In the process of preparing for my postgraduate career, I didn’t realise that one of the biggest challenges I would have to overcome as a postgraduate would come before coursework began. This challenge was accepting that I belonged in the program.
I was accepted at the University of Aberdeen in January; however, my acceptance still depended on processes like obtaining a visa and securing a living situation. I was excited, but I was also wary of being too excited in case something happened to make that dream disappear. I was also constantly checking for an email that said I was accepted by mistake. I often associate this with a phenomenon called “imposter syndrome,” which is the persistent fear that you don’t belong. My conversations with other postgraduates led me to understand that this is a normal thought process. We all go through this together.
I felt imposter syndrome again when I started attending Welcome Week events in the first week of university. My reasoning that I would be like a first year experiencing the university for the first time started to crumble as I attempted to mingle with people who were around 4 years younger than me. Fresh faces still discussing their A level results and wondering where the best party is. My involvement with these activities felt like I was intruding on their process of self-discovery and coming into adulthood that all first years are supposed to go through together. They are supposed to be unsure. I know if I hadn’t gone through the process of being unsure, I wouldn’t be where I am today. A postgraduate.
When deciding on a degree at any level, there are certain questions on if the subject is something you want to devote a great deal of time and study in, if it is something that will fulfil your long-term career goals, and if it is something you are passionate about. I have come to realise that undergraduates in the UK must complete a dissertation in order to graduate. That scares me little. They already know how to write a huge paper like that. In my degree I wrote a lot of long essays, but never took the dissertation route. Similarly, I think having the dissertation as a mandatory process in UK undergraduate programs is a great idea because it gives people an idea of the type of work involved in a masters degree.
I’ve learned that previous education is not a dictator of how you will succeed in postgraduate studies. I have a masters degree in English; however, I sometimes feel the imposter syndrome in museum studies because I am studying with people who have established themselves in other fields such as anthropology, history, and archaeology. Fields more closely related to museum studies than an English degree. I love doing something different though. I love being in the same university setting (albeit with more castle-like buildings) and studying something different. I love walking through the campus knowing that I am a postgraduate. I love talking with people who I probably wouldn’t have met had I not been open to studying something different in a different country.
A sense of belonging came with my experience as well. That is as natural and expected as feelings of anxiety. Things like living in a postgraduate accommodation helped. I quickly found myself recognising faces from my course in my accommodation. The Inter-Faith centre on campus also offers postgraduate coffee and cake. This event is low key and at the same time every week. I know I always appreciate routine since that makes my busy student schedule easier to manage. Just knowing it’s there is comforting, even on those days when university work prevents me from going.
I’ve learned that sometimes postgraduates forget to let their minds rest and focus on themselves. I think the same can be said of all students.