Seven Habits of Highly Effective Masters Students?
August 10, 2014 1:16 PM   Subscribe

I'll be taking up a place on a taught (distance) masters degree in Inclusion and special educational needs this September at a UK university. I'm keen to try and hit the ground running as well as make the most of the new personal, academic and professional opportunities over the next 36 months and wondered what advice the hive mind has about maximizing the experience both personally, professionally and academically.
posted by Middlemarch to Education (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If networking or doing other things that involve reaching out to strangers: send emails from your .edu address. Increases reply rate.
posted by deludingmyself at 1:23 PM on August 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Professionally - probably best to start tweeting and the like early on, keep you in the loop of whats going on and of research developments/current state of play. Try and retain some kind of life outside.. very hard, exercise and eat well at the least.. and don't live with people who add to your stress! Good luck.
posted by tanktop at 1:40 PM on August 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

A great benefit of the conventional college and grad school experience is the chance to get to know the faculty well, and to get some ideas about things you are interested in or problems you've encountered that are not covered in the curriculum. I'm not sure how that works in your situation, but its worth working on it.
posted by SemiSalt at 2:26 PM on August 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also if you are getting in touch with strangers, you are a 'university researcher' in your introduction. Its not a lie and 'student' can put some people off giving their time to you. Basically be careful about how you introduce yourself.

Think about what you want to do after you graduate, think about the topic for the dissertation I assume you will need to do to get the full Masters award. Think about how modules you select now can tie into your later modules, your choice of dissertation topic and your career. A dissertation should be a calling card to get you a better chance of what you want to do. Be ambitious, start to develop ideas early, talk to tutors and others about picking something useful and relevant.

Make sure you know how to find and access research articles, and how to find articles and books through Interlibrary loans if they aren't in your uni library physically or online.

It sounds like you will be p/t so it may not need saying, but: Turn up for all your lectures. Treat your programme like a job.

Set some regular times for study and stick by them if possible. this can be hard if you have a full time job. The problem with being p/t is it can be quite sapping but once you let yourself off the hook once then you will increase your risk of doing it again. Drop out rates are higher for p/t programmes and for good reason. Consider using the university library for a regular coursework slot if it will be useful for getting you out of the house and letting you focus. This may not be necessary if you are good at focussing but can be helpful in creating good study habits.

Talk to and socialise with your new classmates if it at all possible. Its part of the experience but its also good in expanding on your ideas and thoughts, for picking up on things that let you know more and do better, tips on research etc and for potentially double checking on errors about timetables what assessments are really asking, etc.
posted by biffa at 2:35 PM on August 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Academically: I don't work in this discipline, but it's clear to me that (of the masters students I supervise) the students who regularly schedule meetings with me and send me work are the students who are making the most of their studies. In comparison, the ones who never make contact about their work until the final weeks before the end of the programme have certainly not been making the most of the opportunity to develop their ideas, and to get some proper feedback on their work. Libraries are useful resources, as is the internet, but academic staff are certainly the most useful resources going, since they listen and talk and don't need to be prefaced with long introductions and tables of contents, and can understand questions in a complicated way, and can deliver unexpectedly useful results to ill-formed search queries.

Example: I went to a conference recently and met up with some colleagues who work directly in my area, and over some drinks we started talking about things we're doing, and I found myself talking about the project that one of my MA students is working on. The conversation developed to the extent that I was able to get back to that student with some new insights, ideas and publications for them to pursue, as well as some contacts that they might like to chase up. While I'm happy to do this for any of my supervisees, this is the only one (of the current cohort) who's sent me anything or made any effort to develop their project with a view to wider (academic) interest, so it was the only case I had available to discuss with my colleagues during this (unexpected) informal show-and-tell. I don't feel any great inclination to chase-up other supervisees - I make myself as available as possible, but they need to put in the (minimal) effort to arrange meetings with me and share their work.

The moral: find a supervisor who you're happy to work with and who's happy to work with you, and then recognise that it's your responsibility to keep the supervisor in the picture with your work. They'll probably be more than happy to see that you're making the effort, and be willing to support those efforts. But bear in mind that if you don't feel that you're getting the kind of academic support you want (once you've made the effort to do work and send it, and to set up meetings to discuss it), you can (and should) contact your school's Director of Graduate Studies – they can help advise you with selecting a supervisor in the first place, but they can also help you with switching supervision (if need be). Not all academics are as motivated as each other, but for the most part, so long as you make a point of demonstrating your enthusiasm and commitment, you'll benefit from having the attention of people who can really help take your work to the next level.
posted by Joeruckus at 3:24 PM on August 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

As someone who supervises students, I agree with Joeruckus: schedule regular meetings with your advisor. Submit an intended calendar to him or her and try your best to stick to it.

Avoid studying or writing binges. Start your work early and work on it a little bit every week day. For example, if you have a final paper to hand in in December, start brainstorming ideas and looking up related literature in September.

Related to the last point: ignore the people who pretend they work 16 hours a day. Keep a balanced life and PLAN TIME OFF for yourself. Rest will help you stay focused. (For example, as a professor, I refuse to work past 6pm. I try to take Saturday and Sunday off every week. On the occasions when I ignore these, I end up lacking in concentration and it affects my satisfaction at work.)

Do the readings. Learn how authors structure scholarly arguments in your field.

If possible, get involved with the grad student association as a way to meet peers.
posted by Milau at 5:02 PM on August 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

I did a taught MSc with a dissertation option (which I chose to complete) in a related field recently and have some advice. Take it for what you will, but I did get a Distinction.

*Do *all* the reading. Every. Single. Article. Don't skimp here. Lots of your classmates will skim or skip reading. Don't be tempted. Reading everything is part of what will help you write excellent papers and score well on your exams.

*If there is a supplemental reading list, read everything on it prior to your exams. I spent a month reading every one of about 100 supplemental articles held on reserve in the library, making notes on them, and then condensing the notes into talking points. When it came time to sit exams, I was able to talk fluently about contextualizing research and use names and dates alongside citations. This made *all* the difference.

*Make at least one good friend in your cohort, with whom you feel comfortable studying and talking about research you've read. You will run up against at least one article that seems confusing or bizarre or intriguing, and having a colleague with whom you can discuss your reading is so valuable. It's also good practice for talking analytically about what you've learned.
posted by yellowcandy at 6:14 PM on August 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yellowcandy is completely right about the reading.There will be a lot! But the more you read, the more you will be able to produce work that looks and sounds right, and the more context you will have for your ideas.

I did a distance learning masters, and the main thing with distance learning is doing the work steadily over the year. In my first year I left a lot until the end, and had a bit of a scramble to finish assignments on time. When you're working as well you can't pull all-nighters to get things handed in.
posted by tinkletown at 2:52 AM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks all for the excellent advice! Roll on September ;)
posted by Middlemarch at 12:56 PM on August 12, 2014

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