Our Masters Compare Scholarship winner for 2020 Emma shares her thoughts in a new blog post. Emma tells us about what it has been like for her studying a masters degree in lockdown.

‘Being a master’s student, this academic year has been different to any other both academically and socially. A major aspect of being a post-grad at Oxford is the combination of academic and social opportunities available, which this year sadly have in many cases been cancelled or moved online. On my course last autumn, we were combining online lectures and socially distant seminars in person, with the hope that we would be able to have all teaching in person by 2021.

Unfortunately, when we entered the third lockdown in-person teaching was no longer possible. This has meant since the beginning of Hilary term (17th January to 13th March 2021), I have been studying from my parent’s house until we’re safely allowed back at the end of March.’

Positivity in home study online

‘Now this description makes the whole master’s experience sound pretty bleak, but I’ve actually had a good time. Going virtual oddly meant that I got to know my classmates quite well, which seems odd given that we’ve only known each other for a few months. Another aspect of the online world that has been positive for me is that I have had more time to engage with different communities and societies at College.

For example, I have committed more time to equality and diversity projects than I was able to during my undergrad. One of the biggest benefits of the virtual world, academically speaking, has been that our department and University as a whole has been able to put on some amazing guest lecturers from all over the globe.’

What have been the highlights of your time on the course?

‘The best part of the course so far was working on policy problem in a team last term. We were tasked to find solutions to a structural racism issue and our group decided to focus on social housing in the US. It was a good experience because we got to integrate the experience of all of us with different backgrounds, but primarily it was a practical project which appealed to my interests. The course is otherwise predominantly theory based.

I’ve also really enjoyed our Option seminars because it’s essentially two hours of discussion with each other around a topic, rather than being tested on knowledge of specific readings as it was in undergrad.’  

What advice would you offer to anyone wanting to take on a postgraduate programme?

Do your research! I think it can be tempting just to apply for something in order to have something to do, but there are so many different courses out there with different benefits. Also, there is more independence and less guidance at a postgrad level, so choose something that you might actually enjoy for a year or two because otherwise you won’t put the work in.

This year it’s particularly important to explore different programmes because you might want different things from a university. When it means that teaching could be online or that the job market is changing you need to think about your future goals. Finally (something that might be less important to some), look into which research methods you will be allowed to use. Most programmes require you to submit a thesis of your own research. My preferred method of data collection turned out not to be possible for me to submit.’

Has it been easy to adjust to study and get the live/work balance right, or has that been hard?

‘I think I would have been distracted by all the things you can to as a student at Oxford, so for me studying a masters degree in lockdown made it easier to study. I used to do some tutoring during my undergrad degree, but this year I haven’t found the time.’

Has anyone or anything at the university made a big difference to your experience?

‘My college is one which places a large emphasis on supporting current students but also preparing them for the future, so they put on a lot of workshops which I have found useful. Green Templeton College also gave us the opportunity to apply to work with a coach who could support us in whichever way we wanted, to change our own thought process. This isn’t something I thought I could benefit from, but it has definitely helped me approach options for the future.’

Is there anything that you know now that you wish you knew before you started your course?

‘I wished I had got in touch with students on the course I’m doing. Overall, studying a masters degree in lockdown has been a positive experience, but it is definitely different to what I expected. Current students are best placed to answer any questions and most of them are more than willing to do so.’

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