Gain an Edge – how to keep ahead of the postgraduate study curve

By Kevin Branigan - Last update

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The old adage of ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’ could easily be applied to further study. Postgraduate students are more likely to be working, or undertaking work experience, in addition to their studies. They are, on average, older, perhaps returning to education after a break, which generally equates to more commitments. There’s also that precipitous feeling of being at the beginning once again; postgraduate study marks a new beginning in your academic career, even if it’s building on what you have learned already. This is a new course, a new environment, with new colleagues and new goals to attain.

You should look upon your postgraduate programme as an opportunity to sharpen your career edge, not an extension of student life. Strive to make connections in these new circles, from within and outside your course. The key to making sure you succeed at postgraduate level is choosing the right course and then working hard. Very hard. Impossibly hard! When choosing your course, make sure it is directly applicable to the area in which you want to work. There is much less scope at postgrad level for ‘exploring’ when it comes to your studies. This is your home stretch now and you need to be focused on the finish line.

The Importance of time management

When it comes to keeping up to speed with your workload, you will need to mix time management with the reality of just being ‘time poor’ for large proportions of your postgraduate experience. You’ll also need to factor in a change of pace, because that’s one of the starkest differences for undergrads when it comes to postgraduate study. Whether your further study is taught or research based, a certificate or a PhD, you are expected to take ownership of it.

Try to gain an edge anyway that you can. Familiarise yourself with the area in which you’re studying, get tips from people who have built careers in that area and get to know applicable terminologies, job titles and key players in the market.

Study Skills

Then, think of yourself as an experiment and find a study style that works for you. The ‘cramming’ style that may have got you through your undergrad definitely isn’t the best way to approach a postgrad. Be focused on the end when you’re starting out, write your notes in a way that will make it much easier to revise them. If you see a good YouTube video relevant to the course or a particular lesson-copy the link into your notes. Don’t forget that your postgraduate study, and assignments, is your future professional portfolio that you add to all the time, some elements from your college, others from your own research. Use these steps to build up a bank of reference material that you can readily access for final exams, work experience and of course, job applications.

There’s safety in numbers

While the emphasis is very much on you, don’t be a hermit. Plenty of others on your course are in the same boat. Why not partner up and help each other out-this could be in study, in projects or just in friendly motivation. It’s amazing how well it works and how better prepared you will be if you’re measuring yourself against someone in your peer group. Competition, in a very social form, can be healthy in this context.

Use real-life experiences to hone your knowledge and put the things you have learned to the test in real life scenarios. They could be anything from open-source tech projects or volunteering to manage a charity-based operation for a weekend. Doing things like these enable you to give a real-world application to your skills, both hard and soft; they also give you great opportunities to increase your network, as these sorts of activities are often frequented by senior managers who view CSR as an integral part of their own careers. They value the opportunities to meet postgraduate students in a non-academic setting. Use these insights in your revision notes too.

When it comes to your postgrad always be collating and collecting information and never pass up an opportunity to learn and add something different to your arsenal.

Kevin Branigan

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