Advice for Undergrads

Sorry for my absence in the last few weeks, life is insanely busy, and I just haven’t been able to make time for blogging. I’ll have a full #postgradlife up on the weekend, that will hopefully fill in some of what’s been going on. Today though, I wanted to talk a bit about advice.

Yesterday I was asked by one of my supervisors to talk to some Advanced Arts students about what it’s like to be a postgrad, and what advice I had for undergrads who were thinking about going into postgrad study in the humanities and social sciences.

I was one of those undergrads who always knew they wanted to do postgrad, but when I was thinking about advice I wish I’d received, a few key things sprung to mind. I also asked a few of my friends who are further into their HDR journey than I am, because they’ve been around longer and so have more experience. I’m no expert, but I thought some of them might be worth sharing beyond the people who were in the room for the talk.

  • Do your research. What topics excite you? What academics are the experts in this field? Where are they located, and where would be the best for your research? What do you want to achieve out of your postgrad? Do you want to go overseas? These questions all feel super daunting when you’re trying to plan the next step, but actually taking the time to research and consider your options will mean you make the best decision for you, and leave you less likely to be struck down by regret in the future.
  • Step outside your comfort zone. Talk to interesting academics. Attend seminars and lectures that excite you, even if no one wants to go with you. Do your own research on the areas you’re passionate about. Go overseas on exchange or study tours. It’s so easy to get stuck in a rut and decide to just go with what’s easy, but sometimes it’s those uncomfortable experiences that end up being the best, and directing your future area of interest.
  • Don’t lock in a topic too early. You may think you know exactly what you want to study for your postgrad in first year. Great! But don’t spend the next three/four years narrowing yourself to that specialisation so early. Sometimes people do end up studying what they thought they would in first year, but a lot of the time you discover your passion along the way, and the best way to do that is by keeping your options open.
  • Pick a topic you won’t mind hating for a while. Research degrees take a long time. The recommended time for a MPhil in Australia is 2 years, 3 years for a PhD. Most people take longer (particularly in the humanities). There will be a point, no matter how much you love your topic, when you hate it. You won’t want to read about it, or write about it, or talk about it, or even think about it. It’s normal, and it passes, but it’s good to be prepared to hate what you’re doing for a little while.
  • Imposter syndrome is normal. I don’t know ANYONE doing their postgrad who feels like they deserve to be where they are. In fact, I don’t know many academics who live their lives free of the occasional pang of inferiority. It’s all well and good to be told that you wouldn’t have been accepted if you weren’t good enough, but sometimes I find it helps more just to know that pretty much everyone around you also has days where they’re terrified the graduate centre/their supervisors will realise that they’re really just idiots pretending to be researchers, and will be expelled from campus. It won’t happen, and it’s nice to know that everyone feels the same way.
  •  It’s fine to take a year off. Most of my friends went straight from their Honours to their PhDs. I decided to spend a year in Scotland, and then go into a MPhil. It can be really hard to take time off when it means watching all of your friends speeding ahead, but sometimes you just have to ignore what everyone else is doing. Taking a year off was a great decision for me (sometimes I actually wish I’d taken a bit longer), but for some people it would have just distracted them from their goals. You do you, as they say.

I’m sure that the further I get into my research degree, the more advice I’ll have for people considering postgrad in the future. For now, if you have any of your own advice, let me know! (Also, if you have advice for someone in the first few months of their HDR, definitely let me know – advice is ALWAYS welcome).

I’ll be back on the weekend with another postgrad life, and hopefully something non-uni related next week (despite uni being my life right now, it’s nice to occasionally talk about something else).

 

* Stock photo from gettyimages.com.au

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