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What My Masters Degree Has Taught Me

Two years ago, I had just started my third year of university. Amidst stressful terms supported by copious amounts of coffee and the attempts to balance nights out to a club with nights out to the library, I remember thinking to myself, what will I do when this ends? What comes after? The reality for me was that the prospect of entering a world with still little idea of what I wanted to do was scary. The idea that I would be entering a world outside of education was even more so.

It didn’t take me very long to settle on the idea of completing another degree. I knew I enjoyed studying, and I knew I still needed to find my direction, so, by the end of March I had applied for a course at Kings College London praying that they would accept me.

Not long after the application had been sent in, April surprised me with an offer from KCL to study Psychiatric Research. I was over the moon. I would soon be going to a top university for psychology and psychiatry. I couldn’t believe that I had been accepted. I had never thought of myself as being particularly academic, or particularly clever, but I knew that I could work hard.

On the 18th September 2019 I packed my rucksack with a notebook, some pens and a packed lunch, and I walked down to the train station to catch the 8:07 to Denmark Hill.

You can see my rucksack ready to go in the background

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In writing this post I want to begin by making two things clear. The first is that I found this degree extremely tough. I also believe that those who completed the degree with me found it challenging too. I can only speak for my degree but I would assume that most other masters degrees are also a step up from an undergraduate. I don’t wish to brush over this fact and portray the degree in a light where people perceive it as easy or just another step on the path to having as many qualifications as possible. I personally feel, after having finished it, that a masters degree is not just an easy next step. The second thing is that I want to make clear that I do not regret this degree. I found it challenging and was very close to dropping out at one stage. I do not however regret taking it or feel that it was a waste of my year. Despite the strain, the pressure, the lack of academic confidence from my grades, I do not wish that I had not taken it.

In reflecting on my degree, I am going to share with you what I feel are some of the key lessons this degree has taught me, and maybe they can help you too if you are thinking about going on to complete a masters degree, or if you are currently struggling with one.

Imposter Syndrome is tough but if you are there, you are there for a reason

Something I struggled with was sitting in a room feeling that everyone around me was infinitely more clever than I was. Here I was, straight out of a psychology undergrad, surrounded by medical students and doctors. I was, however, also surrounded with people who were just like me, straight from undergraduate or from a year out. I found it important to remember that I was offered this course for a reason. Whatever it was they saw in me during the application stage was what they felt was good enough to be sitting in this room with everyone else. There were just under thirty of us on the course and I was chosen to be one of them. What I could offer to the table may have been different to the doctors and medical students, but it was no less valuable.

I am doing it and soon it will be done

Is a mantra that my therapist drilled into my head during countless therapy sessions. The reminder that it is difficult, it is tough, but it’s not going to last forever. It’s just a couple more months, weeks, days left. I can make it to the finish. And I did make it to the finish.

The marks aren’t a death sentence

One of the hardest things I dealt with were the grades I got for a lot of my work. While my therapist likes to remind me that no grade is a bad grade, I felt very disappointed with a lot of the marks I received. When I began the course, I had it set in my mind that I was going to work as hard as I could and I was going to finish with a distinction. This desire to do well came from a disappointing finish to my undergraduate degree where I was set on graduating with a first class degree and came out with a 2:1. While I do now acknowledge that a 2:1 is good, at the time I felt devastated and that no amount of time, energy or work that I could do was good enough.

This feeling stayed with me and penetrated though my experience of the masters degree. I was receiving 50s for my coursework and exams, just passing the assignments and I really thought that I may not actually even pass the course.

Today I sit here knowing that not only have I passed the course, but I very possibly have passed with a distinction. I threw everything I had within me at my dissertation. I spent hours reading through examples of the type of study my dissertation was to be and I read through hundreds of papers about the menopause, HRT and depression. My supervisor was supportive and she desired for the research to be published. I felt that I couldn’t let her down. I think, somewhere deep down, there was also a part of me that wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. I could do well and that my upcoming grades would not be dictated the ones I felt disappointed in. Turns out, the previous grades did not dictate how well I would do in my dissertation or the last set of exams I had. Turns out, the previous grades did not dictate anything at all. Turns out, I was and am completely capable.

Its okay to change your mind

I think, ultimately, what I learned most from this degree was that I have more of an interest in psychiatry than psychology, and as small as the differences might be, those differences are important.

A masters degree may be the planned next step for someone who is already on a well thought out career path, however I know many people take these degrees as a question, using them to ask themselves what they want to actually do with their life.

While I first began this degree not knowing but expecting myself to fall into the clinical psychology stream of life, I finish this degree with a change of heart and for that, I am most grateful. Change is important, and change is okay. While I do not believe that taking a masters degree solely for confirmation of your career choice is a good idea, mine definitely provided me with clarity and comfort as to the next steps in my life.

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Taking a masters degree has been one of the hardest things I’ve had to battle through so far and it was obviously a unique experience due to the pandemic. It has been a whirlwind of a year but when it really comes down to it, I am grateful I chose to do the degree. I have made some new lifetime friends, discovered that I am passionate about menopausal mental health, changed career trajectory and have finished it with a new-ish ability to acknowledge and feel proud of the work I completed.

I did it, and it is now done.

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