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I want to do a Manhattan Project on obtaining a post-grad degree.Advice?
December 28, 2013 5:06 PM   Subscribe

Hello, Is there a formula for thriving at post-grad level with a reputable degree?

I graduated from university as a mature student in 2012. I would like to do a post-grad qualification. I got AAB (I was 0.5% off the third A grade) at A-level, which I did a bit of research about and found out that puts me in the top 11% of the approx. 50% of the population who take A-levels. A third of students get a first on the undergrad degree course that I did but I wasn't able to do so.

I feel I should be capable of doing better but there are many elements of higher education that really throw me. First off, there's the drawn out presentation and literary style that's everywhere. Everything's made needlessly painful with annoying psychological observations.

Then there's the fact that often the explanations given aren't designed to make concepts easier to understand, rather they're gristle for the mill of studying for extended periods of time.

I don't want to whinge but I'd like to brainstorm ideas for really thriving at post-grad level. Are there any courses which are good, will make me employable, but which can be hacked in a Timothy Feriss style to get world class results without sweating blood?

My undergraduate degree was in Economics with Chinese Studies. I like Chinese but I don't want to do Maths at post-grad level as I am a mature student and my mental arithmetic is rusty.

Some questions I'd like advice on, please:

-What's the difference between undergrad and postgrad, e.g. in terms of tuition hours, difficulty of the work, total study hours?
-Is note-taking even more difficult in post-grad? Note-taking from reading was really my Achille's heel in my first degree as I often felt I didn't really understand the concepts well enough to come up with a concise yet accurate summary.
-What skills should I master to give me the edge in studying at post-grad? I'm thinking of things like speed reading, self-hypnosis, etc.
-How do I get less bothered by hostile literary styles?
-Could someone suggest a strategy for me to find mentors who have done a course before me?

Thanks for any help with this.
posted by Musashi Daryl to Education (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Note-taking from reading was really my Achille's heel in my first degree as I often felt I didn't really understand the concepts well enough to come up with a concise yet accurate summary

A key skill at pg level (and beyond) is reflection, which is relevant to this. One element of this is to force yourself to identify and engage with concepts you are unsure about and then force yourself to learn them to a sufficient level. Even PhD students have to be forced to do this, it's very easy to skate over something and tell yourself you know it when you need to dig into it, it's the academic equivalent of the Mefi trope for getting fish where 3 is ???? and 4 is profit! That is you don't skip the notes because you don't know the material well enough, you make the notes so you force yourself to learn the material. The less capable you feel you are too make the notes the more need there is to make them.

Other key skills: treat it like a job. Attend every meeting (lecture). Never be late. Start work on assignments when you get them not shortly before the hand-in. Cultivate a good relationship with classmates and teaching staff, the latter by asking questions during and after class. M level students do not tend to hang around so getting one as a mentor is not straightforward. Two possibilities. (1) search through LinkedIn for alumni, there might be specific alum pages for your institution where you could find someone to approach. (2) check your dept website for current PhDs, some may have done your masters programme.


Never mention your A levels again.
posted by biffa at 5:39 PM on December 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Do you need an MA? It is a cost financially and time wise. In my experience (as an MA student and now as a professor with a PhD) a lot of these MA programs are either money generators for the University or an expensive means to get a salary promotion in an existing job.
posted by k8t at 5:43 PM on December 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


How do I get less bothered by hostile literary styles?

I don't know what you mean by hostile literary styles, and maybe other people don't either.

How much work, money, and level of difficulty is going to depend hugely on the field and the program.
posted by rtha at 5:50 PM on December 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


In my experience, one shouldn't do a post-grad degree until they are clear on what they plan to study and why. It isn't clear from your post that you have an idea of what you want to study, nor is it clear why you want to continue your education (job? self-improvement? something to do with your time?). Those things will help you clarify and focus, which will, in turn, help with some of your "life-hacking" questions. For example:

1. The difference (at least in the US) between an undergrad and graduate degree is massive. It is a deep focus on a single subject versus a broader education. The time and effort is up to you, but most people in graduate programs are at the top of the class and want to be where they are. This obviously varies by person, but most people are very hard workers and are invested in their education.

2. You think undergrad courses were bad about "being needlessly painful with annoying psychological observations"? Graduate school is a veritable cesspool of intellectual masturbation and people waxing on their own ideas ad nauseum. If that bothers you, then you need to be absolutely sure of why you there int he first place.

3. Grad school is not something to be hacked, but rather commitment to ideas that you want to know more about. If you are looking for an easy way to be a better job candidate, then grad school is not necessarily your best choice.

I'd really invest some time in figuring out your motivations rather than trying (before you've even applied, it appears) how to hack something you can't give a good reason for wanting.
posted by mrfuga0 at 6:01 PM on December 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


The very act of imagining all post-grad degrees at all institutions to be generalizable strikes me as a huge red flag. They simply aren't, echoing rtha's last line. No one will be able to give you useful advice because of how vague your question is.

I have to admit, based on what you've written, I'm glad that you're not one of my graduate students. Any graduate student who wants to passionlessly get by on as little work as possible will not do the kind of grueling (but ultimately satisfying, in my experience), in-depth work that it entails.
posted by umbĂș at 6:10 PM on December 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


the explanations given aren't designed to make concepts easier to understand, rather they're gristle for the mill of studying for extended periods of time.

The thing is that the point of the classes you were taking was to give you a deep understanding of the concepts at the field on a level much deeper and more detailed than how you would use them in day to day life. That's not a criticism of the system-- that's the important part!

I think you might thrive more in a working environment than in graduate school, at least for the time being. Degrees in Economics and Chinese sound like things that would make you highly desirable in the job market. Why don't you start working first and then see what postgraduate programs you would benefit from?
posted by deanc at 6:24 PM on December 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I feel I should be capable of doing better but there are many elements of higher education that really throw me. First off, there's the drawn out presentation and literary style that's everywhere. Everything's made needlessly painful with annoying psychological observations.

Then there's the fact that often the explanations given aren't designed to make concepts easier to understand, rather they're gristle for the mill of studying for extended periods of time.


This stuff is discipline-dependant, but if you enter an academic discipline which deals with language in this way, you're going to have to suck it up or fail out.

Based on what you've presented, you're not really ready for grad-school yet, I'm afraid. In my opinion as someone who went to grad school but wasn't really ready for it.

I strongly suggest you go out into the real world for a while, and make a life, rather than grad school, which is preparation for making a life. There are many miserable grad students in academia. If you go in with no plan and no passion, you will be one of them.

You may want to keep your hand in, intellectually, by reading non-fiction in english and chinese (including difficult texts) and writing short essays, in order to keep your intellectual skills sharp.

Once you discover something you're passionate about, then go back to school for it, but not before that.
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:38 PM on December 28, 2013


This is a really strange question to me. A lot of your questions, in aggregate, seem to boil down to: "How do I become learned with the minimum amount of learning?" And it really doesn't work like that. As mentioned up thread, some of this is campus/field dependent, but I have a Ph.D., work at a highly-respected university, and have friends in a number of fields (social sci, engineering, humanities, physical sci,) so I'll generalize as much as possible to academic (not professional) US postgraduate degrees.

>-What's the difference between undergrad and postgrad, e.g. in terms of tuition hours, difficulty of the work, total study hours?

You will be in classes with the MOST motivated students you encountered in undergrad, with the HIGHEST academic abilities. The expectations are extremely high, and the expectations for independent work likewise. The number of in-class hours is generally slightly lower, particularly after the first year or two. Out of class work, for me, doubled to quadrupled per credit hour. YMMV.

>-Is note-taking even more difficult in post-grad?

It sounds like you are talking about understanding the reading material and not in-class notes. The breadth and depth of work is much more intense.

>-What skills should I master to give me the edge in studying at post-grad? I'm thinking of things like speed reading, self-hypnosis, etc.

The common threads that seems to link my friends who were very successful were: extreme stubbornness, good frustration tolerance, a strong enough ego to be the dumbest person in the room (after having often been the smartest one their entire lives), passion for their subject matter, and an ability to work well in spite of minimal feedback. And some luck. A certain level of skill is necessary but less correlated with success. I often say that people with advanced degrees are those too dumb to quit (and I am including myself in that group.)

Those features of higher education that you say "throw you" are precisely those that you would be developing intensively. Most jobs that require a higher degree also value this type of thinking. So it sounds like you are considering tying yourself into a career path that is often less secure, which would also be less pleasurable for you. Why are you drawn to a higher degree? As I said before, it's no proof of intelligence.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:36 AM on December 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


Thanks for all your feedback. When I mentioned Timothy Feriss, I was thinking about becoming world class with a reasonable workload, not getting by on the minimum amount of work.

I think I'd like to become an academic eventually, studying the Chinese economy. Something that's just occured to me: is there a UK equivalent of the UniStats website, but for Post-grad study?

I'd like to feel I wasn't defeated by the university system. Fortunately, I've had a massive windfall financially so now I am pretty much a free spirit for the next couple of years. I'd like to take this opportunity to do the aforementioned "Manhattan Project" on my academic career.

I'm thinking that with intensive use of self-help resources (e.g. Richard Nongard's University Reading Course, or Learning Strategies Corporation's Photo-reading- neither of which I've used yet) that I should be able to redeem myself here.

So, is there any advice you could give me about turning each of those weaknesses I mentioned into an equivalent strength?

Thanks for your help.
posted by Musashi Daryl at 6:46 AM on December 31, 2013


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