Postgraduate Masters Study: The UK Lowdown

Whether you’re upgrading from being an undergraduate student to a postgraduate at the same university or starting afresh in a new place this transition is always going to be an adjustment. The various individuals and offices you have to contend with suddenly and quite bafflingly multiplies when you reach postgraduate level!

However this is actually a blessing in disguise because you have a much more focused individual support system for your studies. Here we’ve decoded the titles you may come across in your time as a master’s student in the UK and their role as regards you, so you will know exactly who to seek out should the need arise! Academic roles may vary from university to university, but this UK lowdown should give you the general gist.




Course Unit Tutors  – they are in charge of individual papers within the course, and will be the ones who organise seminars, mark written work and schedule individual/group tutorials while you are studying the unit.

Dissertation Supervisor  – this is the lucky person who gets to guide you through the trials and tribulations of dissertation writing. You will be assigned to a supervisor once you have decided on your dissertation topic, so you are matched with the academic with the most expertise on the subject. Bear in mind that you are not allowed to hammer on their door at all hours citing a meltdown as your excuse!

Personal Tutor  – the person assigned to be in charge of your academic and personal wellbeing. They are your first port of call for guidance on work issues, such as option choices and dissertation subjects, and also for personal problems, for which they can put you in touch with the relevant support if needs be. They will check in with you throughout the year and their door is always open if you need them.

Postgraduate Tutor  – this position tends to exist if there are multiple master’s programs within one department, and has responsibility for the welfare of all postgrads in the faculty. It is likely that you will only meet with them if you have a specific issue to discuss.

Program Leader  – the academic in overall charge of the course. They generally lead induction activities at the beginning of the course and are present at any key points throughout the year that involve the course as a whole.


Accommodation Office  – finding a place to live can be a ’mare, especially in an unfamiliar city, but the  accommodation  office will sort you out with a room in halls or failing that help you with finding a house.

Careers Service  – an important source for those intending to leave the world of academia after their master’s for the “real world”. The  Careers Service  runs careers fairs, provide interview practice, CV writing workshops and information sessions with employers. You can also book in for an individual appointment with a member of the service for tailored advice.

Counselling Service  – all universities provide this service as a  support for students  who feel they cannot cope with their academic or personal problems alone. All counsellors are trained and will give support through listening and help with strategies to deal with the issues or suggest further support if necessary. The service is free and completely confidential. Outside the university there are further counselling bodies such as Nightline, FRANK and the Samaritans.

Disability Service  – a vital support for those who need it, the service works with the relevant academic department to ensure students are able to gain full access to facilities. It is advisable to get in touch with the university service before applying to find out exactly how your needs will be met. 

Doctor  – your university will probably be linked to a local GP and will give you details of how to register as part of your induction. 

Hospital  – it’s probably worth having the number of your nearest hospital in your phone just in case...

IT Office  – a godsend for those of us lacking a techno gene... for all your computer related woes.
Libraries – either there will be several according to faculty or a central university library that is divided to sections. Obviously this is the key  learning resource , and check if it has an interlibrary loan service – this allows you to access books from other universities in the UK and abroad by temporarily sending them to your university library. Don’t forget your city/town itself will also have a public library.

Safety Bus  – several universities operate this service, though the name may alter according to location. It transports students home from the city centre after dark, and is often run by the Student Union (see below).

Student Union  – every university has one and it provides comprehensive welfare facilities for students as well as acting as a social hub. Many have a specific postgrad office. You are automatically made a member when you register as a student of the university. 

Study Support  – provides specific training in study skills, such as IT or essay writing, although a postgrad is unlikely to need these services! The study support service also provides testing for learning difficulties and guidance on how to study with individual needs.


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