Is a Masters an isolating experience?

You've got more work and less structure, and most of your uni friends have moved on and away into the world of work. Is a Masters isolating, asks Harriet Williamson

It is with abject trepidation that I begin my Masters dissertation. Obviously it’s a puny document in comparison to a PhD thesis, but it’s significantly longer than any piece of academic writing I’ve attempted thus far and therefore more than a little daunting.

The first thing my tutor said to her quaking group of supervisees was 'remember to talk to other people... it’s the only way of staying sane'. Initially I scoffed at the drama of the statement, but at four weeks into dissertation term, I’m beginning to understand what she meant. It’s just you and your pile of epically proportioned reading and the hand-in date in September seems to be light-years away.

It’s not just in dissertation term that the Masters year can feel like an isolating experience, particularly if you’ve moved to a different university where you don’t know anyone and have first-year nerves all over again when trying to locate your tutor’s office. The course numbers are significantly smaller in comparison to undergraduate and I certainly felt that the euphoric circus of fresher’s week (or fortnight) was not something that postgrads were included in.

This sense of both separation from undergraduate antics and feeling unprepared to handle the more solitary experience of a graduate degree is not uncommon. A friend of mine cites an increased workload, decreased contact hours and a severely stunted social dimension as the main reasons for feelings of loneliness and isolation among postgraduates. She describes her social life as going 'from one busy extreme to a very lonely one' and maintains that 'universities need to help MA students to find a balance between them'. Feelings of loneliness can spawn serious depression and anxiety related issues, trapping sufferers in a cycle of silence and isolation.

Financial pressures intensified by the fact that the Student Loans Company does not offer support for most postgraduate students, leads to many students choosing to commute from home to complete their Masters degree. Another friend says that it's not being able to afford to live in the city where he studies that exacerbates his feelings of isolation. He says that 'it’s been very difficult for me to make friends and socialize, much more so than at undergrad. Back then, we were all lumped in together but at postgrad it requires what feels like a monumental effort to make those connections'. 

I have four hours of contact time a week on my taught MA course (dwindling to five hours over four-and-a-half months in dissertation term), leaving a lot of time for private study. Self-motivation provides the backbone of a postgraduate degree, in preparation for the move up to doctoral study and research, should you choose to go into it. Solitary study is what you sign up for with an MA, but the importance of making time to socialise with course peers, to share your research interests and academic highs and lows cannot be overlooked.

Your course itself can turn you into a recluse: there can be separation in priorities between yourself and friends from undergraduate days. All of your friends have left university and gone into work, even though you are still following the exam and coursework craze they no longer have to worry about.

Any MA or MSc students feeling a sense of loneliness or isolation on their course, I would urge to take advantage of the graduate ice-breaking events offered by your university, and if they aren’t enough, unleash your inner extrovert (even if that’s not usually your style) and organise it yourself! Study groups, coffee meetings and even having a few people round for a glass of wine can be really valuable in establishing a sense of connection with others in the first year of postgraduate study, particularly when dissertation term begins. Taking my tutor’s advice and reaching out to my course mates made me realise that although my study was solitary, I didn’t have to feel alone.  

Harriet P Williamson, 21, is an MA in English Literary Studies at the University of York

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Guru Careers: Graduate Marketing Executive / Marketing Assistant

£18 - 23k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Marketing Executive / Assistant is n...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Trainee

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider to the fa...

Ashdown Group: Graduate IT Analyst - Global ERP Implementation - London

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful & reputable global business is l...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test