The Life of a University of Edinburgh Master’s Student: 7 Reflections from the First Semester
By Audrey, MSc Environmental Sustainability
The Christmas holidays are coming to an end, which has prompted quite a bit of self-reflection on my experiences this first semester. Instead of keeping these thoughts to myself, I thought I should put them to good use and share them! Maybe you, like me, will take on the second semester with a new approach. Or, maybe you’re a future student wondering what your life could be like here, and how you should prepare for it. Either way, I hope this blog post helps some of you, or is at least an enjoyable read!
Go on all the field trips!
Several master’s programs at the school of Geosciences offer a range of field trips as a part of the degree programme. These are an amazing opportunity to spend time with your course mates, and to apply what you learn in your modules to real-life situations. Our cohort started off the year with a full-Scottish immersion: a road-trip to the Scottish Highlands. Nothing lets you get to know your course mates better than being stuck on a bus for several hours together. Inevitably, at one point, people start sharing funny childhood stories or life experiences. And quite soon, you will start making memories together as a class, maybe even on the first bus ride!
On top of the bonding, you’ll get to see and learn from real-life implementations of your course content. For example, in September we made a pit-stop at the Glenfiddich whisky distillery, and were given a fascinating tour of the facilities, which explained the sustainability of whisky production (with a wee tasting at the end)! We also visited the Findhorn eco-village, and a reindeer conservation site. As a part of the module Soil Protection and Management, we also had several opportunities to implement what we learnt in class on the field. I went on all three field trips offered as a part of this module, and do not regret it one bit – they really added to my student experience.
Important to note: don’t let not knowing others on the field trip stop you from going. Everyone is new, and (almost) everyone wants to make new friends! Yes, it’s daunting, but don’t let fear stop you from possibly learning something new or meeting people!
*Keep an eye out in February for more detailed posts about field trips and interactive master’s experiences!*
Don’t worry about not finding your crowd
Following from this point, don’t worry too much about finding your crowd! You definitely will. Edinburgh is a city filled with students, which means that everyone will find their crew. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that you’re not the only new kid on the block, everyone is or was ‘fresh’ at one point. Whether it’s people in your course, or members of sports clubs and societies, most are genuinely nice and welcoming!
It’s also important to remember that it is very possible that the friends you make on the first day, or people you chatted to on Facebook or WhatsApp before the semester started may not be your friends for long, and that is totally okay. Some people (like me) need to find some of their course mates/flatmates online first to feel less worried about finding friends or connections when they first arrive. This is totally normal, especially in our society where social media plays such a big role. But, do not invest too much hope or expectations in this: not everyone has facebook, and not everyone will be in the same group chats at the start. In my case, we were five in our first course group chat. Much to our relief, we found out there were 35 more of us on the first day!
It’s okay to not be okay
I cannot emphasise this point enough. A one-year master’s degree is stressful: all your assessments count from the first day. You may also be coming back to university after several years or months of working, which is completely different to studying. The master’s you are studying may even be in a completely different field from your previous studies or work. Added to this, many of us have left our comfort zones (home countries, families, friends), causing added emotional stresses.
So, it is totally normal to feel out of your depth at times in a one-year master’s. You are not dramatic, overemotional or unstable: you are human. What’s important is to recognise when the stress is getting to be too much, so that you can pull yourself up out of the water. Most students, if not all, feel this way at one point, so make sure you look after each other! From personal experience thus far, I can say that having strong friendships is important in not only getting through a degree, but also in enjoying it. This last point is key: make sure you are still enjoying yourself despite the work and stress.
Establish a strong network of friends and course mates to make sure you look after one another!
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
If you’re not sure how to proceed on an assignment, or did not understand a point in class, do not be afraid to ask your tutors for help. Ask in an e-mail to meet them, even if just for five minutes. Tutors and lecturers are an incredible source of knowledge that we should make the most of! They could give you key authors in academic debates, refer you to books in the library, or provide you with extra resources. And sometimes, just talking through your ideas with someone who is knowledgeable on the topic can help identify the areas in your understanding that need more development. Even if they may seem stressed (tutors are human too!), still ask to meet with them, or ask your questions in an e-mail. It’s your education, make the most of the resources available to you!
Also, make sure to read the feedback on assignments, as it is an incredible tool to identify how you can improve for the next assignment. If you’re disappointed with the mark given, and want further information, tutors are generally happy to meet with you and explain the results in more detail.
Don’t get discouraged
Following on from this, don’t get discouraged with disappointing marks. The first semester is a trial period, where you’re getting back into the swing of academia and university life. Though it is true that the results do count towards your degree, one assignment in the first semester is rarely worth more than a small percentage of your final degree score. Use the feedback constructively, recognise what you did well in the assignment, and what you need to improve on for next time. Be sad or disappointed for a little while, but then use your emotions to motivate yourself to work towards the next assignment!
Find something truly for yourself
A great way to escape the pressures of studying is to find an activity or hobby that is completely for you and your enjoyment. If there’s a sport you’ve always wanted to try, or a style of dance that has always attracted you, give it a try! The University offers a range of clubs and societies, ranging from sports, cultural, creative, political, country or community-based activities. The city of Edinburgh also has several options! Joining one of these groups is a great way to make time for yourself. For example, I joined the Edinburgh Belly Dance Society (EBDS)! I had done belly dance for several years during my bachelor’s and wanted to find a similar community up here! Luckily, all the members of the EBDS were all so lovely and welcoming. Going to these dance lessons provided me with a creative outlet completely separate from my degree, and has really contributed to my student experience in Edinburgh.
Enjoy the master’s life
Finally, remember to enjoy yourself! Yes, your reason for starting a life in Edinburgh (for many of us) is to study, but it shouldn’t be your only reason for staying. The student experience is not just about studying, it’s also about making memories, connections and friendships. Ideally, you’d want to tell others about your experience in Edinburgh with a smile and a wee Scottish accent.
Take advantage of the metropolitan, friendly, cultural and international community that is the city of Edinburgh. Seize opportunities to try new things and to meet new people. Experience all that Scotland has to offer: gastronomy (haggis, skirlie, whisky, IRN BRU, short bread, buckfast); landscapes (Royal Botanic Gardens, Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill, the Highlands, Loch Ness, Loch Lomond, etc); history; and finally its warm-hearted, outgoing and friendly people (make sure to go to a ceilidh!). Out of the countries I’ve travelled to, I can confidently say that the Scottish are so far among the top 5 most welcoming and approachable people.
Have fun while you’re in Edinburgh, it would be a shame not to!