Getting a Masters Degree: Things I Wish I Knew Before Jumping In

Monday, 4th of September marks the end of my journey as a masters student at Northumbria University and the finish line of my school years. (FINALLY! F*CK YEAH! I'M OUT B*TCHES!) No, but really, taking masters straight after undergrad is not as great of an idea as I thought. Real talk, let me break it down for you:

MASTERS IS not about learning something entirely new

If you're going into a masters course thinking you'll have an accelerated undergrad course essentially, you're wrong. A lot of my friends, including myself, wanted to take a masters degree so that we can get away from our current fields of practice and learn something new. While yes, you do learn new things, you won't necessarily have the same kind of lectures and theories taught to you like in undergrad. A lot of my friends including myself struggled to learn the fundamentals of our new subjects (in my case fashion) because it was never taught to us. In a masters program, they expect you to already know the fundamentals and deepen your knowledge through questioning said fundamentals or current issues. The thing is, how are you going to question something when you don't know what to question?

This means that the students who go above and beyond to invest time in learning more than what is taught will be the one who can get value from a masters course. You could argue that this is the same anywhere–the more you sow, the more you reap. However, taking into account that the program will not teach you new theories, you'd have to learn them yourself to keep up.

design management requires minimal design

This might only apply to my course per se, but I thought I should still put it out there. You will not design anything. While you still use design fundamentals and principles, sketching and making will not be the primary objective. The only proper design work I've done while in the course is designing my report layout and even that is optional. You could create stuff if it's part of your research methods (for example learning by designing), but otherwise, it's mostly research-based. I've heard most of my friends who take MA Design also aren't doing as many designing as they thought they would. Bottom line, Design Management is becoming the thinker behind the design, making sense of the design, and managing creativity in business.

research is self-fueled and self-driven

Motivation will be your greatest strength and weakness. Each lecturer is different, and some don't even bother to tell you what to do next or if you're doing it right. You have to be critical of your own progression and direction. In a way, this has helped me tremendously at learning to work independently. I've had lecturers who are super helpful and really push me to look beyond, but also some that just nod and say "keep going" without any helpful criticism. My motivation to learn fashion business kept me going and helped me stay focused, so even without guidance, I'd be doing what I've been doing anyway. That is something you should strive to have. Passion and discipline will move you forward.

Try to have some work experience before going into a masters

As I said before, you won't really be taught and your research will be self-driven. As such, it's a good idea to have some work experience prior to your masters course. I made the mistake of going in with zero experience and as such zero applicable real-life scenarios for me to research deeply. I had no background in fashion other than my frequent reading of fashion news. At the middle of my course, I took a one-month internship at BrandOpus and while it was not in fashion, I did manage to learn a few things from the strategy team which helped me a lot in my research. Going in with work experience also means that you know the inner workings of the industry which can make your propositions more viable and applicable. Also, it's always great to have contacts in the industry for interviews or case studies. Looking for people to agree to let you do a full-on case study on their company or even for an interview can be tough, which is understandable considering they're putting information that could be used against the company or themselves for something they're not directly benefitting from. If you know them personally, however, they might be less opposed to participating.

Don't get me wrong, I felt like I learned a lot and have become more critical of things. I also met a lot of amazing people during my time here. I felt like I would've gotten more out of my course had I known all those things above, but I feel like I made the most out of it. I'm at the process of trying to get my very first paper published and I have my thesis here on my site as well. Fingers crossed I'll get the opportunity to get published! Hopefully this can be helpful for those of you looking to get a masters degree. If ever you have any further questions you can always just hit me up!