Wednesday, 22 January 2020

#PostgraduatePressure Navigating the Demands of Postgraduate Study

Dan offers his advice on how to navigate the many demands and challenges of postgraduate study and the ensuing deadlines that come with it.
- Daniel 
The step up from undergraduate to postgraduate study is not a walk in the park. 

However, with the right outlook, attitude, and support, a Postgraduate course can offer you invaluable skills, knowledge, life lessons and memories which will stay with you forever. One aspect of postgraduate study which is particularly challenging is the management of your deadline calendar. 

Having completed an undergraduate degree, most people may have a good system in place for managing their deadlines. However, the postgraduate assessment calendar is a challenge within itself to both plan for and manage over time. Within this blog, I will offer my advice in the form of 3 areas, based on my own experiences, for the management of deadlines and assessments during a postgraduate course. 

1. Planning 

The postgraduate assessment calendar is not a forgiving one and nor are the pieces of coursework and exams within it. To manage these demands, I found planning to be key. For me, planning meant laying the initial groundwork for the 6 weeks building up to a deadline and how I was going to manage my time before then. A method that worked for me was identifying my deadline date and working backwards from there, cliché I know. To do this successfully, I identify any non-movables within those six weeks such as lectures, sports fixtures or work and pencil those in. Next, I would put aside some time each week for myself, whether that be to exercise, go grab a coffee, whatever. This was time that was non-comprisable and gave me some headspace during busy periods. 

Finally, I would assess how much of my time I could give to the deadline each week and create mini-milestones for each week. This gave me something to strive towards and also helped me to structure my day-today tasks/objectives. By doing this not only did I find myself chipping away at the deadline in manageable chunks, but my confidence in my ability to complete the assessment grew week-on-week. Whilst this method came to work for me, I will be honest and say I was really bad at sticking to it the first couple of attempts. I'm happy to admit the time I put aside for myself was always eaten in to and many of my 'non-movables’ went out of the window too. Whilst these methods do work, they take time to adapt to. They need to be individualised to each person when implemented.

If it doesn't work the first time around, then please don't ditch it, just reflect on it and try make it work better for you next time. 

2. Engage in Your Area of Study 

Being told to engage in your studies may seem slightly obvious, especially for postgraduate students who are clearly passionate enough about a certain subject area to carry on their education within it. 

That being said, postgraduate assessments are all about questioning your knowledge and how you apply that knowledge within set parameters. To do this, you must engage thoroughly in your given area of study to an extent that your knowledge is robust, and so is the way in which you operationalise it. 

Of course, spending days on end in the library with late nights and cans of red bull at your desk is not something I am promoting - that is where effective planning will ensure you have the time to engage thoroughly in your work (seems like I have thought this through eh). But having completed an MSc and now a PgDip, I can happily say that engaging in your area of study past lectures and essential reading is something that will benefit your knowledge and subsequently your grades far more than just scratching the surface with the work assigned to you. 

Engaging also doesn't mean just reading more, it can be questioning and reflecting on your own knowledge, interacting with significant academics in your industry online (twitter is great for this) or going to conferences to broaden your knowledge. 

When you are sat trying to type out your essay (other assessment types of course apply), you will be far more prepared to operationalise your knowledge than had you just sat copying out lecture notes. Whilst I am no expert, I found that effective planning and real engagement in my field of study were really beneficial to my successful study at postgraduate level. Were it not for a word limit I feel I could have much more to share from my own experiences with you all, providing anyone wants to read it! 

3. Patience and Self-Compassion

Lastly, I'd like to say that postgraduate study is hard but so rewarding, be patient and self-compassionate and you'll come out better for it!

You can find out more information and support about navigating university life here. 

I'm Dan, a 22-year-old postgraduate student who has been affected by issues with my mental health throughout uni. I’m still learning new things about myself and the higher education experience year on year and would like to share my experiences with others.

Monday, 20 January 2020

Managing Your Wellbeing After Graduation

Having recently graduated, Ross shares seven tips for managing wellbeing after university. 
- - Ross Carver-Carter

Constant rejections, living at home and financial worries are just some of the myriad stressors that can begin to take their toll on graduates mental wellbeing. These are some of the ways I handle the struggles of life after Uni.

Notice signs of self-destruction 

For me, self-destructive behaviour succeeds stress, which in turn triggers depressive episodes. When I am overwhelmed (often financially), I double down and ignore ominous letters building up at the door, or avoid my bank account like the plague. Naturally, this confounds depression and begets more stressors. Try to be self-aware of when you are slipping into an episode of depression, and tackle the things which illicit stress instead of turning a blind eye; in the long term, it only makes the situation more bearable. Setting aside one day a week for sorting out the administration of adulthood can be extremely beneficial. It’s not fun to do, but nothing beats the peace of mind of having your house in order. Importantly, keep track of what’s going into your account, and what’s coming out. It’s harder to be positive once you’re in the negatives.

Small Steps 

Oftentimes, anxiety about job applications and fear of rejections can make the process of applying so daunting that we avoid it altogether. In turn, we often feel guilty about being idle which creates a vicious cycle of inaction and self-loathing; small steps are a good antidote. Don’t expect too much from yourself, but as above, assign time to apply and don’t overdo it. Use these ‘productive days’ effectively to address concerns and try not to let them seep into your day’s off. Creating a space to do this can help you have a healthy detachment between work and leisure, and prevent your bedroom becoming a place of worry. The bedroom can become a base of operation for graduates which has an adverse effect on sleep.

Don’t Compare 

Stalking the social media and LinkedIn accounts of old peers is a bitter-sweet pleasure for grads, but it does nothing to help with depression. It can be easy to lose hours scrolling others success, but social media doesn’t convey the nuance of the achievements we view, and only serves to stoke the flames of insecurity and self-doubt. Focus on yourself, work at your own pace and don’t be disheartened by others success, or for that matter, your own setbacks.

Setbacks, Not Failure 

Speaking of which, rejections are inevitable for the majority of us, and regardless of how many you get, they never seem to get any easier. Failed applications can feel like a comment on our worth, but more than likely are just a result of a competitive job market demanding experience grads do not—and cannot—yet be expected to have. Treat these as setbacks and avoid fatalism; acknowledge the rejection, seek feedback and move on. Keep improving yourself and be your own benchmark.

Self-care and Self-love

This one is important, and it is easy to lose sight of it when we are consumed with anxiety. Sometimes, it really serves to treat yourself, even if that inner voice barks that you don’t deserve it. And this isn’t just face masks and manicures (it’s certainly not retail therapy, though I’m guilty of that), at its most basic level it’s washing the sheets, keeping your room tidy and ensuring that you do not burn out. Nothing is worth your health.

Exercise Regularly

This is a tried and tested way to alleviate depression, whatever the cause. It boosts your mood, helps with sleep and contributes to the wellness of body as well as mind. There’s no need to restate the myriad benefits here, but for me, it can be a lifesaver.

Do What You Love 

This one is tricky. Some people have it all planned out; a roadmap for the future. Others, myself included, are daunted by people asking what we want to be and are still fumbling our way through applications and vague ideas of course-related roles. Firstly, if you are in a transitionary job, see it as temporary and keep working on a side project—be it blogging, music or some other activity you love. Perhaps you can make a career out of these outlets. Find roles that utilise your strengths and play to your personality, ask around to explore career paths and keep learning in your spare time. It’s okay to not have it figured out yet. And perhaps the job you want isn’t on LinkedIn—Freelancing is an option also. Lastly, although not knowing what to do yet is intimidating, it’s exciting also. Try not to forget that and enjoy the ride.

You can find more resources on looking after your mental wellbeing here

I am a Politics and IR graduate navigating the graduate world, one step at a time.