Now that we are a few weeks into the new term, I am revising my study plan to be sure I am started on the right track. There are a lot of resources to help students start studying, or stay on target through the academic year. In addition to these resources, reading the posts in the ‘Student Cafe’ and course chat rooms can be quite inspiring. After a few years of study, it might seem surprising that getting a good sense of ow new students approach self-directed study at degree level would be valuable, but it often reminds me about tools and option available to us. And yes, I still identify with the somewhat panicky tone of the posts asking for advice about what to read, how to start, what kind of process this is, and how to know if what I am doing is ‘right.’ Knowing what to do, or whether or not we are learning what is expected and required, is part of managing the work load. Many new students fret over how to start. Honestly, I do a fair bit of fretting over how to start ever term. It is a very big project and the prospect of managing the material over the course of a year can be daunting. What to read, or do I need every book, is usually solved with declaring a starting point, at least for me anyway.
What to read, how much time to devote, or how to approach a text from a critical perspective are lovely, lovely challenges associated with our program. One thing I enjoy most is the fact that I create the structure and manage the work load. It is invigorating and a very valuable skill. For example, my husband’s medical practice engages therapists who all seem to be in post-graduate study at one level or another all of the time. Their success is measured in academic credentials and clinical studies or research. He tells me that the biggest reason people fail to complete post-graduate degrees, and as a consequence fail to advance in their profession, is lack of ability to manage the volume of information and self-directed course work that is part of post-graduate study. To me, learning to manage my research and course work in the University of London International Programmes is a huge advantage and valuable skill set.
Advantage and skills to be sure, but it can still be intimidating. Some good advice I got long ago is ‘The best ways to manage a project that seems overwhelming is to break it down into manageable pieces.’ I would add testing my processes to stay on track and hold my gains. Even after a few years in the program, and progressing through the Advanced Units, I still begin every term with the same process: 1. review my ‘Study Guides,’ 2. research which texts and secondary reading are readily available 3. skim ‘Examiners’ Reports,’ 4. think about what topics I am really interested in, and 5. review my ‘Student Handbook’ and ‘The Arts Good Study Guide.’ Now that we are a few weeks into this term I return to this process and evaluate if I am on the right track, and to make necessary adjustments.
Adjustments are usually required, but that is to be expected because I learn about things like how to study and manage my time as the term progresses. The resources the university provides helps me with this process every step of the way. ‘Study Guides’ help me ask good questions while reading, highlight issues to focus on, and direct me to relevant, contemporary discussion and debate. ‘Examiners’ Reports’ supply an analysis of each examination paper, including a point by point outline of what a good answer will include. (Thanks very much, by the way.) The ‘Student Handbook’ and ‘The Arts Good Study Guide’ are filled with excellent study and writing advice.
Of course I always get wonderful tips and inspiration from my colleagues in the ‘Student Cafe’ when I browse through the discussion threads. A fair mix of fretting and action plans are posted there to bond over and provide motivation. Sometimes the things we fret over the most are the most valuable experiences of our program. For me, this is a marvelous opportunity to learn, and to get one of the best educations money and effort can buy. It is such a marvelous opportunity because the school and program is so highly regarded and confers prestigious credentials; but especially because so much of the work is entirely up to me. That is a very empowering place to begin.