Tuesday 17 September 2013

It's Not All Work, Work, Work

Last week I spent my weekdays in sunny Aberystwyth on the Welsh coastline - and it was sunny most of the week as well!

I started studying an MSc degree in Information and Library Studies last September with Aberystwyth University. It's a distance learning course but during the degree you have to attend three residential 'study schools' and last week was the second of the schools. The next one (hopefully) will be next year and is all about the dissertation - scary stuff!
As well as some studying and some lectures, there was the obligatory student drinking pub sessions and it was great to catch up with all the friends I made at the first study school. I'll admit, studying at a distance is hard but on the train home from Aberystwyth, I felt filled with motivation at getting 6 assignments completed before next September.
 (remind me of that misplaced optimism next August when I'm pulling my hair out trying to get everything finished in time)
I think I've learnt a lot over the last year (and not just about the content of the course); I'm sure these are all fairly obvious but I thought I'd share some of the useful gems I've come to realise over the last 12 months.

1. It's hard - this sounds really silly but it's not easy. There's always something more exciting/interesting/useful to do; even ironing can seem attractive when you've an essay to write. My course doesn't have any deadlines either which initially seems great but in reality means there's no pressure to get things done, hence hours, days and weeks pass without reading or writing a single word.

Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules Book

Unfortunately I haven't got any sort of magic motivation formula (please, do let me know if there is one), there just isn't any really easy way to study, you just need to knuckle down and do it, wherever and whenever works for you!

Aberystwyth Old College

This year I'm hoping to get 6 assignments done, which gives me an average of 2 months for each one - 1 month of research and 1 month of writing. That's the plan anyway, i'll see how it goes...

2. Make the most of University resources - being so far away from Aberystwyth means I can't just pop into the Uni library like other students when I want a book or bit of information. But I can still borrow books from other libraries using a useful UK scheme called 'SCONUL Access' which gives you access to most University libraries across the country.  Lots of books and journals are online now as well so there's lots and lots of ways to access information.

Aberystwyth Old College

My course also has an online learning environment (called Blackboard) where students can ask questions about the modules and assignments. I find I use this lots and lots when trying to plan my assignments as often other students have had the same problems or questions and the lecturer has gone online and explained more fully.

Aberystwyth Old College

Make the most of any residential visits to the University as well; sometimes it's your only chance to talk to academics face to face and use the facilities at the Uni. This year we were based in Aberystwyth Old College; as well as our lectures it was a fascinating building to explore.

Aberystwyth Old College

3. There's tons of research - my problem with studying is that I get bogged down in doing way too much reading. Each module does contain a lot of information and more often than not, you find one interesing journal article which leads onto another which points you to another and so on and so on. Before you know it you've wasted a few months researching things which are only loosely related to what you have to write about.

National Library of Wales sign

There is tons of research but sometimes you just need to stop and say to yourself - 'I've done enough research now'. I'll admit though, this is much easier said than done.


4. Keep in touch - it's lonely studying at a distance. My friends from the course are spread over most of the UK and there's even some from Trinidad and Tobago. You might only see these people once a year but they're your closest allies when it comes to battling through the same trials and tribulations of the degree. With a bit of luck, they'll also be the people throwing their mortarboards into the air with you at the graduation ceremony.

Friends at the beach

Facebook and Twitter are great for staying in contact; we even have a dedicated Facebook group for all of us who started the course at the same time (and it's a place where you can have a moan about the lecturers or assignments!) and sometimes all that's needed is a quick "hello, how you getting on?' to make you realise that you're not on your own.

Friends at the pub

5. And lastly, don't forget to rest - it is hard work and there's many a time where I wonder why the hell I signed up for another few years of studying, but trying to keep a healthy (ish) work/life/study balance is one of the most important things.

Aberystwyth view

Study hard but don't forget to play as well - if only to try and keep your sanity! :-)


P.S. Going to my second study school is another one ticked off my '32 Before 32' list. :-)


  1. What a great insight and good for you for doing a Masters. I know for both my Ba and MA blackboard was a life saver at times and I think it's something a lot of students overlook aside from being able to download lecturers from. It's great that you can make the most of using local libraries and university libraries, I know as being a former Newcastle Uni student, we were able to pop into Northumbia Uni's library and use their books and the like, although for a lot of my MA research work it was predominantly reading online journals.

    I think your right in saying to not over read - I personally looking back for both my degrees think I did too much reading, i'd have notes everywhere and my bibliographies were just huge. But I guess at the time I loved researching and reading around what my dissertations, particularly for my MA was based around so I was hungry for research!

    Good luck!

    1. Thanks Rachael! Lots of my degree as well seems to be reading and researching online journals; glad I'm not the only one though who over-reads! I know what you mean about huge bibliographies - one of my essays last year (a 3000 word one about censorship) ended up with a 4 page bibliography. It got a good mark though so it must've been okay; I just found the subject really interesting and kept finding relevant stuff! :-) x

  2. That's great advice, Louisa! Studying was difficult enough as a full-time student at University. I can't imagine how hard it must be to have a job and study part-time AND long-distance. Well done, you! xx

    1. Aww thanks Angela! Looking back now my undergrad degree seems like a piece of cake compared with trying to juggle everything for this degree! Be worth it in the end thought I hope :-) xx

  3. I agree with Angela, well done having a job and studying part-time plus long-distance! Excuse me while I'm drooling over how gorgeous the university building is...

    1. Thank you, it's hard but I hope it'll be worth it in the end.

      The building is lovely isn't it? And right on the seafront as well; on the last day when our lectures had finished we all just popped out to the pier and amusement arcade! :-) x


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