The Life of a University of Edinburgh Master’s Student: Reflections from the Second Semester
By Audrey, MSc Environmental Sustainability
Part 2 of “The Life of a University of Edinburgh Master’s Student” is here! Our second semester ended a few weeks ago, and now the third semester — which is all about the dissertation — is in full swing. Though I’ve returned to Belgium for a couple weeks, I often daydream about and reflect on my life in Edinburgh in the second semester — what could I tell January 2020 Audrey to expect? Would I do anything differently, knowing what I know now? What went well? What didn’t go so well? Whether you are a current student, or if you’re joining our Edinburgh Geosciences family in the fall, I hope you enjoy the reflections; maybe you’ve had similar experiences, or maybe they’ll be useful to you next year. Either way, feel free to start a conversation in the comments!
Reflection 1: Finding Your Rhythm
Setting the scene: the Christmas holidays have just ended, and though you’ve had a three-week break, you’re still recuperating from the intense end to the first semester. Edinburgh has started to become your home, but you’re not quite at that stage yet and re-finding your footing feels a bit daunting, and you’re starting to miss the familiarity and routine of the first semester.
If you feel this way, don’t worry! It is completely normal: several, including myself felt this way. By the end of the first semester, I had my routine down to a T; I knew where I would study on Tuesdays and Thursdays (my days without classes), I knew exactly where my 9AM classes were and how to get there, and my assessments were well spread out. My schedule in the second semester was completely different: all our assessments were grouped together at the end of the semester, and my classes were in different places and times. For the first few weeks, I felt a (self-imposed) pressure to quickly find my footing and get my life under control and into a routine, which sometimes made me stress when there was no reason to! If I could do it again, I would take the first few weeks easy, use them to enjoy reacquainting myself with Edinburgh, my friends, and to find a new study rhythm. At the start of the second semester, many Geoscience postgraduates don’t have much work to do aside from readings, so it’s a great time to really enjoy the degree, the city and your friends! Why not go travelling, go to new cafés & restaurants, or try a new hobby?
Reflection 2: Modules — go with your gut
Though you should enjoy the first few weeks, do think about your modules and whether they are the right fit for you. We had less time than the first semester to decide on our modules, which was a bit stressful. If you’ve gone to the first lecture, and it doesn’t feel right, go with your gut and have a look at the other modules available online. Don’t be afraid to look at other Schools too — a few of us took courses from the SRUC and the School of Social and Political Science.
Pro-tip: When picking modules, have a look at the type and frequency of assessments. Make sure that your assignment due dates are not too close together (I promise you will thank yourself later). Also, play to your strengths, maybe you’re better at essay writing, prefer lower word counts, or dislike group work. There is nothing wrong with any of these; by choosing modules according to your skills, interests, or preferences, you will probably make the second semester a much smoother ride. I changed to the Environmental Governance and Policy module, and I couldn’t be happier! The assessment types played to my strengths, and the subject matter was completely new to me which made the course challenging and rewarding.
Reflection 3: Coursework & Dissertation — Baby Steps
Though the deadlines seem far away, and the dissertation is only due in August, why not start early? Since there’s a bit of extra time in the first few weeks of the second semester, it’s a great moment to get ahead. Set yourself easy targets, like two readings per week for your dissertation or for an assignment a few weeks away — knowing you’ve been working slowly but progressively helps you manage your stress and workload later in the semester. I did this, and it really gave me some flexibility in the work I could choose to do later in the semester, and allowed me to spend more time on the writing and fine-tuning of my assignments.
Reflection 4: Be Adventurous — Step out of the City Centre
You had the first semester to familiarise yourself with the Cowgate, Holyrood, Princes Street and Bruntsfield, but now that you’re in the second semester, why not try to step out of your comfort zone and explore more of what Edinburgh has to offer? I really wish I had done this more and explored different neighbourhoods and areas! Places I did visit, and which I really recommend for day-trips, are Portobello, Leith, and North Berwick. Other fan favourites (better for weekend trips) are Loch Lomond, Loch Ness, St. Andrews, Fife, Stirling and more! If you’re looking for inspiration or some information on the above locations, have a look at this website: https://www.planetware.com/scotland/edinburgh-surroundings-sco-loth-esur.htm.
Reflection 5: Nourish Friendships & Be Open to New People
If you’ve found your ‘crew’ in the first semester — great! Check in with one another – go grab a bite to eat, a coffee, lunch or dinner! You’ll be important for each other in the second semester, and especially while you write your dissertation. Even if this has to be online (like we needed to during the pandemic), host Skype or Microsoft Teams calls, organise online pub quizzes or play multiplayer games!
It’s almost important to stay open to new people too. In the second semester you’ll have new modules and course mates, you’ll meet new people at social events or workshops, or when trying out a new sport or society. Take this as an opportunity to get to know new people, and add them to your Edinburgh family! In one of my modules I had a really great group for a project, and we ended up becoming friends and going out for a celebratory post-presentation dinner and drinks — one of my favourite memories in Edinburgh.
Reflection 6: It’s Starting to Feel Like Home
In the latter half of the second semester, Edinburgh really started becoming my new home — I started to find my favourite restaurants, cafés, pubs and study spots. Some of these were a bit of a surprise; they weren’t exactly what I envisioned my favourite places to be, but they were those where I spent the most time with friends, and have become kind of symbolic of my time in Edinburgh. Though I highly recommend adventuring and trying out new places in Edinburgh, also let the older places become familiar; they will make Edinburgh feel like home.
Some of my favourites are:
Study spots: the ECCI Master’s Hub — many of us studied here together, there was a real feeling of solidarity when the coursework was heavy and the stress was high. It’s always more fun to study and work with friends and classmates!
Cafés: Black Medicine, Lovecrumbs and the Edinburgh Coffee Lounge. All have a unique décor, and are great quiet yet lively places with great coffee! During the week – ideal for doing light work or reading, or for meeting a friend for coffee. For relaxing on the weekends, I highly recommend Lovecrumbs — they have a a no-laptop policy, which makes it an ideal location for chatting with friends, or reading a book without distractions.
Restaurants: There are so many great places in Edinburgh, but my favourites are Soi 38 and Bentoya. Soi 38 is an amazing Thai restaurant with a laid-back no-fuss atmosphere which very much reminded me of hawker centres in Singapore (where I lived in high school). When I think of Soi 38, I can’t help but smile and think of the people I’ve gone with (and the great food)! Another favourite: Bentoya. This was the first restaurant I went to on my first night in Edinburgh; — every time I go I am reminded of the excitement I felt at the start of my Edinburgh adventure!
Pubs & Bars: The Brass Monkey, with its quirky décor, massive sofas, quizzes, student-friendly prices, range of board and card games, and proximity to the ECCI made it a favourite for our class; we often went there to wind down after a long day of studying, or after evening lectures. Another personal favourite is the Caley Picture House, the interior is practically magical, taking you right back to the 1920s. Like with Bentoya, I have an emotional attachment to the Caley Picture House — it was the first pub I went to in Edinburgh, and since, I’ve introduced it to many others.
Reflection 7: Sometimes Things Won’t Go to Plan — and That’s Okay.
Perhaps the most important reflection from this semester is that sometimes, things will not work out the way you thought they would. There will be things that you cannot control, like strikes or global pandemics, and you will just have to make the best of a situation. Though the second semester did not develop as I imagined it would, the experience was definitely amazing! The lecturers were incredibly supportive during the pandemic and transitioned to online learning, and I improved my self-studying and work discipline, conducted consultancy projects, learnt about completely new subjects, and produced some of my best work thus far in my academic career. I also got much closer to friends, met new people, and really made a home for myself in Edinburgh. In summary, a reflection which will definitely stick with me is that when things don’t go to plan, try to make the most of it and focus on the positives!
I cannot wait to go back to Edinburgh soon, to wrap up the third semester in the best way possible. Stay tuned for part 3 of The Life of an Edinburgh Master’s Student!