‘Oh right, so are you planning on going into teaching then?’
If you ever told anyone you’re taking an MA in Literature, you’ve probably heard this before. Undoubtedly, teaching is a natural pathway for those who’ve embarked on a postgraduate course. Academia, however, is not the be-all and end-all for MA students. Whether taken as a stepping-stone towards a PhD; a route towards a certain profession (the publishing sector, for example); or enrolled upon as a means in itself, for the enjoyment of learning, a MA degree can open up a wide array of avenues.
A MA in Literature provides you with a superb arsenal of skills. What are these skills, you may ask? Well, in my mind, the first is research. Following an undergraduate degree, a student will have developed their methods of academic research. A Master’s degree, especially in literature, works to enhance these pre-existing skills. Closely analysing primary texts; scouting secondary materials to develop arguments; exploring theoretical ideas to provide the framework of an essay. An MA helps to stretch these skills of literary scholarship. Not only this, but these methods of research may be applied to many professions outside of the academic world.
Second: organisational skills. To a certain extent, an undergraduate degree necessitates a foundational level of organisation; even for the brightest student, the pub must be traded in for the library during final year! An MA, however, is a step-up in time management. Whether full-time or part-time, you are working at a relatively intense academic level. To keep on top of all the reading, as well as seminars and workshops, takes diligence. Alongside part-time jobs and extracurricular activities, an MA takes meticulous planning!
The most important skill, in my opinion, is independent thinking. An undergraduate degree establishes the foundational skills of critical thinking; you are guided through the various methods and theories of literary scholarship. An MA functions at a higher level. There is an expectation that students have developed their own interests and focusses, and an MA provides the opportunity for those ideas to be pushed and pulled further, and to be communicated eloquently either in seminars or on the page. You advance from a student to a scholar. The clue is in the name!
The English Department at KCL – alongside the general Employment and Careers Service – offer numerous opportunities for students to learn about various career options. This may be in the form of talks from experts (Q+As) or even informal discussions with tutors. Such services are helpful, but I’d also encourage you to speak to your peers! If you moved straight from your undergraduate degree to the MA as I did, you will find other students at your stage with the beginnings of career plans. Discussions may prove illuminating and new careers paths you perhaps hadn’t initially considered prove worthy of exploration. Another great opportunity is to speak to those students who took a break between their undergraduate and MA degrees to do something else. On my particular course, Modern Literature and Culture, people have embarked on a wide array of professions, from publishing to teaching to the intelligence services. They may have some golden advice!
I haven’t heard of many people taking a Master’s in Literature who are in it for the money. Most are there to learn for the enjoyment of learning. An MA does, however, set you up well for many careers. I myself am hoping to explore the charity and publishing sectors related to children’s literature, and will be seeking guidance for shadowing/work experience opportunities during my second semester.
It may seem daunting to think about life beyond a Master’s degree, but if a particular sector interests you, the English Department at KCL are there to help! Even if you’re thinking about teaching!