Accessing Education – My Postgraduate

So, it’s been a while since I wrote a new blog on here, apologies, I’ve been tinkering away in the background of my life.

This one’s not really for advice or a showcase for my own writing, it’s more a journal entry of where I’m at right now as I begin to take on a postgraduate course and reflecting on how I got here.

I think it’s worth sharing to anyone who’s curious about my journey so far or is thinking of doing a postgraduate course.

 

First things first – I graduated back in September 2019 from my undergraduate degree and knew I wanted to do a masters-level course at some point. So I signed myself up! Hooray!

Why?

Well, for me I felt I owed it to myself to push my interests as far as I could go, so here we are, back at University again. I also wanted to see if I could be ‘good enough’ to do a masters level course. I’ll talk more about that later…

The course I’m doing is called Masters in Humanities – by Research.

What? 

Yep. It’s not the most accessible or exciting-sounding name but I chose this course as it’s mainly self-driven, I get to choose a lot of what I’m doing for the next year.

Unlike traditional taught programmes where you have modules dictating your direction, I wanted to take the ideas I already had buzzing around and fully concentrate on one larger project. It’s a one year, full-time course that I feel I could manage around working (because I need to eat and pay bills). I’m a Creative & Professional Writing graduate so naturally, I took this into a research project for this course – I’m writing about writing. 🙂

I won’t go too much into my research project as I’ve only just begun to start it myself – I’ll save that for when I’m nearing the end of it and post about it somewhere where you can feel free to dive into the academic findings and musings etc. if you’re interested.

 

My first postgraduate experience of exploring Open Evenings and Prospectuses was not great. Everywhere I looked was vague open-ended information and a lack of clarity over almost every stage, I was left with too many questions for comfort. I didn’t even see anywhere, and I looked at a few different places, current or recently completed postgraduates championing their courses in my subject area. I felt completely in the dark.

I ended up choosing my University and my course because I was familiar with it and could feel confident enough to ask the millions of questions I know I needed answers to. I knew the lecturers who would email me back at least and some would open their coffee breaks to me. It’s been a fight but it’s been one I think is worth it so far. I was determined to do it and thank you to those who helped. Truly.

I wanted to talk about doing this masters course here as asides from the admin, funding (student finance urgh.), idea creation, research and so on, there’s been an overwhelming sense of internal struggle for me approaching this course. A lot of anxiety.
Even though I’m determined (or ‘dogged’ I’ve been told) I still have this fear in the back of my mind:

Am I good enough? 

I come from a working-class family in the West Midlands, UK.
I feel that is an important context psychologically, so you can understand my standpoint.
I’m privileged in a lot of ways, don’t get me wrong, but most of my family didn’t go to University, I definitely have struggled financially and I don’t have anyone who could give me a lift up in life (no unknown great-uncle’s with an enormous estate to land me a sweet inheritance or internship). Opportunities are precious and rare and money needed to be spent wisely.

I’ve also failed more times than I’d like to admit along the way to this point and had to pick myself back up and rejoin the fight every time. This was a big decision for me.

Now, I’m not complaining here about being working-class, my family and friends have taught me an awful lot – more than they’ll ever know about resilience, respect and living a good life, but what I have really struggled with is the accessibility of academia. Specifically the language.

But you’re a graduate! You’ve done it and you’re doing it, right? 

Yes. I am a graduate and I’m officially starting a postgraduate soon, but it has been a very intense and difficult journey to get here and I know I haven’t had it as rough as some others.

I’ve never felt like I had a straight route to access academia – I was having to interpret everything that was being said to me from day one – almost translate some of the norms into my own language.

I would frantically look up words and phrases that got thrown around because I didn’t recognise them. It felt like sitting at a table where you speak English and everybody else is speaking Spanish and all you can pick up are the odd in-between words that don’t help you to explain the sentence, so you nod and grin but cringe on the inside.

Some early examples included things like:

  • Discourse
  • Bibliography
  • Rhetoric
  • Literature Review
  • Methodology
  • Thesis
  • Exegesis

There were many others.

These words blurted out mid-sentence, flippantly and then hurried past. Very often, once I had worked out what was these words meant, I actually realised I was capable or had already done these things, I just didn’t recognise their name and I’d kick myself for feeling so stupid and frustrated. Sometimes, I had to ask for help, and that meant revealing to the people you respected, sometimes idolised that you were struggling or having to pause a class with your solo hand sticking up in the air, hoping the lecturer would be kind and patient in response.

(Just to point out – mine mostly were, but there are always some people intentionally or not that make you feel incredibly stupid.)

If you knew all these words as a sixteen to eighteen-year-old then brilliant. I did not. I was google-searching in class or highlighting things to look up later so I could re-read them and understand. As an avid reader and writer, I felt even more pressure to understand.

I felt and still feel like this is an extra work-load and worry that working-class students encounter that others may not realise. We need to be familiarised in this landscape. (Or better yet, we need people to familiarise themselves with ours! A cultural exchange perhaps?) It’s not our normal stomping ground. I also found it isolating to talk to my friends and family about these things as I inadvertently made them feel how I’d felt, not good enough, dumb, uninformed.

“You just don’t understand.”

This all leads to Imposter Syndrome, frustration and sometimes, ultimately giving-up or not even trying at all. I know a lot of people who couldn’t face postgraduate because it felt like another fight they weren’t willing to wade into.

So, for me now, facing down what feels like an enormous step-up in education I just want to turn back around and say to everyone who’s following behind me: I’m rooting for you, you can do it and you’ll do it regardless of where you come from, but I get it, it’s not always easy and it’s not always fair.

I’m proud to be a working-class, Black Country woman with her family and friends all behind her and I’m not going to forget it. I’m going to try my best here going forward and try to be as transparent as I can comfortably be. All I ask is that you remember, we’re not all the starting at the same point. Be patient and be kind.

 

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