As I sit here writing this post I can feel the warm rays of the sun coming from a nearby window, and I’m just marveling at the fact that it’s already May! I feel like it’s just snuck up on us! This month will forever be associated with deadlines and coursework as it is just as hectic of a time for a Master’s student as it is for those working on their Bachelor’s degrees. We’ve officially got four months to go until our dissertations are bound and handed in, so, as you can imagine, the air is very tense at the moment. As a part-time student, however, I can’t deny that I am at an advantage. I’m in my final year now, so I’ve been able to fine-tune tips and strategies to make the most out of my revision time. My previous strategy of combing through everything, line-by-line, left me wasting hours on reading that wasn’t specifically relevant to my research. My personal tutor advised me to instead start by reading the abstract, introduction and conclusion of articles, etc., in order to determine their value in relation to my research, and then proceed with reading the entire piece of work if I thought it would benefit my argument. Sounds pretty intuitive right? Sometimes when we’re stressed it’s hard to think with common sense, so I’m glad she spelled it out for me! My dissertation supervisor has also pushed me to think systematically, which is really important. I naturally think creatively, so I often focus on the bigger picture when conducting research, which can be good, but can also cause me to miss important details as I go along. Instead, I now try to focus on each section of my work in and of itself. This has allowed me to better build the subdivisions of my research, and work on tying up any lose ends once I’ve finished a first draft. If you’re a bit stubborn like me and can’t get out of your head, try jotting down notes for your other sections as you research, complete with links and references to material you stumble upon, so you can better concentrate on the subsection you’re dealing with, safe in the comfort that your good (but momentarily irrelevant) ideas aren’t lost.
Advice on how to cut time while still researching efficiently is useful to any student, but these tips were especially useful to me as I also work 32 hours a week. I’ve discussed balancing education and employment in previous blog posts, but I’d like to stress for any new readers that it can be challenging. My best advice is to know, but more importantly accept, your limits. Between uni and work, I’ve gone weeks without a day off, so in order to get the most out of my time I do my best to get a hold of my rota as far in advance as possible, so I can coordinate my days off/early shifts with my deadlines. It’s hard to motivate yourself when you feel a bit overwhelmed with deadlines and coursework, so just do your best to remember that you will feel much better if you allow yourself to break up your workload rather than leave it to the last minute.
When it comes to efficient study, one thing that is sometimes over looked is allowing yourself a break. Again, I’ve mentioned this before, but I can’t stress it enough! I’ve had my fair share of times when I’ve let my academic and occupational responsibilities get the best of me, and my body has never failed to let me know when I’ve pushed myself too far. It’s so important to give yourself some time to be social or to immerse yourself in a hobby that isn’t uni or work related. The one thing I’ve found to truly help me relax is going to gigs. It’s something I’ve been doing since I was fifteen, but ten years on I’ve realised that I rely on them now more than ever. The energy at a gig is incredible, and the best part is that the moment the music comes on you can’t help but forget about the fact that you have a deadline in a week or work in the morning, because the music is so loud and you’re so distracted by hearing your favourite songs that you’re forced to live in the moment! It’s not the cheapest hobby in the world, but I’d recommend it to anyone who’s feeling the pressure of student life!
As for prospective students, I’d recommend taking this time to slowly familiarize yourself with the topic you’ve chosen to study. Build relationships with published work in your field and find specific topics you’re interested in. Start asking yourself how you think this degree can impact your life, and likewise, how you think having this degree can impact the world. Getting yourself in this frame of mind will help you choose topics for research and allow you to hone in on an aspect of your area of study that you can expand on in your dissertation.
Until next time!