How to make the most of all your postgraduate learning resources
Books books books, library library library... that sums up the studying experience of a postgraduate – right? Well no, not necessarily! In the 21st century there is much more to studying than this... so if you were under the impression that life as a master’s student would involve grappling endlessly with dusty tomes in the Spartan surroundings of the university library and befriending the librarian so you’ll at least have someone to talk to, you’ll be thrilled to hear it doesn’t have to be so monotonous.
Although studying can be a solitary existence at times and the next reading list is never far away, once you hit postgrad it’s time to get a little creative with your approach to learning. The fact that you have even more scope than at undergrad to study what you want lends itself to a much more varied programme of accumulating knowledge.
Inevitably books from your closest library are the obvious study option. Pretty much all university libraries will have an online catalogue of every book owned by the university along with its reference number so you know where to find it and whether it’s available – this will save you the infuriating hassle of traipsing all the way to the library to find someone else has already got their mitts on your desired book first! To be honest, university libraries can seem like bewildering rabbit warrens on first sight, but you’ll soon be able to navigate your way round without even thinking about it!
However, unlike in your undergrad degree, where you’re likely to find all the resources you need close to home, at master’s level you’ll almost certainly need to look further afield because your work will be more specialised and you will have a greater say in your chosen subjects within your course. This is where the internet fulfils its beauteous potential; obscure journals appear on your screen with one simple Google search (and, without wanting to state the obvious, printouts of articles are not chained to library shelves– hello change of scene!).
Searching for useful reading matter when you’re not quite sure what’s out there suddenly becomes less daunting with the compendious online databases such as JSTOR and Google Books at your disposal.
DID YOU KNOW? All online databases are free to students. Don’t be deflated if your key article is seemingly held hostage by an academic website demanding a paid subscription – there will be an ‘Are you a student’ section, or something similar, with a drop down menu from which you can select your institution and then proceed as planned.
Don’t just restrict yourself to your university library; if there is a resource you desperately need that is only available on the other side of the world there is a much easier and cheaper option that doesn’t involve shelling out on a plane ticket to Australia! Ladies and gentlemen let me introduce you to the interlibrary loan. Invented by the patron saint of postgrads, this nifty device allows you to access resources from universities across the country and indeed from around the world. Once you’ve selected your source, and discovered it can only be found at the University of Atlanta, get in touch with your university library who can then go through the necessary channels of communication in order to secure it for you. Obviously this takes a bit of time to organise and the loan period may be limited, but it means you no longer have to let a paltry ocean stand in between you and your book! The interlibrary loan system can also be used for primary sources, but in general only if there is a printed transcript of said source as originals are too precious/delicate to travel.
The British Library
The aforementioned godsend is more useful for secondary sources than original manuscripts, but tracking down the latter doesn’t have to be too difficult either. The British Library has a huge collection of primary sources, available to scroll through on its website, and most institutions you can think of in the UK and abroad have archives that you can access on application. Archivists are, on the whole, most accommodating and will know their collections inside out, providing you with the necessary documents should you ask.
Think outside the box!
In terms of other methods of learning, the world is your oyster! Attend talks by interesting people connected to your subject, societies/ social events bringing like minded people together, cultural exhibitions, themed film nights at your local arty cinema, conferences and workshop days. Treat all sorts of opportunities as chances to enhance your knowledge and this will take studying out of the library and refresh your mind by mixing it up a little. It’s all about keeping it interesting!