for me. But that doesn't necessarily mean that it would work out well, in every situation, I think I got very lucky with the fact that I really ended up loving my course. But I really would recommend for anyone listening to start thinking about these things slightly earlier. Or even taking a gap year rather than just jumping straight into things and consider the other options, because whilst I had alumni discount The University of Reading, other places might offer you a more substantial scholarship. I think I knew about the alumni discount, because I had been told about it by my lecturer during that initial conversation in my third year. But other places might have offered more substantial scholarships, although that doesn't necessarily mean that's the right place for you. It could just help you carry on as you are.

Dan Mason: Yeah. So don't necessarily rely on last minute decisions working, but they did in your case, which is great. And so getting on to sort of then the key question that we want to get into today, which is how, what the experience of postgraduate study is like and how it differs from your undergraduate study? Could you just talk a bit about that first in terms of the actual academic study, seminars, lectures, workshops, whatever it was in your case? And how how that matched your expectations and how it differed from what you've done before?

Lottie Jacob: Yeah, so. But one of the first things that the course convener told us on the course was it's not going to be fourth year undergrad, its first year post grad. And that really, it really did ring true throughout the whole thing. So I had sort of expected, like I said, fourth year undergrad, a mix of lectures, sort of sitting back and having information to hold at you. But it's actually a lot more collaborative than that, which at first was a bit terrifying, but I actually found it a lot more rewarding. So we'd have smaller scale seminars was the basis for the history masters that I did. And, you know, you wouldn't just turn up and be told what to think. Although undergrad, you shouldn't have had that really either. But it was it was a very, very strong focus on collaboration, discussion and debate. Yeah. So and having your opinion valued as a colleague, rather than as a student, that was something that I wasn't, I wasn't necessarily expecting, but I found very rewarding. So I would say you get a lot more academic freedom as a postgraduate than as an undergraduate. But with that freedom comes a bit of responsibility. So you need to make sure that you know, you've done the reading, you know what you're talking about, and that you've got something to say. So rather than being taught, you're kind of a lot of the work is more discussion based, sort of collaborative, coming together to discuss these issues. But yeah. In terms of wider university life as a postgraduate I know there's this kind of common misconception that as a post grad, you have absolutely no spare title, no social life actually had. I hadn't thought act social life, my post grad and I did my undergrad, we had a really lovely community in the postgraduate history department, which was so lovely. So we're all going through the same sort of thing, if we were having a bit of a wobbly, we could all just, you know, be there for each other, but equally, like be there for the good times as well, you'd have someone to celebrate with. So we had a little postgraduate room where we'd all sit together, we do our reading, we'd kind of like float ideas before seminars, and then after a seminar, we might go out for a drink or two, which was really good, again, really nice to have that sort of, you're not alone in it. And I think most postgraduate courses, there is that sort of sense of community just to support you through that the extra demands that comes with life as a post grad. But also another big thing is my extracurricular activities, I did have time to be involved in a fair amount of extracurricular activities like as somehow I ended up doing more in my postgraduate degree than I ended up doing in my undergrad. So for example, I was a master student ambassador throughout my whole time during the Masters. And I also was involved in the Reading scholars scheme as a course mentor. And so I worked a lot in, like higher education, sort of outreach events, meeting with year twelves, and kind of explaining what university was like, and then also attending postgraduate open days. So that was something that I found really rewarding, and also a way to kind of mitigate the gap that I found in my own funding. And it was, you know, it was nice to have flexible work around, around my studies knowing that, you know, my line managers not going to tell me to prioritise my part time work over my studies, because they know what it's like. So that was a really nice way of kind of doing something a bit different feel like you're giving something back whilst also, you know, supporting yourself through uni. So I found that really rewarding.

Dan Mason: Yeah, so it sounds like some sort of mix of more collaborative work, in terms of your study, a really great community that you've built there as well, and then the extracurricular activities on top. So just from what you've said, would you say you found it more enjoyable as a post grad than an undergrad, it was a kind of a step up in terms of the university experience.

Lottie Jacob: I actually did find that it was a step up in the university experience. Yeah. I felt like having more control over my academic side also helped me to feel more confident in myself. And to take control over the social side as well, I felt a lot more outgoing and confident. And I took these opportunities that I otherwise might not have done, especially the scholars program, which was something that I'd looked up before as an undergraduate and kind of thought, oh, I probably don't have the right skills for that. But then I felt very empowered whilst doing my own post grad degree, then I just went for it, and actually had such a good time. That's how I ended up in my current role now. So yeah, it just shows that extracurricular activities are like, they complement your studies rather than taking anything away. And in my case, it ended up me having a job at the end of it, which is a nice little relief.

Dan Mason: Absolutely. So just just tell us a bit more about that transition from the Masters into the job. And then also, since you finished the Masters, how you've reflected on it in terms of obviously, we've talked about how much you've enjoyed it, but what what skills do you feel you've developed, how that experience has influenced how you now think about your future career? And, and, and sort of wrapping that up is sort of, do you think that it was you know, the right decision and it was all worth it? The cost, the expense and all that kind of thing?

Lottie Jacob: So I actually found that doing the Masters helped me prepare for like the day to day stuff, my work day, balancing multiple deadlines at once is one big thing as well as time management. As an undergrad, I was a bit fast and loose with my time, I would just sort of do things as I please and then have to cram last minute to get that fit in. But with post grad, you know, you've got a lot going on, you kind of have to be keeping on top of things and if you do have support to help you like you will be reminded about like reading and stuff and the fact that us is that and having that community as well in postgraduate study, you don't no one's gonna like not remind you about the reading if you've forgotten to do it, in that sense, but um, so doing doing the Masters helped me prepared for the work place by giving me far better time management skills than I had in my undergrad. By helping me prepare for these multiple deadlines like you've got different modules on you've got different readings to do. And if you're like me, if you've got a lot of extracurricular stuff going on, you've got to be doing those as well. Also, just I know it does as it says on the tin, but having those extra research skills and the ability to kind of like analyse in depth. quite a quite a broad range of sources with history in that sense, but um, I now feel a lot more like I don't just with my postgrad, I think it helped me to not just accept things, it helped me to think, hang on a minute, is there a way that this can be done better? Like, let me let me see if this is the right way of doing things, and empowering me to, to not just accept the status quo, but to be more active in my role. And I think that's really benefiting me now. In my current job, which is quite dynamic and ever changing as higher education is, so yeah, I think that's quite an it did serve me well, in the sense of preparing me for, for that more more faster paced life rather than my, my very literally undergrad experience looking back on it.

Dan Mason: It probably didn't feel like it at the time...

Lottie Jacob: No, at the time it felt very like, oh God I've got a seminar later on, how am I going to cope, but then now I'm like, I've got meetings here, meetings there, I've got this project to do. But yeah, having the Masters meant it wasn't quite such a shock going into the workplace. I think if I'd gone straight from undergrad into a full time role, I might have really struggled. So having that extra, like almost like training wheels for being being a big grown up, the Masters was for those skills. But um, I just, I can't recommend doing a Masters enough. If you feel like that's the right thing for you. There's ways to make the cost affordable, like I said, doing the extracurricular activities, if you can try and get a part time work at the University as well.

Dan Mason: Obviously doing a history degree, history Masters, it's not, the subject isn't directly related to the job you're doing now. But from from everything you've said there, the skills that you've picked up, they're all relevant. So it's not about necessarily going postgraduate isn't always about going into something directly related to the degree that you've done?

Lottie Jacob: No, that's the nice thing about doing a post grad is that you do, obviously, you're gaining all these skills, and you don't have to I could I could have gone and done a PhD. If I'd wanted to I had the foundation to do that. It gave me the option to say I could go further into academics or I could do use the skills I've gained and go in something completely different. In my case, it was student recruitment and widening participation. But yeah, I wouldn't have I wouldn't be in the position that I am today, with this current job if I didn't, if I hadn't done the Masters and gained those skills, and gotten the experience of working at the university as a mentor or a master, because that is just really set me up. To be honest, for this current space that I'm in today.

Dan Mason: So just finally then, you've talked a little bit about your your advice in terms of the funding? What are the top tips would you give any student who's currently maybe on the fence about doing postgrad study about whether it's right for them? Whether it will benefit their career? What are your thoughts? And what's your advice?

Lottie Jacob: I think don't wait for someone to tell you what to do, like I did. If you're looking at this course and thinking this sounds really interesting, like this sounds like something that could be worthwhile. I would honestly say, I'd push yourself to go for it. Postgraduate study is not the easiest thing is definitely a challenge. But I think it's a worthwhile challenge. And all the development will will be put to good use, you know, it's not the skills aren't going to evaporate after you finished. All these skills aren't there to set you up for the future. And in many cases, it actually ends up opening more doors and closing them. Something else that I think is worth considering is a lot of students feel pressured to step up to the plate and get a masters they see all my friends got a masters and they've got this job. Don't go into postgraduate study unless you genuinely want to do postgraduate study. I think like I said, a lot of people feel pressured to pull up their CV. But it's, it's not fourth year undergrad or fifth year undergrad. In some cases. It's definitely first year postgraduate. It's very, it's very challenging. I'm not gonna mince my words with this. It's not your setup for the skills to do it after having done your undergraduate degree. But unless you feel really passionate about the study that you're going into, unless you feel like you actually care, you're not going to be able to see yourself through like, motivation is absolutely key. And make sure that you're looking at postgraduate study for the right reasons. Because you don't like it's it's a time consuming thing to do. And it's an expensive thing to do. If it's not the like it's it's not something that you just walk yourself into. It's definitely a commitment. I think it's a very positive commitment. And I think you can get a lot of good things out of it. But it is a commitment nonetheless. And I think unless your heart's really in it, it will be a big struggle. So make sure that you're looking at postgraduate study for the right reasons and not just like in my case, I'm if I was speaking to a student now and they said I don't really know what to do next. I would say probably take a year off have some time to think about it. A gap year can be something that's genuinely worthwhile. A lot of my friends ended up taking gap years is one of my friends, my course actually had a 20 year gap year between her own postgraduate study. But it's having that type of way makes you really think about whether this is the right thing for you, because you might end up at the end of the year being chomping at the bit being like, absolutely want to just get started now, but then you might end up having gotten into a different opportunity, a different role, maybe and think, okay, thank God that I kept my options open, I didn't just run into something that would have been quite a heavy thing to have done. So make sure that you're doing it for the right reasons and that you're not just doing it because you feel a bit lost. I know it's it's scary the end of university, but I would say it's not like a one size fits all perfect solution to avoiding going into the workplace. It's definitely something that you have to be motivated to do. And it's definitely something that you've got to feel passionate about. Because otherwise, like I said, it's a lot of work for something for something that you don't like feel feel something for, you know, but yeah, so don't don't feel like it's like a box you have to tick.

Dan Mason: Yeah, absolutely. So very much, it's an incredibly rewarding thing to do. But it's definitely not not an easy option to stay if you haven't got anything else planned sort of thing. Brilliant. Well, Lottie, thanks very much for your time.

Lottie Jacob: Thank you very much for having me. I hope it's been useful for everyone.

Dan Mason: And if that has convinced you that postgraduate study is what you want to do, head over to Prospects.ac.uk, where you'll find loads of advice, and you can search for courses there too. Meanwhile, if you found this episode useful, then listen to more Future You by following us on Spotify, Apple podcasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Or you can go to Prospects.ac.uk/podcasts and listen there, you can also find transcripts of every episode. Finally, you can get in touch with comments, feedback or suggestions by emailing podcast@prospects.ac.uk. That's all for this episode. Thanks again for listening, and I'll speak to you soon.

Note on transcripts

This transcript was produced using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. The audio version is definitive and should be checked before quoting.

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