Shortly after I completed my master’s degree in ELT & Applied Linguistics, I published a post called “5 things I wish I’d known before my MA.” That proved so popular, I followed it up with a guest post featuring 5 more things that people might like to know before embarking on a master’s degree.
But what about after the course? What to do now it’s all over??
Well, mine has been over for a while now, so I’ve had ample time to reflect on that question. Without further ado, here are my 5 top tips for maintaining (or re-establishing) your sanity/happiness/social life/career after your studies.
1. Take a break
After you’ve handed everything in, take a few weeks off. Seriously – a few weeks is a very good idea.
Not just a few days, as that’s nowhere near enough after the stress of an MA.
And not a few months (unless you can afford it) because, let’s face it, you probably can’t afford it.
This is the one thing I really wish I’d done when I finished my MA, more than any other. (You’ll note from that phrasing that I didn’t do it!) At the time, I wanted to have some new interesting things lined up so that I wouldn’t ‘fall off a cliff’, so to speak. But I wish I’d given myself more of a breather, rather than just bulldozing straight back into life and work at full speed. Sometimes I feel like I’m still recovering, and it’s been over a year and a half! But the people I know who did take a break always say they’re extremely glad that they did.
2. Keep writing
Honestly, I hated writing for the MA. I loved the reading and research, what I often call the actual learning process, but I found writing really unpleasant. I now realise that this is because I didn’t appreciate writing as part and parcel of the learning process.
One important distinction that a tutor made for me just as I was threatening to succumb to death-by-dissertation was that of writing-for-learning and writing-for-writing. If you sit down to write expecting to immediately construct the exact thing you’ll submit to an audience later, then you’re in for a big shock. I don’t know any writer worth their salt who would claim to be able to do this. Good writing takes time because any final well-written piece has always undergone plenty of revision. That’s just how it works.
So that’s why I say, to stay sane after spending a year or two of writing so much, you really need to keep writing. For one thing, the skills you’ve developed won’t stay at their peak if you don’t use them, just as with any skill. But for another, you have to learn not to hate it (if you didn’t manage to learn that during the MA). And that means not equating the painful process of writing thousands of words in the evenings after working long days with the rather-less-painful process of writing in general.
Writing is also a great way for your ideas to reach a wider audience (see point 5, below) than they will during an MA course and to get some feedback from other people in the field. You don’t have to submit a rehashed essay to an academic journal in order to feel the benefits of this — write on a blog, or submit a manuscript to one of the many very high-quality and worthwhile teachers’ journals out there (typically not peer-reviewed, but that definitely doesn’t mean they’re not worth reading and contributing to).
For example, IATEFL’s Special Interest Groups each have a newsletter, typically populated by contributions from teachers, trainers and students just like you and me.
Local outposts of the international IATEFL and TESOL organisations (“Associates“, like IATEFL Poland and “Affiliates“, like TESOL France), as well as other regional teachers’ networks (e.g. ETAS) also have excellent practitioner-focused journals.
Simply contact the editors and see if they’d be interested in featuring something you’ve written. In my experience, preparing an article for something like this feels a lot more rewarding than for an audience of one or two tutors who probably won’t be able to actually try out anything you’re talking about (if your piece has a practical classroom bent).
3. Keep reading
Don’t lose track of developments in your field. They come thick and fast and it’s frustrating to look back at your MA a year later and feel like you’re not sure what people are saying about your so-called ‘specialist’ area now. Why invest all that effort to make yourself an expert and then go back to being a layperson?
You can set up Google Scholar to alert you when particular things are published and some university libraries will allow you continued access — at least for reading if not borrowing — as an alumnus of that school. (King’s does, for example – info here.)
It’s also a good idea to keep in touch with your classmates and tutors — though not only for sharing interesting new publications on your specialist topic(s), of course!
And on that note…
4. Keep in touch
Remember those people who struggled through it with you? (Including your tutors!)
Don’t lose track of what your peers are doing once you all go your separate ways. There are so many benefits to this, but to name just a few:
- keeping up-to-speed with developments in your field
- keeping in contact with the friends you made
- developing a network of professional and academic connections (you can all help each other by remaining interested and invested in what each other is doing)
- reminding yourself of all the different opportunities out there (but this carries a risk warning: try not to compare your own post-MA life with others’ ‘success’!)
- having someone to hang out with that the next conference or training event
5. Share your learning
I firmly believe one of the best ways to truly learn is to engage other people in the process. Learning shouldn’t be lonely. But the nature of assessment on an MA course (and sometimes the general structure of the course, e.g. with little face-to-face involvement) means that it often is. If this is your own experience, try to right this wrong after the MA.
Build your career by publishing or presenting your research. (See also point 2, above.) Get involved with other like-minded practitioners and researchers. If you don’t already, consider blogging or tweeting as enjoyable and relatively easy ways to quickly establish a network of interest around what you do that counts more than you and your mum as members!
Sharing what you learnt with other people now and again (even the next time you meet someone new at a party, for example — it doesn’t all have to be conferences and journals!) also reminds you of why you went through it all in the first place. It keeps a love of education and development alive, and isn’t that one reason why such courses exist?
OK, that’s all from me.
If you’ve completed a post-graduate degree and have more helpful tips for those nearing the light at the end of the tunnel, please do share them here!