Setting your sights – the importance of setting goals in postgraduate study

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The importance of setting goals: Whether you do it in an informal, personal way or in a structured, networked fashion, goal setting is vital when undertaking a postgraduate programme. If you want to stay on top of your studies, identifying measurable targets and tracking your progress will help you get there.

While you will likely have chosen your postgraduate course with a career objective in mind, it is helpful to identify and manage your goals consistently. Make sure you keep your overarching objective in sight (e.g. my postgraduate qualification will enable me to pivot from a career in operations to a career in management) but break it down into more manageable and trackable chucks on a day to day basis.

Long-term goals

By keeping an eye on the horizon, and what you’re ultimately trying to achieve, you are more likely to stay focused when things get tough. It’s not hard to be thrown off track by unexpected pressures and events. Considering that many postgraduate courses are delivered over the course of a year, your timeframe is always less than you think. When taking into account breaks, projects, deadlines, and external commitments, as it will be amazing how quickly that time goes. Ultimately, maintaining this perspective will help you in delivering a high standard of work which is reflective of your full potential.

Short-term goals

Essentially, the function of setting shorter term objectives is to allow you to break down your strategic objective into manageable portions. Maybe you want to master a particular component of Excel or a new CMS before the end of the current semester. This reduces your goal time to a matter of months so now you can take steps to achieve that, and engage with lecturers and course facilitators to gain the knowledge you need. It can also help if you ‘buddy’ with a fellow student on your course, as you can provide mutual motivation in terms of setting and reaching goals.

Be realistic

No matter what goal you set yourself, whether it be short or long term, it needs to have a set of characteristics in order for you to be successful. Firstly, you need to make sure it is achievable and that it’s within your reach. There is nothing more demotivating then establishing a goal for yourself that you soon realise you are not capable of reaching. Make sure it’s measurable too so that you know when you have achieved it. Also, you must set a deadline which is feasible for you to stick to.

Track your success

Write down what you’re trying to achieve but keep it flexible; it’s only natural that things might change. Give yourself some incentive or reward for achieving each short-term goal. Yes, this may sound clichéd but ultimately this does help you in moving forward toward the next goal or challenge.

Part of the process lies in embracing the unexpected. Along the way, you will need to deal with challenges. These can come in various shapes and sizes, from extra family or work pressures to extra course work or meetings, all of which can constrain what is already a very limited amount of time. So how do you take steps to deal with these setbacks? You need to prioritise. Don’t be afraid to explain to colleagues and friends that at certain times that your studies need to take priority. Make sure you manage or tweak your own schedule to ensure that you have the time you need when you need it.

Be kind to yourself

While goals are hugely beneficial in terms of structuring the process of your postgraduate study, they are not the be all and end all. If you fail to achieve each and every one, don’t be too hard on yourself. You can reset and move on to the next challenge. At the end of the day, it may be necessary to sacrifice one particular goal in order to achieve another one which you have identified as more important.


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