There are a few advantages to being a postgrad, and one of the main ones is already having figured out the whole university thing. Whilst adapting to a new university, a new course and even a new city will take time, you’ve got a big advantage over undergraduates, so why not spend that extra time setting up your academic year in the best possible way?
Here are our top five things for postgrads to do in their first academic year.
1. Make Academic Contacts Outside Your Tutors It’s easy as an undergraduate to only interact with the academics that are specifically teaching you, but it’s time to change that. You’re one step closer to becoming their peer, and if you want to go into the area you’re studying (whether academically or otherwise) then contacts are a vital part of that. It’s not all for networking though – talking to people who aren’t the ones teaching you can provide a vital perspective that you might not always get. It’s even better if you can befriend people outside your department – knowing some basic philosophical context, or how social science studies can work can be incredibly useful, even it’s not directly applicable to your course.
2. Look for Relevant Research Groups One thing it’s worth starting to do is attending conferences, and the best way to do this is to look for relevant research groups. Some might have membership requirements, but many will have a public mailing list you can keep an eye on for announcements. Even if you’re not confident enough to present, attending is worthwhile as you’ll learn how they work, and you might just pick up some interesting ideas on the way.
3. Start Building Your Own Reading Lists If you find a topic that interests you, spend some time compiling a mini-reading list. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something you ever follow up on and read, but practising figuring out where to research, and formulating plans on where to begin is a vital skill. Plus, if you keep these all in a notebook, you’ll always have something to reference if you need to work out where to go with a new topic. On a similar note, keep track of what you’ve been reading, as well as the key themes and topics of books. Having a physical list of books you’ve read and want to read, as well as linked references will go a long way towards getting you familiar and entrenched in your subject area.
4. Explore Your Own Interests This is particularly important for taught postgraduates. If something catches your eye in your assigned reading, follow up on it. Exploring your own interests now will help you figure out where your main interests lie, and when it’s time to focus on your thesis, you’ll be well prepared. You don’t have to spend particularly long on this – just noting down interesting points and maybe reading some overview articles is enough to start practising. You don’t have to do it on your own – most academic tutors will be thrilled to discover you’ve been doing this, and will be more than happy to help.
5. Learn to Simplify Try not to get too wrapped up in academic jargon. It’s a useful skill, and one worth knowing, but it’s not the only skill. Try to practise summarising your work in an understandable way. Whether this is writing summaries, or discussing it with friends who aren’t in the same area with you, learning to simplify your subject will increase your understanding of it. If you can’t explain something simply, it may well be that you don’t understand it well enough. While this isn’t always the case, it’s worth being aware of.
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