Friday, 7 July 2017

Should I stay or should I go? Thoughts on changing institutions for your postgrad

I’m Jennie – I graduated in 2016 with a Theology degree from Durham University, and I’m now a Religious Studies MA student at Lancaster University. This time last year, I was trying to decide where to take my postgrad, after being given offers at Durham, Kent and Lancaster. I was blessed to have a lot of advice and support while I made the decision about where to go, and I’m going to use this little post to spread that advice in case it’s useful to anyone else in a similar position. I suppose it’s all quite obvious, but I was certainly grateful to have people spell it out for me.

On the one hand, there’s a lot to be said for taking the plunge and moving on from your undergrad institution. Whatever you study, odds are it will be a chance to look at new topics from new angles, and to be taught by and with new people with new perspectives. If you’re looking to go down the academic route, then the experience of studying at more than one institution is seen really positively – plus a new university means new networks, which is no bad thing! If you’re not keen to go into academia, there’s no harm in showing prospective employers that you’re happy throwing yourself into different situations and environments. Functional aspects aside, changing location is an exciting chance to live in a new place, meet new people, try new things and expand your horizons. After deciding to leave Durham and hop across the Pennines to Lancaster, I’ve been grateful for all of these things.

On the other hand, there’s a lot to be said for staying put too. My academic advisor at Durham (less than reassuringly) told me that his Masters year was ‘the most stressful year of his life,’ which might have been made easier had he stayed put. A postgraduate degree isn’t easy, and learning to live, study and cope in a new place doesn’t make it any easier. If you’re moving to a brand new place, you’ll need to find somewhere to live, people to be friends with, things to do with your free time (and, in my case, a driving instructor – no easy feat). Maybe some people find those things easier than I do, but I found them quite hard work! I was applying for PhDs at the same time as settling in in Lancaster, so I also had to find referees in my department despite knowing none of the academics, and them not knowing me. I didn’t know how to submit my essays (or how to get them back), I got lost on campus (and getting to campus) more than once, and had to ask for help in the library despite being twenty-two. Staying at Durham would have had its stresses too (most of my best friends all graduated and moved on with me, so it would have been very different!) – but a few things might have been easier.

I should confess at this point that my decision was eventually made for me: Lancaster offered me some funding and Durham didn’t. And I don’t have any regrets about following the money – this is real life, after all. But moving had its pros and cons, and I was glad I was at least slightly ready for both. 
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