The art of becoming a postgraduate

By Harriet Swain

Just because you have to be reasonably clever to be a postgraduate doesn't mean that becoming one is a clever thing to do. In fact, anyone who properly carries out research, weighs the evidence, and puts together a rational argument about the advisability of a further degree is likely to make a good case for going straight out and getting a job. This is probably why many postgraduate programmes start with a course on developing students' research skills.

The first thing you need to ask yourself is how well you will be able to cope thinking about a single topic day and night for the next few years - money. During your undergraduate years you will probably have got used to living with debt. But this is nothing compared with the debts you are likely to accumulate as a postgraduate. What's worse, you may find yourself having to turn down well-paid job offers in favour of months tied to a library desk. And don't forget none of this will stop many of your less talented friends splashing their salaries around in your company.

Once you have worked out whether you could pay for postgrad study, you need to establish why you'd want to. If it's about enhancing your career prospects, you need to find out whether it really would be more effective than work experience or voluntary work. If it's about pursuing a subject that passionately interests you, you need to think about whether this passion is leading anywhere. If it's because you can't think what else to do, try a bit harder.

If you're interested in taking a PhD, you need to get a good degree. It also helps to have a tutor who recognises your potential genius. This means that you remind them of themselves when they were at your stage. They will suggest during your undergraduate degree that you think about further study, and will advise you on the applications process, offer you funding, and recommend a suitable supervisor - possibly themselves.

On the other hand, it often helps if you don't have such a tutor. It means you can pursue the topic you are really interested in rather than the one they wished they'd done.

Once you've looked into whether there are any benefits in becoming a postgraduate, whether you can pay for it, and where the best place is to do it, you may feel you've had enough of research. In that case, a PhD is probably not for you.

- The Guardian

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