Balancing free time and postgraduate study!

Olaya Gonzalez on balancing her International Event Management MSc:olaya

During the Easter break my family came from Spain to visit. After over a year and a half of living in England it was about time for them to see where and how I was working on my future and my personal development, both as a student and as an adult.

Countless times I asked them to come, and they always had some sort of excuse: your brother has football training and he is the only goalie or it is quite difficult to find a time suitable for all of us. I must add that we are somehow scattered all around: me living in the UK, my younger sister in Madrid, and my brother and parents in the Basque Country. Agreeing for an appropriate time is, indeed, a titanic task of indescribable pain. However, we somehow managed, but not without some sacrifices.

As a norm, I am a very organised person: I make lists of everything, I plan my week days in advance, I even need to know what I will be eating on Friday so my lunches are not monotonous. Borderline madness. Obviously, I transfer these – let’s call them qualities – to my student life. Studying abroad is fulfilling one of my childhood dreams, and I want to perform better than the best version of me.

Mix it all together and the result is a smoothie of pressure and exigency that drains out my energy. It is not healthy, I know, but this is what family and friends are for. Balancing free-time and a masters is not an option, it is a requirement. Most of the time students will see in those unused hours the words procrastination flashing with neon lights, but the truth is that it is compulsory for a good performance.

I am not suggesting that leaving essays until the night before or not doing the readings is the way to success, not even close. But I do know by experience that one day, or even a whole week during a break, fills you up with energy, clears your mind, and puts you in a better setting to face working again once the leisure time is over. It takes you out of the eye of the storm where you have buried yourself into, and brightens you up with fresh air. It feels like living in the very centre of a crowded, tall city that covers the sky and forces you to look ahead and ignore the sides, and then take a lovely, long, chilled walk in the mountains, the hills or the beach. I leave that to the taste of each one.

The point here is that my family’s visit disrupted my pre-made, pre-packaged, lists and time schedules. It absolutely messed my mind set up, making stress in advance because I genuinely thought that I needed every second of being awake to do readings, essays, literature reviews, the final project… The thought of seven whole days nowhere near a computer or the library resources scared me to a point where before their arrival I doubled the amount of time I was investing on my studying.

I have to emphasise that I am a study freak – please do not take me as the norm, because I am not. The thing is, that once the withdrawal syndrome passed and my system was clean of academic performance obsession, I enjoyed every second of my time with the Modern Family-like group of individuals that form my family. They dragged me out, and I could not have seen how important it was for anyone to take a step back and view life out of a bedroom desk on my own.

Without knowing it, they showed me the importance of having time for things other than just the postgraduate degree. Work will not disappear, and still will be extremely essential, but so is swimming up to the surface and breathing every so often. Surprisingly, I did not even think about the pile of readings I had yet to do. I was there, I was with my family, I was balancing life, and that was all that mattered.

They left, and I was able to write a whole essay in two days. One I am quite proud of, in fact. Guess it was the fresh air of our Seven Sisters walk.”

The final project challenge

Words of wisdom by Olaya Ganzalez, International Event Management MScPicture Olaya

If there is one thing that those considering a masters degree fear the most it is the looks of that threatening fog blocking the view of the finishing line at the end of the road – commonly known as the final project.

The idea of a 15,000-word independent research dissertation, journal, consultancy or business plan has the power to reduce to ashes even the most daring or the bravest. However, that is exactly what students, both current and potential, dread: the idea.

Ideas breed within the imagination of our pre-conceptualised definitions of concrete or abstract words and thoughts. Ideas are susceptible of doubts, uncertainties, hopes and expectations. They modulate at the same pace our state of mind or mood do. As humans, we dread what we do not know because we lack of the tools of previous experiences to tell us how to behave and how to act. Very few of the new postgraduate students have taken a postgraduate course before, hence they are stepping out of their comfort zone to start a journey where they will be guided by the lecturers…until the final leap of faith that has to be taken on their very own, or that is what they think.

Scary as it may sound, students still make it through the fog and reach the finishing line. A few of them conquer the top of the podium, others may get the bronze medal, but there is yet to be seen the one overtaken by the sweeper team, and there is a reason behind it. The idea of the final project disappears and is transformed into the reality of the final project at the very beginning of any course with the first of many Final Project Blocks.

Final Project Blocks are delivered every other month, taking two to three whole days in non-lectured weeks – they are strategically distributed throughout the year to coincide with the different deadline dates. Dates such as the interest form submission date (on which students investigate the areas they are interest in and receive feedback on which ways they could take, as well as being allocated to a supervisor with expertise in that area) or the proposal submission date (where after working hand to hand with the supervisor, students submit a more detailed and focused proposal on which they include aims and objectives, methodology and methods, among other information).

The current postgraduates have recently undergone a block which focused on the literature review and research methods, as proposals have already been submitted (and most of them approved) and they need to start taking the next steps – guided next steps. With these Final Project Blocks and the supervisor allocations, students are not on their own, and little by little the myths of the final project are dismembered. The project is broken down into smaller pieces that receive specific focus as a means to show that final projects are nothing but slightly more extensive module assignments.

Nothing to be scared of, and if you are, supervisors are always up for a cuppa!