What to Expect as a Postgraduate Student in the Arts

March 23, 2016 § Leave a comment

If you’re doing a postgraduate arts degree, the chances are that even though you’re enjoying your studies as much as you’d anticipated, life around your degree has thrown up some problems, which may have had an impact on your work or well-being. I certainly have found this, and if you’re currently studying or about to embark on a postgraduate degree (how exciting!), perhaps this column can help you to overcome the hurdles ahead with more grace and ease than I’ve managed in my time! If you’re not doing a postgraduate degree, this could still be a good read in order for you to be there for the postgrad in your life (everybody has one).

Two things have stuck out for me (and negatively impacted me) most while I have been studying for my MA. The first is the fact that people just don’t seem to believe that you actually have work to do when you’re doing a postgraduate arts degree. That’s right, the (irritating and offensive) idea that arts and humanities students just bum around all day doesn’t seem to go away, even when you commit yourself to a further year or two (or more) of it. No matter how earnestly you insist on the amount of work you have to do, some people refuse to believe that there is any work involved, outside of a few hours a week in a seminar room and the odd essay churned out in a caffeine-fuelled all-nighter. Because your work outside of contact hours looks to them like a hobby, it is hard for some people to see it as work, and in some scenarios you will feel pressured to meet their expectations instead of what you have decided for yourself is the minimum requirement for your degree. What’s important to remember in this case is that you can and should make time for your friends and your family, and give your job the time it deserves, but absolutely do not let other people’s inability to see past the “arts-student-who-does-nothing-but-marathon-TV-series” stereotype jeopardise the degree that you have chosen to dedicate your time and money to. You know better than them that this is what you want and that you have to work at it!

The second issue is other people’s impatience for you to be “done with it,” and grows out of the misconception that you aren’t doing “real work.” What I mean is that the people who were asking you all throughout your undergraduate degree, “What are you going to do?” (or, “Do you want to be a teacher then?”) are still going to be asking this question. In some cases I think this really is just a friendly inquiry, but it can trick you into thinking you need to get your degree over with rather than immersing yourself in your student experience, which is ridiculous! This attitude is also dismissive of the pursuit of a career in academia, which you may have decided is your path. In this case what better act of defiance than continuing to put off a “real job” in favour of your noble academic pursuits? If it’s for you, keep studying for as long as you can, and don’t let the non-believers get you down!

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