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Difference between my masters and undergraduate degree

My first semester is nearly complete, and it has been a sprint to the finish. Coursework as a master’s student is a bit different than what I’m used to. For each of my four courses in this first semester, I’ve only been given two assessed assignments. They have been either a term paper, a group presentation, or a written exam.

The main difference between my undergrad degree in the states and my master’s course here is that the professors really expect the students to be responsible for themselves. The student has full control over how much they study or don’t study throughout the semester. There are few compulsory assignments throughout, and students really have the freedom to study in a way that is best for them.

This definitely doesn’t mean that there aren’t great resources for students to succeed. Most professors give lists of journals and books that they expect students to read, and then additional readings for those that want to understand further. Most of my professors record the lectures and make them available on blackboard as a podcast, and all of them are quick to respond via email or in-person to any questions we’ve had.

I’ve really enjoyed this type of study. It seems that professors generally want to help students create their own ideas, be self-sufficient, and analyse effectively. For each of my assignments, the professors aren’t looking for one correct answer but for supported and well-thought-out arguments. To me, it feels like they are both trusting us and expecting great things from us.

All this freedom doesn’t mean things have been easy. Even deciding how much and when to study has been something I’ve had to learn. I find myself asking, “Should I skip this lecture’s reading to prepare more for our group presentation coming up?” or “Is it more effective to get in a workout and a good night’s sleep or to go over my presentations notes one more time?” The amount of time it takes to succeed is there, but managing it is a worthy challenge.

Speaking of freedom, let’s talk about the fantastic Christmas break we just had. An entire month of lecture-less days. Lots of students, including myself, took this time to travel to new places. Manchester is a great hub for venturing off to close European cities, but for me, I used the length of time to visit completely new parts of the world: Australia and Indonesia.

The long break let me justify the 19-hour or so flight that it took to get there. I left the day after the last lecture and will get back the day before my first exam—talking about cutting it close! Soaking up the sun and writing term papers poolside hasn’t been too bad at all. I told my friends that Bali is the best and worst place to be studying for a test, and I stand by it.

Difference between my masters and undergraduate degree - Drone shot

Unfortunately, Australia has been experiencing dreadful bush fires while I’ve been visiting, but this leads me to another thing I love about the University of Manchester. UoM currently ranks as the best higher education institution in Europe (and top three globally) for social and environmental impact. As I’ve seen the smoke hover over the biggest cities in Australia, I’m saddened, but hopeful.

I’m grateful to be a part of a University that values its students and the largest issues in the world. They understand that what we are doing collectively can impact the world drastically in positive or negative ways. It’s our choice as budding professionals to help make a difference, and Manchester is a great place to do that.