Musings of a Mature Student – Coping with the Holidays!

Written by Anne MA English Literary Studies/Film Studies Pathway student

These deadlines come around fast, don’t they? So, with the industrial action, I find I have more time at home, so being super-organised is more important than ever. The temptation to have a break (as no seminars for a few weeks) is strong, hey, why not ditch the coursework and carry on with the research report/essay/ or whatever needs handing in next?

Well, as tempting as it is, I found a lot more useful information in this week’s reading that will improve my writing no end. After all, good writing depends on good reading…

So, there are several ways to approach writing an essay; in fact, the LSE have some great tips on their website. 

My approach is to get as much done upfront as possible: as a mature student, I can’t pull all-nighters close to deadline, which seems to be a popular choice amongst some of the younger students, aided by heart-attack amounts of red bull and coffee! (Seriously, how do you do it?) ..

 

 

 

 

 

 

Instead, I aim at around four hours a day steady writing, occasionally re-checking my research notes and making sure in-text citations have the correct page number. Then I just slog at it. I usually write my introduction at around 10-20% of the word count, then I write bullets points of what I hope to discover. This helps me stick to my point in the main body of the essay. It doesn’t matter about spelling and grammar at this stage – no point in correcting stuff which may well end up being deleted in the final draft! So, basically, I cobble it together then refine afterwards.  And referencing as I go. Also, remember to do that Turnitin check!

At least, in this way, I have something to submit early on, in case of a catastrophe, which happened to me at Xmas. I was bedridden four days up to deadline, so no, I didn’t write the stellar essay I hoped for, but I did have a finished essay to hand in, proof-read and formatted, checked and refined to a degree.

I have days that I’m sure you can all relate to…you know, where the sentence ‘the cat sat on the mat’ is the brain’s intellectual offering of the day and your head is full of clouds. You feel you cannot read ONE MORE thing and your eyes do that funny flicky from side-to-side thing. I either take a break and close my eyes for 10 mins, go and do something physical, or stop and set a later time in the day (that I have to stick to!) to carry on.

I used to ‘wait for inspiration’ in my undergrad days…that was great when I had 7 months to write 5000 words, (I kid you not), but I found it a shock to have to do the same in 3 weeks….so something had to change. I got far more disciplined, and when I wrote out my timetable for the Xmas break, it actually looked not only do-able but easily so.

Other things I do to stay organised:

Cooking: I plan a week’s worth of food, make out a menu, and spend a day making meals so that I don’t have to waste time wondering each day what I’m going to eat and then have to do needless shopping trips. As it’s a 40 min round trip walking to the shops where I live, this saves me A LOT of time.

Work: Yes, I have to work to support myself, so I make sure that my reading/writing schedule is lighter on those evenings, and make sure I get early starts on the days I’m not at work. It’s so easy to procrastinate at home and to get side-tracked. It’s not so bad for me as I have no dependants, but I still have to stay disciplined and not decide that hoovering the lounge is suddenly the most fascinating thing ever!

Delegate: I don’t like to ask anyone to do stuff for me, but since asking my sister (with whom I live) to take up the slack from some household/laundry/shopping chores, I find that I have more time. I have discovered that non-University family members can sometimes find it hard to believe that when you’re staring into space, you are actually working! I have also had to be firm about Do Not Disturb – it’s easy for someone to distract you and lose your train of thought. I shut my office door and have a sign on the handle. Family members can’t be expected to remember that you’re still working on the same thing two hours later!

Socialise: I make time to meet up with a friend, have a night out, and not spend the time worrying or feeling guilty, because I have scheduled it into my calendar. A good night out and having some fun does wonders for creativity!

It’s about pacing yourself, and realising that when you’re shattered/exhausted, you need to stop. Look after yourself, and your health. Be nice to yourself – you’ve come this far, you’re awesome! Sometimes you just need to remind yourself of just that. Get some sleep. Tomorrow is another day, and aren’t we lucky to see it?

The Postgraduate life: Managing study and managing your routine

Written by Emma Anderson MA Creativity student

When I made the choice to carry on with my studies by taking on a postgraduate degree, I was left contemplating how an MA schedule would affect by routine. I also questioned how it would fit in around my current job. Funding for an MA can be covered by a government loan, but maintenance loans were scraped for postgraduate students about a year ago. I decided to work part-time and study part-time to remedy this. This way I could ensure that I would have the time to do my MA justice. However, many of my friends have managed to work part-time and study an MA full-time under more stressful time restraints. Still, I was pleased with the choice I made to go part-time while studying an MA in Creativity. An MA offers so many routes for growth and expansion that are not part of the required reading list or contact hours. In this blog, I hope to explain what life is like for a part-time MA student so that others might better be able to decide what pace they want to work at during further study.

How long can I expect to be on campus?
I can be on campus anywhere between two and four days a week. This means that my part-time job needs to be flexible to suit my requirements. It also means I need to constantly be updating my employer with any schedule changes. One thing is always certain though: weekends are university free! So, I try and keep a minimum of half my weekdays for academia and weekends free for work shifts. I also find that sometimes I end up being on campus from eight thirty in the morning until six in the evening whilst sometimes I only have a short two-hour workshop. I often extend days like this (when I also won’t be going into work) by doing some core reading in the Queens café or organising a meeting with my project team for an hour or so. Trying to be conservative with time by keeping days on campus dedicated to academia can help balance the time divided between study and making money.

Which jobs work well with study?
I work part-time as a supervisor for a high street store whilst also finding time to write blogs as a Social Media Ambassador for the University of Exeter whenever I can. I have friends who work in hospitality, friends with jobs in bars, and friends with jobs in the cultural heritage sector who all manage to study an MA alongside their profession. The beauty of postgraduate study is the flexibility that comes with it. You are responsible for managing your time and making sure that you catch up with everyone that you work with. This means that every week can vary hugely, including the amount of time you put into each component of your life. Sometimes I find myself working on a module project for three full days straight. At other times I can take on some overtime at work and write an extra blog or two for spare cash. If your job can handle this kind of variation the choice to study part-time or full-time is totally yours.

How much of your time is spent on university timetabled activities?
One of my favourite things about studying an MA in Creativity: Innovation and Business Strategy is the time I can spend networking in social circles I would normally never be able to. I have had the privilege of conversing with experts in their field. Completing an MA is about taking on available opportunities and not just the compulsory content. In my case I enjoy participating in all available excursions and work placement opportunities. I spend additional time improving my CV and making new LinkedIn connections to improve my career prospects. Even taking the time to discuss business collaborations with a course mate over a drink at Wetherspoons is all part of preparing for my life beyond academia and beyond my course. Extra-curricular attendance needs to be embraced with a greater enthusiasm in further study. Considering this when deciding how to divide your time is hugely important to the level of success you strive for.

How much free time can I expect?
I thrive off a busy schedule which is why the opportunities that go alongside with studying at university suit me. However, I still find myself needing some time for TLC like anyone else. By managing my time and sticking to a schedule I usually manage to free up time in the evenings to spend with friends and family. There is always more work that could be done but studying at postgraduate level involves finding healthy ways to balance your time between doing some further reading and watching that new Netflix series everyone has been raving about. A measure of control, restraint, and organisation is vital for all students. This is taken up a notch with the flexibility of an MA. Studying part-time will always permit more freedom in terms of free time but you should still be finding yourself as busy as a full-time student if you are using that freedom wisely.

Do you ever feel left out of major projects as a part-time student?
My entire MA group are extremely supportive and work inclusively. We consistently aim to utilise each other’s diverse range of talents and skills. As a result, I have never felt excluded by my status as a part-timer. I have at times found myself excitedly anticipating a module I will be completing in the next academic year which my full-time course mates positively feedback on. If anything, I feel part-time study has given me the advantage of witnessing my course mates’ successes and progress which has aided in my gradual advancements. I also consider myself incredibly lucky in the fact that I will be a part of two academic cohorts of talented individuals with whom I can ideate and creative problem-solve. I have the capacity to bounce my business propositions off a wider variety of aspiring entrepreneurs which can only ever benefit my creative visions. I would imagine that completing a full-time course is much the same, but with a higher intensity work ethic and a greater need to rely on your current workmates.

Whatever your choice, time management is the key to adapting to your new lifestyle pace. Adopt as much as you possibly can into your new routine and relish all the potential that life at the University of Exeter has to offer its students.