The Difference between Postgrad and Undergrad

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

Photo by Marleena Harris

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.

Photo Suad Kamardeen

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.

Funding opportunities

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.

Photo by Emma Matthews

Work load

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

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.

Photo by Honey Yanibel Minaya Cruz

Conquering FOMO in University

I loved my university experience and I am thankful for the opportunity because I know not everyone gets to go. I had a lot of fun, I did my school work but unfortunately, I spent too much time socialising. In uni I only did what was expected of me. I didn’t push myself academically to perform to the best of my ability and that is one of my biggest regrets. If I could speak to my first-year self, I would say yes going out is fun but applying yourself is true satisfaction.

We’ve all heard the ‘don’t forget you are there for a degree’ phrase, and I didn’t. But what I did lose sight of was that there is so much more to university than just an undergraduate degree. I’m not disappointed in myself, I did graduate within the 3 years after all. But I am not comfortable with the mediocrity of my performance. So please don’t be like me, strive for excellence. Go the extra mile.

Participate in campus organisations like debating or Model UN, do some volunteering (Now, I wasn’t completely selfish, I did some volunteering but it was compulsory to get a credit for a subject so I can’t really say it was out of the good of my own heart but I did connect with those precious children), consider tutoring, trust me, you don’t want to come out varsity with your CV looking bleak.  The reality is South Africa is currently facing the problem of youth unemployment, and so I suggest you do activities that you love and enjoy but will set you apart from other graduates.

Don’t rest on your laurels as you are capable of greatness. You are not only there for yourself, but you are also there for society. South Africa deserves young leaders that are passionate and determined.  I don’t care how smart you think you are, go to class, all of them that is what you are paying for after all.  Use the library more often! It’s a privilege to be in a centre of knowledge. Do your daily homework, going to class isn’t enough, do your readings. Cultivate a sense of self-discipline. Take it from me you will be happier for it. 

I cherish my university experience, I really enjoyed myself. But when it comes to happiness, remember there is short-term excitement and there is long-term fulfilment. Definitively, have your fun. But developing a healthy work ethic is an essential part of #BossingUp. And please, don’t worry about me I have learned from my mistakes. I am determined to wear my gown a couple of more times, #WatchThisSpace.  

How All Returning Varsity Students Should Boss Up

This article is dedicated to those who are returning students, and have a desire to improve their ways. These ways could be academically, physically, mentally and just ones overall health. But of course we can all learn from this, even ‘freshers’ or first year students.

The university experience is by far one of the most challenging and tiresome, as returning students we can all detest to this. I think the most challenging aspect about it is trying to find the balance between everything. You obviously want to do well at school, perhaps you’ve already had these visions about your academic success, and you already know what you have to do in order to achieve your ultimate academic goal. But reality doesn’t always unfold the way we plan it, and this can be frustrating. Well, it is for me. It doesn’t unfold the way we planned for it because we constantly have to remember that we are more than just our academic journey. Perhaps if we wanted to be highly successful beings we’d have to have a plan for our mental health and activity, our spiritual journey as well as our physical health… oh let’s not forget balancing our social life. Oh god how do people do it? How? Please share?

What I’ve learnt from those who are ahead in life than I am is how imperative it is to be organized and the best way to be organized is to possess a diary, and start scheduling. Yes, schedule. Become that girl ‘Oh, I would have to check my schedule/diary and get back to you’ it’s 100% okay. I don’t know why we think that we can remember everything that has to be done, the cool thing about a diary or schedule is that you don’t have to actively remember everything, as soon as you know that something has to be ticked off from your to-do list, instantly write it down and your diary will remember it for you. All you have to do now is be disciplined enough to do what you have scheduled to do when you have scheduled to have it done.

Yes, our biggest friend and enemy at the same time has to be unfriended and unfollowed, PROCRASTINATION. Procrastination is the enemy of progress. Why do we procrastinate? It has been found that one of the biggest reasons humans procrastinate is because the workload seems unmanageable, therefore we opt to do something that does not require as much effort, like watching a series, even if we binge watch, it still does not require that much effort. How can we resolve this? Once, a woman I value to be considerably wise told me that ‘you shouldn’t think that everything has to be done all at once, that is utterly impossible, and that is when you will feel overwhelmed, and the result of that is that you will get nothing done. What you should do instead, is make sure that you do one thing at a time, and no day should pass without you haven’t done anything, even if it’s just one thing.’ What you choose to have done will be what you consider to be the most important things to do on your list. You can judge that according to time, like which is more urgent than the other.

Once you have mastered your academic organization and scheduling readings, writing down lecture notes in your own words, that assignment, and that test you will be able to find time to schedule other things that add value to your well-being, like socializing. Socializing is just as important as doing well at school, the only difference is applied energy, and that is why some people get carried away with this. It seems so much easier to just hang out with friends than it does doing anything involving schoolwork. But this is where your priorities are questioned, which is more important and which is more rewarding? How about going out as a reward, and it doesn’t have to be something big all the time, even if you have completed something minor. For example, ‘okay I’ve completed all the readings I intended to have done and made notes, sure I can meet with my girl for a movie now’. Socializing doesn’t always have to be big and loud either, dinner is a sufficient way to get your mind off many other things.

Exercise! I cannot distress this enough, physical exercise is just beneficial in all ways possible. You gain a feeling of happiness; this is due to a change in hormones.

Side note: the minute you sense yourself slipping into a depressive state just head to the gym or for a walk, put your headphones on and break a sweat.

This extra blood flow and release of serotonin (hormone responsible for happiness and satisfaction) will improve your current mental state. Exercising adds agility and motivation in many aspects than just the physical, which is very useful when one wishes to complete anything.

 There are some things that we are unaware of that we may have to schedule in but are important to our perseverance and ultimate survival, such a thing is your spirituality, it is your grounding element. Whether religious or simply spiritual it is important to have constant retreats where you tend to nothing else but you and your spiritual journey. This is where the source of your doings lie. This is where your journey begins and is where your journey on this earth ends. Therefore, maintaining a healthy relationship with your spiritual self is crucial to your success as a person.

Like I mentioned before the most challenging aspect about all of these is about finding the balance. But as I’ve listed, once you find your academic balance the rest can follow, in no particular order too, it depends on which you find the most mandatory, but all are equally important. Once there is a sense of organization and you find that you can manage your time better, then there is noting that can stand in your way, you could even get a part-time job, take on more responsibility but you shouldn’t reach a stage where you’re choking. Create a healthy balance.

Moulding Your Career While Studying

Amongst other things, the aim of going to study in a tertiary institution is to get that paper. The one that certifies that you are knowledgeable in whatever course you’ve enrolled for. But what happens when 300 students receive that same diploma/degree that you have and graduate along with you? Now that is just considering the students in your college or university. Let’s take that number and multiply it by the number of institutions which offer the same course you just graduated in. I don’t know what the exact figure is, but I do know that it is a lot.

How do you then set yourself apart from the other thousands of students who’ve got the same qualification as you? How do you make sure that your CV stands out and recruiters see you amongst all those who’ve got the same skills as you?

These are the two main questions I think you need to keep in mind while studying. Yes, the immediate need is to submit assignments on time and pass semester tests and exams. But what happens after all of that? According to Stats SA 430 000 people were unemployed in 2017 and 7.3% were graduates. This number of unemployed graduates is horrifying to be honest and begs the question of whether a tertiary qualification is necessary. That, however needs an entire article dedicated to it.

The simplest answer to these questions is this; you need to get involved in things than can assist you to develop your career outside of the formal structures of learning. Do not confine yourself to only learning in lecture halls, find learning and development opportunities separate outside of that. Tertiary institutions are actually structured in aa manner which is conducive to this learning and development. Campus itself is a community of various industries which can assist you in building yourself for after varsity.

Working on campus is a viable option to consider while you’re studying towards getting that paper. Campus radio and newspaper are great starting points for aspiring broadcasters. Do not despise small beginnings because you do not know what they can lead to. A Girl Boss like Hilisani Ravele’s campus radio experience has been a contributing factor to the success of her career. She has co-hosted shows on Power FM and 94.7 to name a few. Even if you do not become a broadcaster, being on radio or writing for the newspaper will develop your communication skills and give you invaluable experience.

Here’s a brief list of other developmental avenues to consider while studying:

  • Internships and volunteer programs – these provide great work experience and also indicate how your able to balance school and work
  • Involvement in SRC and campus societies – these will expose you to how the working world is like through the various seminar/events the society organizes. You can pick a society which is both social and purposeful; for example, being part of the student’s law society as a law student is rudimentary.
  • Part-time work: retail stores/tutoring
  • Campus work: tutoring/ radio/newspaper/ IT services – working on campus is great because you would have access to it easily. There are various services provided by the varsity/college to students which need student to work in them. For example; the IT department helps students with issue they have with their own laptops; these services administered by “student employees”.

See your qualification as the bare minimum requirement to getting a job and work towards making your CV stand out from the rest of the applicants’.

I unfortunately did not have the foresight while I was still in varsity regarding all of this. Do not buy into the dream that all you need is a qualification and for that reason, finding a job will be easy; because a rude awakening awaits. By the time I realised the importance of truly moulding my career while studying, I was halfway through my second year and only had about a year and a half to try and up my game. Had I known the importance of this from orientation week in 1st year, I would’ve been more proactive about giving myself a competitive advantage from the onset.

Being AFRICAN is one of your SUPERPOWERS!

by Gigi Ngcobo

This November I had the honour of being selected as the first student moderator of the World Lecture Series at Michigan State University (MSU) in a 163-years. I was chosen to moderate Rev. Nontombi Tutu. a consultant, professor, clergy and the daughter of Desmond Tutu lecture on the TRC and apartheid. As I was preparing for the talk, I was reminded of some of the reasons I take pride in my African and South African identity.

1.    Africa is the continent of OPPORTUNITY

Schooling in the USA I’ve seen services and used products that aren’t available in South Africa (SA). Products such as Bird, Alexa, and Ring that offer new ways of commuting or home security that haven’t entered the African market. When using these products, I realize the opportunities that exists for us as Africans to create new businesses, local products or introduce foreign ones into our markets, and we can collaborate with others anywhere in the world and, and, and…. It’s also easy to get started in developing markets like ours because we don’t have strong laws to comply with that make starting a business cumbersome and costly. Lastly, another added advantage is when it comes to funding there are so many opportunities, I wrote an article about them that will be up soon.

2.    You have a UNIQUE perspective

The perspective you bring to the world might seem similar to those around you because you are all South African, however, once you step outside the country, you recognise how different you are. As South Africans, we have an unparalleled history with apartheid, we have the concept of the rainbow nation, 11 official languages, and a new culture that is highly influenced by America and Europe. The ability to live in such a cosmopolitan society but remain distinctly African is rare, and if you embrace it and use it to learn how to see from different perspectives, you’ll have the ability to connect with people in an impactful manner and offer new ideas that they’ve never heard off.

3.    The internet is ACCELERATING scale.

We as Africans have often not traded with one another due to inheriting a colonial economy that centered on trading with Europe and ensuring their raw materials were supplied. However, the internet allows us as Africans to connect and work on trading with one another, some of my favourite fashion retailers are based in Kenya, and I found them on Instagram. I think that as the internet connects us as Africans we’ll start trading and opening ourselves to new markets within Africa, this means that businesses will have better returns on investments. So, as an African invest in your yourself and your continent, Africa is a huge market and closest to you..

by Gigi Ngcobo