Masters now what
January 8, 2019 4:03 AM   Subscribe

I have finished and submitted my final masters project in the last month... but now what?

Folks, I feel like I'm on a come down since the end of December when I submitted my MA thesis (subject area: the internet). I'm quite proud of the work I did, and it is my very first foray into tertiary education - I am very happy that one day soon I will have a degree!

However I feel like something is a) now totally missing intellectually, and b) I have no idea how to leverage this experience into my life. The good news is I have a work contract for the next six months in a tangentially related area.

My questions are firstly how did you fill the void after a long period of intense project work, and what are some steps I can take to use this effort for good? Update my CV? Start a new project? Cry in a corner for the next three months? How does one even start to think of a PhD? I would love to hear about your experiences. To be honest I feel massively anxious without having this anchor in my life.
posted by teststrip to Education (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Firstly, congratulations, you have achieved something truly momentous! Completing a dissertation is a grand achievement.

Secondly, it’s a bit like the end of a really intense relationship: you need to stop, take stock of your life, and find the space to live without it! Rest!

You say you have work in an adjacent field, so knocking out a new CV doesn’t have to be the first priority. Maybe try to turn part of your thesis into an article - Your MA supervisor may have some advice on that. It will allow you to focus your ideas and maybe generate a concept for a PhD, as well as making you a more attractive PhD candidate (and scholarship candidate!) It does sound a bit like you would like to do one, if you’re missing the intellectual challenge.

Remember that a PhD is substantially larger than an MA, and because of the requirements of it being something new to the field, new knowledge, it needs to be simultaneously bigger in scope and tighter in focus than an MA. It can be done, though. I did mine in the Australian system, which is similar to the UK but doesn’t have the viva element, but I have a number of colleagues who have been through the UK system and survived so I reckon you’ll be fine. Your supervisor or another trusted member of staff can give you pointers on where to go and who to talk to.

I will say that a PhD is a huge, terrifying, alienating, and frustrating experience. You will experience all of the emotions, you will hate the process, the university, the supervisory team, the student cohort, yourself, and the work at one time or another during the process. You will also spend equal amounts of time thinking (and saying out loud) “Who wrote this? Did I write this? I AM A MORON!” and “Who wrote this? Did I write this? I AM A GENIUS!” Which is fun if you like that sort of thing. (Hint: I like that sort of thing).

Realistically, though: you did the thing, you have a job related to the thing, and that is a fantastic outcome. You can set this up as a base for a work career, or an academic one. Give yourself the chance to breathe a bit, to plan your next step. Particularly with a PhD, you have to know why you want to do it. What do you want to know? Why do you want to know it? Do you want to tell other people about it? Are those people students, or researchers, or the general public (or some combination of the three?)

I’m blathering on a bit, so feel free to memail with specific questions if you like...
posted by prismatic7 at 5:02 AM on January 8 [4 favorites]

I'll second @prismatic7's caveat that a PhD is a huge and often frustrating experience, and it's definitely a marathon and not a sprint.

It sounds odd, but if you do decide to go for a PhD, make sure before starting that you have a clear and real answers for "Why am I getting a PhD?" and the related "What do I hope to gain from a PhD?" Because you'll need those answers to carry you through the times when the PhD is hard and difficult, and the outcome isn't clear. It's also a process that's supposed to tear you down a bit and make you doubt, and see how you deal with things when nobody knows the answers (because you are supposed to be the pioneer).

I knew all sorts of people in grad school that didn't have good answers to those, like "I went into the PhD program because I didn't know what do after my Masters", and it almost inevitably didn't end well.
posted by kaszeta at 6:02 AM on January 8 [3 favorites]

Congrats on finishing! That's huge.

Post-project letdown is definitely a thing. I second prismatic7's advice to take a breather for a bit. It sounds like you have work responsibilities right now, but can you take some time to travel, even locally, for a few days or a week?
posted by basalganglia at 9:14 AM on January 8

If the end of the project has left you with a sudden energy&time surplus and you're just asking for a direction to funnel it, then yes, absolutely 100% update your CV. Write things down while you're feeling like a champion.

About the big picture and PhD as a next step, consider why you decided to get your Master's. If there was a goal other than "framed diploma on the wall" or "tertiary education is good" then now's a great time to think about that success. If the degree was for a better salary, start applying for promotion; if it was for higher status, start looking at conferences or places to present; if it was for learning info/skills essential to your job/career, rewrite your resume focused on how those skills make you awesome. (If it wasn't for a particular purpose, and now you're trying to retcon meaning onto it and coming up short, then all is not lost, you'll find meaning - but 100% absolutely do not do a PhD or you will be in this exact position in another few years just with a fancier degree and flimsier excuses)
posted by aimedwander at 10:30 AM on January 8

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