I’ve finished my MA in Children’s Literature. And now, a few days after passing my dissertation to the lady in the post office (MAKE THEM SIGN FOR IT WHEN THEY GET IT PLEASE IT’S VERY PRECIOUS ER YES IT IS JUST PAPER BUT PRECIOUS PAPER), I feel able to look back on the degree that I fell into by accident but loved every second of.
I started the degree in 2007, a few days after it had officially started. I caught it on a random google (I think I was looking for jobs) and said to my parents (with whom I was living at the time) that this looked amazing.
And lord love my dad but he said “Go for it”
Cue a slightly frantic stream of e-mails including a personal statement and a pdf of my precious Buffy undergraduate dissertation being sent off to the admissions tutor with the plea of “Am I too late?” Thankfully I wasn’t. I got accepted (still slightly stunned at the fact that somehow I’d decided to do a Masters) and that acceptance heralded four years of solid distance learning which culminated last week with the receipt of my dissertation.
What have I learnt? I’m a damn sight more confident about a subject I previously worshipped at a distance. I’ve learnt that my opinions have validity and I’ve learnt that I still don’t quite get on with Jungian theory. I’ve learnt that this subject is important and continues to be. I’ve learnt that I can commit to something and follow it through. I’ve learnt that I can write academic essays and they can be good. I’ve learnt to have faith in my abilities as a researcher / academician / writer.
My top five tips for those considering a Masters via distance learning?
- You have to enjoy the topic. That’s the only thing which will sustain you through those long hours of self-paced working. If you don’t enjoy what you’re studying or reading, you will sack it off and fall behind before you’ve even noticed.
- Set yourself realistic targets. I am a freak with deadlines. I write them in my diary and then give myself a fake deadline of two weeks earlier. That means I can push to get it done and then have that little breather at the end to pick up errors. This came in particularly handy with my dissertation recently when I picked it up from the printers. My title: “The gifted and talented child in British Children’s Literature” My bibliography: several texts from New Zealand …
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your tutor is here to help you and you need to make the most of this. Learn how to communicate with your tutor in the way that best serves you. I never once had a tutorial via phone despite that being freely on offer. I knew that if I did, I’d hang up and promptly forget everything we just talked about. Plus I also get very self-conscious talking about my work in public so I knew that wouldn’t necessarily be the most fruitful activity. I had all my tutorials via e-mail as this allowed me to have feedback and comments in writing and also allowed me to refer back to them.
- Use. The. Library. Use it early, use it often and get used to the distance learner service. Ask them questions. Find out the key names. If you can’t afford postal loan rates or if your institution doesn’t do postal loans, make friends with your local public library or find out about the SCONUL scheme. I was very lucky in that I worked at a university whilst studying at another so I was able to utilise the library collection at work (which had a spectacular children’s literature section) to support my degree. And make sure you know how Athens works fairly early on as you will need articles at some point.
- Understand how you study and how you study best. Early mornings? Late at night? By yourself? In a cafe? I tended to take the part of the module I was working with at that particular point of time and snatch fifteen minutes at lunchtime to finish off a chapter or make some notes. I study fairly well by myself but occasionally took myself off to the uni library and told myself I couldn’t come home until I’d written 2k worth of words. That in particular worked wonders during my dissertation.