So, let me tell you some of my experiences thus far. I recently just graduated and currently doing my postgrad studies and done with the first block which literally have been the most hectic block in my university experience. See, being an undergrad (still pursuing your degree) and postgrad (after you have obtained the degree) and having experience in both. I can now share in case you are wondering what are the differences and will I want to experience such?
I’ve noted sooo many differences between the two and I can gladly say I’m happy I took this challenging adventure. Let me share my thoughts and experiences
First of all, in my undergrad it was only full time students. No part time students or working class so it was compulsory for every undergrad to attend all their classes from Monday to Friday with varying times. Thus the numbers in class were super large I remember in my first year sociology class we were about 800 learners that’s the biggest number I’ve sat in for a lecture but as years went by, the number kept decreasing though it wasn’t that noticeable. If someone decides to drop out today for post grad you will notice because that’s how small the class is compared to the 800 mentioned before.
Postgrad is flexible enough that you can actually study and work, coming from work around 3 and attending a 4 to 7 lecture. You have a choice to study full time or part time depending on your schedule and how your life is currently set up. The number between the working class and full-time students is not balanced there are few full-time students than part time students. In just 3 months some people that I started with have decided to look for jobs and amend to studying part time rather than full time, as this is rather very demanding because you do your course work and research simultaneously.
I’m studying full time as mentioned and in my specialization class we are less than 20. That is a whole lecture not tutorials because basically tutorials normally have a much smaller number to make sure the content is emphasized and misconceptions are rectified, questions answered and so on. So, the time we attend is different this depends with the course in interest and institution you want to study at but in my case, this is what happens. Evening lectures are a norm. In the previous years I have seen people that actually get away with working and studying full time. I must say I salute them because it takes dedication and discipline to work full time, do course work and research and still pass very well. They have since introduced morning classes so it would be impossible to work and try to study full time.
The type of work we do
I had more lectures than readings in undergrad however assignments given were 1 or 2 per semester within a specific course. Where as now I have 5 assignments for one course in a semester for my course work modules. For example, in one of my courses works that has 5 modules taught by 5 different specialists within 5 days to finish the module and the readings for each are a lot more as you need to pre read about 3 at minimum articles to fully understand the lecture content, and write an assignment after every 5 lectures. In undergrad 1 to 2 people max deliver a module in a semester the other in the first block and the other in the second block (term as you would call in South African high school terminology). So postgrad is more on research than being taught content.
There are so many funding opportunities for undergrads. I guess that is why there is a lot of part time students so they can pay for their academic fees and take care of their families. These are my assumptions and I won’t go into detail as it is based on different personal experiences. However, in my institution we have a post merit award that you can apply for to fund your studies however it only pays for your academic fees which makes it difficult if you don’t have a sponsor to fund your accommodation and meals. Some bursaries can be given to you by your supervisors if they are working on a research project that is maybe funded or sponsored by a certain organisation. Organisations like NSFAS do not fund postgrad studies so one needs to ask postgrads with experience maybe who funded their studies as it helps because they can direct you to relevant people that have more knowledge. This is one of the main reasons why postgrad students change to part time as they don’t have funding for accommodation which is usually expensive near campuses and travelling to and from home and attending classes everyday can be stressful.
Most people want to go on and conquer the world and start marking a living for themselves and their families.
The pressure of observing your friends spending on anything they always want to have sometimes makes me want to quit and start working already. Ok not really, but I remember why did I want to start this at the first place? I get so inspired seeing women in red gowns and the weird caps and that I want to be an academic and why not go all the way up while I still can. Because, not everyone has got discipline enough to juggle work and studies. Honestly I salute the people that do so, it goes back to knowing yourself and doing it your way… on this note I’m saying when you are considering doing postgrad, go for it, whether part time or full time. Do it the way it will suit you best.
In my postgrad it was mainly being lectured on a specific topic and we were assessed based on that. No debate or input unless if the assignment requires you to do so. I used to cross night yes especially when I want to get the work done, this happened on rare occasions. However, I now spend most of my time at school working on something especially reading because unlike in undergrad you read more so that you can share ideas and opinions in class with your peers and lecturers. I could easily get away with not reading in undergrad but there is no way I can go to class without reading otherwise I am missing out. To write an academic research your work should reference other academics and to do so you need to read a lot of articles. Plagiarism is a serious offence hence the university is more strict on this when you get to postgrad you seriously need to acknowledge if the work is not yours and reference the different sources correctly.
In Postgrad you are allocated to a supervisor(s) that will monitor, mentor and guide you throughout the year and you get to have a close relationship with them. I feel this is a privilege yet so challenging because someone is constantly giving inputs. And, if you are lucky enough you get to have a group of supervisors that will work with you but that does not mean they will tell you what to do and what to write. However, you need to work with them by putting effort then they give constructive feedback. I’ve never heard of someone with a supervisor in undergrad rather most have mentors. However, mentors are not always there academically till the day you submit your research project.
Time management is key in postgrad as everything goes fast by and your degree is short compared to undergrad. So, you need to literally plan your time wisely because most weekends are going to be dedicated to studying over social life. Submission deadlines are much closer and the focus must be balanced to all the modules because if you focus more one and not the other, its easy to fail some modules and catching up is again not as easy in postgrad as compared to undergrad.
The most interesting thing for me is working closely with lecturers and mentoring undergrads students doing the same course I did. Because, I have been there, done that and sharing what I could have done better helps them not to do mistakes that I did. It also motivates them to do better.
So these are some of my experiences thus far and I know I’ve yet to experience more differences and challenges in this journey to PHD.