Thursday, March 12, 2015

Life as a postgraduate student

I recently interviewed a variety of postgraduate students to really get a better understanding of their thoughts about postgraduate study. Why they chose to continue studying after their undergraduate degree and what their motivations are. I wanted to share this interview with you all, I think if postgraduate study is something that you're considering then hopefully this insight will help you. 

So, we interviewed Hannah Dugdale a Liverpool John Moores postgraduate student. 

What course are you studying?
PhD in Molecular and Cellular Physiology (Sports Science)

What is it like being a postgraduate student?
Honestly, I don’t know how to answer this, I’m still fundamentally the same person I was before I started and hopefully will be when I finished, just with more knowledge, confidence and career prospects. You make your postgraduate study your own, don’t try and replicate someone else’s its not worth it.  

What is your work load like? How does this differ from undergraduate study?
Try imagining the last few weeks writing up your dissertation for you undergrad: the stress; the work load; the pressure to complete mixed with the enjoyment of collecting data, I would say most days feel like that. Except with even more bullet points on your to do list. 

What advice would you give someone who is interested in postgraduate study?
As you will no doubt hear from many postgraduates, make sure you enjoy your project, if you don’t the next three years (or more) will be an uphill battle. I would also say, and this may be easier said than done, try to get an idea of the people you will be working with before you agree on the project, if you don’t get on with your supervisor and the way they work, life can become very difficult for you. Yes it’s a personal project but you will need guidance along the way, besides who wants to work with people they don’t like?

How different is being a postgraduate student to being an undergraduate student?
Well for starters you have just climbed the hierarchical ladder of university and for some reason you are no longer considered the naive undergrad, regardless of whether that’s what you were or not, or if that’s what you still are. So now if you make mistakes or have no clue what you are doing there’s nothing to blame it on, you are responsible for your own learning, no longer can you say that lecture is rubbish we learnt nothing. You know nothing; it’s your fault, even if you were only an undergrad 2 weeks ago!!

How did you fund your postgraduate course?
Now there’s a question, I received a bursary for my first year fees from the university because I achieved a first during my Undergraduate degree.  My supervisor was awarded a grant for the first year of my research from the Physiological society, which my university subsequently match-funded to cover second and third year research expenses. Additional to this they agreed to pay half of my fees for years two and three. I have received generous grants from the Foundation of Joanna Scott and The Sidney Perry Foundation and have a applied for a few more (fingers crossed). I work as a student advocate for the University and I tutor GCSE student in Science and Mathematics.

What made you do a PG Course?
Originally, because I saw education like a computer game and the only way I was going to leave it was to complete the final level. The closer I got to achieving this ambition, the more I realised, I enjoy it and I love learning new things. As one of my supervisors reminded me early on in my PhD, during your research you could be the first person in the world to see this image or that result and there are few things that feel better than when your plan finally comes together and you find what you were looking for.

Did you attend any fairs prior to applying for postgraduate study?
No, I was lucky that I met my supervisor when I was at my first institution, but I definitely think if that wasn’t the case I would have done so.

What is the application process like?
As I am classed as self funded, I had to submit a proposal to my potential supervisors and they chose to take me on for this project. I then completed a Skype interview in order to make sure we were on the same page and I knew what I was taking on.

What would you say is the hardest thing about postgraduate study?
For me personally, the funding is very difficult, not being sure you will be able to pay the rent next month is scary, but lots of people go through this regardless of being a postgraduate or not. I think specifically for postgraduate study, the hardest part is having so many things to do. Even if you have a productive day you will still feel behind, “I haven’t read enough, I haven’t written enough, I haven’t completed enough data collection”

Do you find social media a useful source whilst on your postgraduate course?
Massively, it can be hard to keep up to date with all the latest publications sometimes and having leading scientist in my field on twitter is brilliant because they tend to tweet when they have a new paper or may just provide links to interesting new papers in your area. Plus people start to know your name, even if they haven’t met you, much easier to talk to new people if you already have an idea of their background.

Do you think that social media is a good way to job search?
I would say its definitely something to consider, people advertise new PhD and post-grad jobs on social media and I think you can begin to build up an initial opinion on whether or not you would like to work with certain people, but you need to use all resources available to you to get what you really want. 

If you found this article useful and would like to attend a postgraduate fair to learn more, go to for all the details you need on our upcoming fairs.

If you have any questions why not find us on Twitter?

By Roxanne Chand