Was it Worth it? My History MA
As of yesterday, I'm no longer a student, which feels strangely anti-climactic to say the least. Submitting my thesis online involved nothing more than the click of a button, and I quite missed the frantic dash to Rymans to get it bound.
This past 16-month period has been full of personal challenges, and it's hard to believe that I'm actually finished. University strikes were immediately followed by the lockdown, university shutdown and learning at a distance. It wasn't ideal, and not everything went to plan, but I made it out into 2021, so I guess that's the main thing.
It's very easy to focus on the 'what ifs' when looking back at my year as a postgraduate student. I faced teaching disruption throughout the first two semesters, and completed the remainder entirely at a distance. Setting up an office in the spare bedroom humbled me, as it reminded me of all the students who lack sufficient space to study, struggle with poor internet connections or horrible housemates. Expecting everyone to seamlessly transition to online learning was a clear show of the government's ignorance of the reality of being a student, and I realised I was one of the luckier ones.
Alongside this, I still had deadlines to meet, and during the initial lockdown, I submitted three pieces of work. I had to be realistic with myself, that due to my personal circumstances, my marks would most likely drop, and some did. I wrote over 8,000 words in a very makeshift study environment, whilst dealing with loneliness, frustration and probably some (undiagnosed) depression. I have never felt so unmotivated as I did then, so the sheer act of submitting my work was the biggest success of my recent years. I of course had the option to take extensions, but I genuinely feared that if I didn't push myself to a deadline, I would have ended up dropping out. The support of teaching staff, along with friends and family pushed me along to the finish line, so if you were someone who checked in on me during that hard time, you're a big part of the reason I ended up finishing my degree.
Freeing myself from the expectation of high grades allowed me to step back and admire how much pressure I put on myself to succeed. It's not always healthy to push yourself that hard, so spending a few months largely in my dressing gown enabled me to get through it. I don't want to retake anything, as I made peace with it. I tried the hardest I could to write the best work I could, and that's good enough for me. Whatever the outcome of my degree, I am proud that I submitted everything, worked hard and learnt something from every module.
In June, I made the decision to change the topic of my dissertation, moving to completely digitised sources. I researched and wrote a 20,000 word piece in six months. I still can't quite believe it was possible. The past four months have been especially hard, as I missed my friends at uni and the community that I value so much, but I remained supported throughout which meant I gave in a piece of work that I enjoyed writing, and that I hope I will be able to build on in the future. I definitely did not intend to do it this way, but it is what it is! I feel like I've finally found a bit of a niche within my subject, and really hope it brings new opportunities in the future.
So, was it worth it? Ultimately yes, but there were definitely times where it felt the opposite. I paid a lot of money for what sometimes felt very little but I know I'm not alone in that. I have not agreed with the government's handling of universities during this pandemic, and I've not always aligned to how the university handled postgraduate teaching either, especially in the beginning. Undergraduates make up the largest percentage of students, but taught postgraduates pay large fees for short courses, so more could have been done to address our concerns in the first instance. Thankfully, my course had fantastic lecturers who fought for us, but I feel sorry for others who did not have the same experience. I know that I did not do as well on my MA as I did on my undergraduate course, but that was because situations were out of my control, so it's a bit easier to let that go.
If you're thinking about university education soon, it's easy to be drawn in by propaganda exulting the richness of a blended-learning experience. Lecturers have worked very hard to move content online, but the experience is simply not always the same. I have missed the community, informality and close-knit group that is the history department, and I hope I'll be able to get back to Reading soon. Paying thousands for a room and a course which has moved entirely online is the reality faced by current students, so it's worth giving it all a proper think before you commit to anything concrete.
As a submitted my thesis, sat in my dressing gown on the sofa, I found it hard to believe that four years of higher education had come to an end. No graduation, no celebration (apart from a big bag of crisps and a glass of fizz) and no concrete idea of what is coming next. I had an amazing time being part of an incredible community that transformed me from a shy teenager to a fledgling women's political historian, so university has been some of the best money I've spent. When I sold my car to help pay for my MA, I made a promise to myself to make the sacrifice worth it, a promise I think I've fulfilled.
I dedicated my thesis to my Gran and to my parents, figures of stability in my life. Although my Gran, who has dementia, has not been able to follow along with my university journey, I think she would be proud of the things I achieved. It meant a big deal to have family with me at my undergraduate graduation, and I felt her with me as I crossed the stage last July. My parents invested a considerable amount of money in my education, topping up my rent for four years. That in itself is a reminder that student finance does not cover everyone, in that many working class families are left out of pocket. There is more that needs to be done to bridge that gap, to allow more students to access higher education without the burden it places on families. Working several jobs, as I did, was not enough to cover the shortfall in my rent, so there is definitely room for improvement.
Overall, the work was definitely worth it, and I hope that is reflected in any results I receive. For now, I'll be catching up on sleep, Netflix and leftover Christmas food!
On a different note, a very happy new year! Times are uncertain right now, especially as we've just entered another lockdown. I'm still going to be blogging weekly, so watch this space!