As the intake dates are getting closer, I hope the students-soon-to-be have settled the essential chunks of the overall preparation, such as student visa, accommodation and flight reservation. Nevertheless, there are other important things which are usually out of student’s sight, even for those who are used to planning everything beforehand. If a magic phone booth with time machine existed, I would love to call myself last year and told the older version of me about these five things, which I phrase as “the advance grad school prep kit.” Unfortunately, there is no such technology, but I am grateful to be able to share my learnings to the upcoming students!
1. Read some basic reading materials
Some universities usually send the complete module and reading lists months before the intake. If you have received them, spare your time during weekends to read the basic reading materials so you can have a big picture about the direction of the course. For those who have worked for several years, reading academic journals and books are obviously different from corporate’s reports or novels. You may consider this as a warming-up to set up your reading pace back or rehearse your skimming skills to get the gist of pages of the articles because postgraduate school gets real right on the first week.
2. Plan ahead the overarching topic for your dissertation and your selected courses
Some might say it is too early to think exactly about your dissertation topic, but as a post-graduate student, , you should have an idea of what specific field you want to master in the beginning of a program. I am not saying about deciding the exact title of your dissertation, though, but if you can have a short list of topics that you are interested in, you can save plenty of time when pre-selecting some courses and your academic supervisor. Moreover, if you select the courses with your dissertation in mind, you will already have read the long list of literature by the end of the terms, which should come in handy during the actual dissertation writing time.
In addition, in the module that the university sent, you can also check available courses throughout the terms and professors in charge. Read thoroughly the courses descriptions, requirements and academic assessments (either take home tests/ final essays/ sit-in exams). Also do background check on the assigned professors; their profiles, CVs and published writings or books. It would be even better if you also try to look for former students’ satisfaction ratings as well, or, if you have friends at the same university, you can ask them about the teaching style of the professors. You can shortlist some courses and confirm about it on the orientation day. In most universities in the UK, you can also audit some classes before deciding to take certain courses. Once you know certain areas you want to be expert at, you can also find your academic advisor at the beginning of the term. Otherwise if you are still clueless, you might end up with someone that is not the expert in your field.
3. Make a detailed itinerary at least for your first two weeks
When you move in to a new city, it is always a good idea to know what you are going to do each day. You are not obliged to follow every single plan on the itinerary because unexpected things may intervene, but at least you need to get certain things done as soon as you can, such as when to take Biometric Residence Permit at the Post Office and when to open a bank account. As the chance of a newcomer getting lost is quite high, you can add the address of your destinations – such as the post office and the bank- and how to get there in the itinerary.
4. Make your travel plan for the year-end holidays
September to December sounds like a long way to go, but once you start your college, everything will run fast, you will have less time to plan your trip and then somehow calendar already shows the last month of the year. If you want to travel to some places, especially to European countries, you can browse places to visit in December and research about Schengen visa requirements and when you have to apply. Remember, the closer you are with the high season, the more difficult for you to get the visa appointment at the application center.
5. Brush up your CV
There will be lots of exciting opportunities for internship, part-time or volunteering. You can update your CV with your latest achievement and keep an eye on the jobs announcement at your university’s career centers. Make use of the center as well because they usually provide consultation service on how to write good CVs and cover letter.
The things above indeed involves planning. Hence, my advice may not apply to all people and only ring a bell to those of you who plans everything ahead. Nevertheless, every time you feel postgraduate life is daunting, remember this quote from John Searle, Professor of Philosophy at UC Berkeley:
“It is not the aim of education to make the student feel good about himself or herself; a good education should lead to a permanent sense of dissatisfaction. The dirty secret of intellectual life is that first-rate work requires an enormous amount of effort, anxiety, and even desperation. The quests for knowledge and truth, as well as depth, insight, and originality, are not effortless, and they are certainly not comfortable.”