Once or twice a week I’ve been leaving my desk in the middle of day to swap meetings for manuscripts, reports for the Reformation.
John Amabilino (MA Early Modern History) discusses the pleasures and difficulties of part-time postgraduate study.
For almost two years I’ve been combining a career in communications with early modern history. Once or twice a week I’ve been leaving my desk in the middle of day to swap meetings for manuscripts, reports for the Reformation. How has this worked out? And could part-time study work for you too?
My part-time MA degree in Early Modern History at KCL has made me think differently about my day-to-day life. It’s also allowed me to pursue the niche historical interests which I’ve harboured since undergraduate days, read more widely, and meet fascinating people. Returning to serious study after a gap of several years has been a fantastic experience – but it’s not something to be done without some serious planning.
So what should you consider when applying?
- Plan and apply early: you generally apply for MA courses directly through your chosen institution – this is certainly the case at KCL. Don’t let reassuringly distant application deadlines lull you into applying late though. I actually delayed applying for a year because I’d missed various deadlines for funding support which closed around 6 months before my chosen MA was due to begin. Think seriously about your application during Christmas of the year you want to apply, and plan to apply 4-6 months in advance. Besides anticipating possible funding deadlines and helping to ensure a place on your course, this will also help you:
- Pull together a decent application – remember you’ll probably need supporting references and sample writing too
- Save towards fees/application costs/materials
- Make arrangements in good time with your employer
- Respect your employer: your wages will probably make study possible. As far as my experience goes, I’ve worked full-time in office-based jobs while studying with two different employers, private and public sector. Both have been busy career roles, so lots of notice for planning was essential. Some things to consider:
- I already worked flexible hours, so I made sure to check workplace policies on special and study leave. I found that my current role only allowed study leave for vocational study, but that I could apply for up to 10 days special unpaid leave.
- Remember that returning to study is not a one-way street: does your choice of MA bring benefits to your employer too? E.g. a highly qualified workforce, staff motivation &c.
What to consider when your studies start:
- Enjoy it: you may be studying towards a career change, or to broaden your intellectual horizons, and it’s crucial you give your MA the time it needs. You’ll encounter staid and badly written monographs aplenty and the novelty of being back at school quickly wanes. However, enjoying your course will make the reading and writing more worthwhile, you’ll absorb more, and working into the evening will not seem a chore. If all this fails, remember that you’re investing in yourself and have the rare opportunity to study a subject you love in a world class institution.
- Think of annual leave as study time: as an employed postgraduate, time is your most precious commodity. While your full-time peers may agonise over train fares to archives or the understandable urge to blow the rent money on a nice edition of Umberto Eco’s essays, you are likely to be battling for adequate study/writing time.
- Plan your time in advance –using a digital calendar like Google Calendar or academic Outlook can remove the risk (and angst) of double-booking. Be pragmatic – you’ll be surprised how many of your full time counterparts complain of ‘not having enough time’.
- Think of your annual leave simply as time to study – after the novelty of studying wears off this can be especially tough, but it’s worth the effort when you get your essay feedback
- Plan downtime – I’m not very good at this, but it’s crucial that you also plan time to do something neither work nor study-related.
- Identify ‘humps’: Your end of term essay is likely to demand the greatest concerted writing and reading time. Plan your leave well in advance around these periods of pressure, and start discussing with your course tutor what you’d like to write on around half way through term so there’s no last-minute surprises. Your dissertation is also something you’ll need to consider well in advance – I counted up free days that I had well in advance and planned around this number.
- Know your resources: KCL is not alone in providing access to superb online resources, and offering library hours which cater easily to the part-time student’s needs. Plan to research all available resources and facilities before embarking on your course. This is particularly important for those who have not studied for some time – available resources have multiplied exponentially in the last 10 years or so, and tablet computers make article reading ‘on-the-go’ a doddle. While this could just as easily apply to any student, it’s surprising how many of your peers won’t know they can access x resource or y reference library with their Student ID and password. All of JSTOR and EEBO await, and as a part-time history student these and similar resources will be invaluable. If inductions to libraries etc. are in the middle of the working day, then email the librarian and ask for an evening or weekend session.
- If you don’t live near to college, consider whether remote document supply services, like those operated by the British Library and the National Archives could be helpful. I’ve also found the London Library helpful in borrowing unusual titles, though bear in mind that all of these services entail a (potentially significant) cost.
I hope you’ve found this useful – best of luck with any part-time study you choose to pursue, and please feel free to leave questions or comments below.