Independent Graduate: Buckle down, or buckle under - Life and Style - The Independent

Independent Graduate: Buckle down, or buckle under

Self-discipline is often one of the hardest skills a postgraduate student must acquire. But it can be learnt, says Emma Williams

HOW MANY times have you, as a student, heard the jokes about knowing Richard and Judy better than your own parents, and been asked which recipe from Ready Steady Cook will be on that evening? Quite simply, self-discipline is tough and - let's face it - opting for daytime TV is often a more tempting option than writing an essay.

No wonder, then, that panic can set in at the very thought of postgraduate study, where most - if not all - of your research is expected to be done from home. You know you want to do the course, but you're just not sure if you've got the motivation. So should you make a decision based on your track record so far, or is self-discipline a skill you can learn?

Pat Atkins, regional advisor for Open University South, believes this is a major concern for potential postgraduates, but insists that self- discipline can be taught. Indeed, the study skills course offered by Open University aims to provide students with the necessary tools. Learning to plan out essays carefully, to study effectively rather than just read, to plan your time and to explore which activities you feel you could sacrifice, can all be effective methods, she explains. It's simply a case of working out your particular problem areas.

Atkins also advises anyone considering postgraduate study to take into account their education history. "If we are looking to take students who haven't been awfully well served by the education system in the past, then they, perhaps, have not developed these habits."

Louise Marian, 30, a PhD student at Bristol's Brunel University, is a case in point. "If, like me, you didn't get into studying until 23, motivation is hard." It's all very well, she explains, for people who have sat down to do their homework every night since their pre-teens, but for those who haven't, self-discipline must be re-learned.

Maintaining motivation for research is important, adds Andrina McCormack, senior lecturer in the School of Education at Northern College: "What motivates people to start a project is not always the same motivation for them to continue."

McCormack's research into motivation and education reveals three fundamental issues in keeping your self-discipline at a peak. First, since family pressures can hinder motivation, the support of colleagues and partners is essential. Second, ensure that you are able to allocate study periods. This will mean informing friends and family that you cannot be contacted at particular times, so avoiding any distractions, and helping you in not being tempted to do anything other than study. Finally, the allocation of study space - even if it's just a small corner - will help you achieve this.

Carrie Myers, a PhD student at the London School of Economics, agrees. "Having my own personal working space at home is very important, especially considering the allocated space and workstations for PhD students at university are always limited."

Both Myers and Marian argue that passion can be the greatest motivator of all, but also that this can depend largely on your relationship with your tutor. "Your supervisor can help you get motivated when they see that you are not putting enough work into your research," Myers stresses.

After all, they will know which areas of your subject will renew your interest. It is, therefore, essential to ensure that you build on this relationship as early as possible.

Hugh Foot, professor of psychology at Strathclyde University and specialist in self-motivation, adds that setting short-term objectives is invaluable in the development of motivation. Tutors can assist with this, he says: "Supervisors are obliged to follow a code of practice which includes setting tasks at regular meetings with students." He advises taking note of the fact that students have rights too.

Foot also claims that having a circle of students with whom you can discuss concerns is also helpful, as they can act as a support group at the same time as alleviating some of the social isolation that students often experience. Indeed, the moment you feel isolated can be the moment you lose interest in your studies altogether.

Clearly, then, motivation can be rediscovered: if you can't find it on your own, help is at hand. After all, it's not just the Open University that is offering self-help courses. An increasing number of higher education institutions are jumping on the bandwagon.

"I think study skills training is something that more universities will find they have to do, if they want to retain students and help them to do their best," concludes Pat Atkins.

John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skies as 007 for first time
footballThe latest scores and news from Dortmund vs Arsenal and Liverpool vs Ludogorets
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape
Life and Style
techCriminals now targeting e-readers
Life and Style
Life and Style
tech... and together they're worth at least £100 million
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
Life and Style
news This video may make you think twice about ever taking the Tube again
Life and Style
A spider is seen in its web on September 16, 2014 in Hohen Meissner, Germany.
tech The 'Spider in Da House' app has been developed by scientists to tackle arachnophobia
Life and Style
fashionIncredibly, it hasn't been branded ''
A plane flies close to the eruption of the Icelandic volcano
newsAnd yes, it's quite something
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

    £35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

    Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

    £26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

    Retail Business Analyst

    £40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

    Senior C++ Developer

    £400 - £450 Per Annum possibly more for the right candidate: Clearwater People...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week