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Masters Study: From Undergraduate to Postgraduate

Doing a Masters degree signals the transition from undergraduate to graduate work, a progression from developing advanced overall knowledge in a given discipline to cultivating a specialist field within that discipline and becoming expert in it. A graduate degree is the usual gateway to a career in academia or in a technical field demanding specialised knowledge and qualifications. A Masters graduate is therefore a specialist in a particular domain, usually with very precise technical knowledge, that is above the ordinary run of things. Masters-level work necessarily entails a far more precision and independently-directed mode of study, in which the student becomes, so to speak, the “master” in their chosen topic. Graduate study enables students to dictate the direction of their research with a good deal of autonomy, allowing in-depth enquiry into an area which peaks the individual’s interest; the trade-off for this independence is that students are expected to produce far more sophisticated and complex work than is demanded at the undergraduate level. Thus with a graduate degree there is no initiatory period of “easing in” to study (as there is in undergraduate courses); rather, candidates are expected from the offset to assume the rigour, pace and workload of professional scholarly practice. You need not be intimidated by such requirements, however. After all, you are being granted the time, resources and guidance to engage with a subject you esteem, that you presumably intend to dedicate your life to. A Masters degree is resultantly a valuable opportunity to immerse yourself in, and gain a deeper understanding of, something you already feel passionately about.

Discerning Choices: Tailored to Your Career Path

The nebulous study paths of undergraduate work, of getting a feel for what academic areas one best engages with, are in the past. At this stage, you need to have a much a clearer idea of your research interests and their objectives; in fact, you really should be thinking about the career you intend to pursue. An academic career will after all necessitate different skills and knowledge than will, for example, a private sector occupation. A Masters degree allows much latitude in form and content, whereby the student effectively tailors the course to their needs, making it “bespoke”. These needs should fit with a broader strategy concerning one’s desired profession. You should identify, if not the precise role, the domain at least, in which you intend to work; establish those competencies which this role or domain requires and what knowledge will best facilitate them. This will allow you to piece together the appropriate degree components to make your qualification best suited to your career objectives. In simple terms be clear about what you want from Masters study and success will be easier to achieve.

The Day to Day: What Does a Masters Degree Involve?

A Masters degree involves in-depth and extended research of a professional grade, equating to a number of long-form essays and concluding usually with a thesis. The advancement from undergraduate work is a significant one. Consider the undergraduate dissertation as being the stop-off point from which you now depart. Consequently it is time to up your game on every front. This means getting your scholarly writing up to professional scratch, composing to academic-journal standards; in other words, at this level, flawless scholarly prose is expected. Here, professional writing services can be a great help, in providing an editorial and proofreading service, furnishing comprehensive feedback and suggestions, as well as overall guidance; that is, serving the same role as any professional editor would. Your work should in effect be of publishable condition, at least in its formal properties. You are no longer in scholarly training, as such; you are a scholar proper, and the calibre of your research needs to reflect this progression. In practice this means the extra degree of rigour which comes through hard work and dedication. So perceived, graduate study is vocational in character: it demands more than a mere interest in the given discipline, it requires above ordinary commitment and drive. When researching for Masters work, then, it is essential to be especially thorough, going to extents not expected of undergraduates. Accordingly, Masters students need to pursue professional research techniques, scrutinising a topic in forensic detail, knowing it as completely as is manageable. This might entail going afield and interviewing specialists, digging in archives, searching out undiscovered pieces of first-hand data, adducing source documents not yet addressed by the academy, and so on. The point is, you need to bring something new to the table, which genuinely shines new light upon your field of research; or which contributes to the understanding of that topic in a significant manner. This will be how you distinguish yourself.

The Thesis

The thesis is the culmination of the Masters course; this means it is of the first importance. After all, this is where the expertise you have been cultivating during the course of the degree will be demonstrated; where you prove your specialist knowledge in the field. This will be the most challenging undertaking of your scholarly career so far, as will it be the most rewarding for that reason. The thesis comprises an extended piece of research that deeply investigates a specific scholarly question, offering an extensive critical treatment of that topic. Hence one needs to begin preparing for the thesis in good time. Best practice would be to begin making brief notes even at the beginning stages of the Masters course, accumulating a body of periphery research as the terms pass, so that when it comes time to commence the final product you will be primed. There is no such thing as too much preparation when it comes to graduate-level research. Further, the autonomous nature of graduate study places the onus all the more on getting underway ahead of time.

Much like an undergraduate dissertation, an MA thesis is a bound document with a title page, divided by chapter, includes an Abstract, Acknowledgements and other components typical of professional scholarly writing. Where it differs from the dissertation is in the contribution it makes to existing scholarship. At the highest level, undergraduate work is expected to demonstrate extensive knowledge of a given subject, to critically dissect that topic and offer insightful critique which proves deep understanding and analytical ability; but one is not necessarily expected to expand the field of knowledge itself (though one might) or to make a genuinely new contribution to human understanding. With the Masters degree, however, that is exactly what is asked of the student. A thesis is more technical and widely researched than a dissertation, it affords a higher degree of precision and specialisation – such as fits with the independently-led nature of graduate scholarship. Your thesis will therefore be tailored to your unique research interests. Essentially, you want to be the first one to make a particular case and to do so compellingly, in a way that persuades the readership.

Keys to Success: Finding the right Research Question

As with any long-form academic composition, success in large part will come down to alighting on a suitable research question, not only one that is interesting and sustainable, but that genuinely bridges a gap in existing scholarship. This is the imperative concern in finding your thesis topic: your contribution needs to be unique. This means you need to do thorough research in your field, with particular considerations for the latest findings. These are to be found in academic journals. You want to be working on the forefront of the discipline and this requires understanding where the discipline currently stands. You need to be abreast of the latest research, to possess thorough awareness of the scholarly literature; thereby you will be able to identify gaps in the corpus, areas which have not been thoroughly investigated or that have been overlooked altogether. Journals are an invaluable resource, here, because they often telegraph gaps in the literature, yielding a rich source of potential research questions. Consider that the less a specific topic has been covered, the easier it will be to produce an original study: to add new understanding to the field and thus prove your expertise.

Graduate Life: A New Mode of Study

One of the most notable aspects of graduate study is how the daily routine differs from that of undergraduate courses. Students are largely charged with structuring their own work regimen and, though universities tend not to make this explicit, there is in practice a lot more leeway with how and when work is done. One is, after a fashion, treated more as an “adult”. Some students find this renders them somewhat adrift, now that they have mostly to supervise themselves; but independence is a valuable asset. You are now free to work to a schedule most effective to your personal disposition. Just ensure you have the requisite discipline to make the most of the freedom; and remember that professional writing services are always available to help you in any way needed: be it in improving your compositional or research skills or simply in providing guidance and mentorship. You will only do one Masters degree, so make it count.

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