My Master’s Applications – My Journey

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll have noticed a few tweets from me the last few days about my masters applications, and know I’m pretty set on accepting an offer to complete one. Since I began my degree back in 2014, feeling like 2018 was so far away and this period of my life would last forever, I intended on completing a masters degree before going into the workforce. There was just no way in hell I would dedicate 4 years of my life to biological sciences to end up working a minimum wage job again. Although most people who get a bachelors, especially from my uni, end up working jobs they love, and some within the field, my fear of being a waitress again means I can’t personally face entering the workforce without a strong skill set behind me. In other words, despite the hard work it took to slug through it, I couldn’t possibly stop with just a bachelors degree unless I had a job in the field lined up. I don’t. So masters it is. And that’s just me. I don’t begrudge anyone that’s done with education and just wants to get on with it. You do you.

About this time last year, I started looking at masters programs to get a better idea of which ones I wanted to do. This term alone, I planned to apply to about 8 masters programs. I’ve ended up applying to 2. My priorities have changed, and I needed to start thinking practically.

Photo Credit: Shannon Crighton

Since first year, I had my heart set on the Marine Mammal Biology Masters at St. Andrews University. My entire degree has been geared towards studying my masters there. I filled out the application this year. But it’s still sat on my desktop, not sent off. I only needed references to complete it, but something has been stopping me, despite knowing who to ask. The thing is, this masters is notoriously difficult to get on to. Despite working with experts in marine mammal biology for my dissertation, I found out that most of them had been rejected from that exact masters program, but had still gone on to work in the field. Getting that masters wasn’t the be all and end all of working with marine mammals. My chances of being accepted are about 1 in 1000. And although I persevered, saying I’d apply anyway, I’m starting to wonder if that’s a bet I really want to place.

The marine mammal masters is geared towards people who want to go into research. And although I loved writing my dissertation, I’m not so sure that’s me. I’m really not that great at thinking up research ideas, and I hate standing up in front of large crowds. And I’m really not that good at stats. So maybe gearing up for a career in research just isn’t for me.

I’ve really been getting into the idea of policy writing recently, especially with Brexit so close on the horizon and the likelihood of huge amounts of environmental policies needing to be rewritten. I found the perfect masters for that at Edinburgh University, but the cost of that was unreal, and beyond my means. They wanted £1,500 as soon as I confirmed my place, and then around £12,000 total. As an English student, I can borrow up to £10,000 for a masters. And even then, £10,000 is a lot for a single year of study. Despite that program being perfect for what I want to do, and my parents offering to help me in any way they could, I had to be realistic. So I closed that tab and haven’t looked at it again. I found a great masters program at Glasgow University, in Animal Welfare Science, Ethics and Law. It was perfectly affordable, and only asked for a 2:2 to get in. But did I really want to move to Glasgow? Something in me told me I didn’t. And that gut feeling has carried me through. I love Glasgow, but for whatever reason, I just didn’t want to move there. And that was enough for me.

Photo Credit: Shannon Crighton

At the beginning of this year, I actually dropped in an application for the University of Stockholm, in Sweden. As an EU student, but only just, I could study there for free, and this would be the last chance I would get. I “attended” a web seminar about being an international student, and got very excited at the prospect of studying and living abroad. I dropped an application in, thinking “why not?”. But a few days ago, I checked the Swedish University Applications Portal, and saw a big, red “UNQUALIFIED” next to my name. Why? I don’t meet the English language requirements, despite being born in the UK and English being my native language. The only way to prove it was to take an internationally recognized test, the kind that you need to take to be awarded citizenship in the UK, that is incredibly expensive. Whilst the whole thing has been pretty deflating, it’s for the best. I realise now that I only applied for that masters because I got caught up in the idea of moving abroad. But the university itself didn’t have any research areas relating to what I wanted to do, and Stockholm is a really expensive city to live in. The masters was an all rounder, not anything specific, and lasted 2 years, rather than 1. Although I had ignored the little voice in the back of my head telling me that it wasn’t for me, I had to accept it was right. I still don’t know if the university will make an exception for me, based on my application, but I’m assuming they won’t. And that’s fine.

A few weeks back, still wondering about moving to Edinburgh, I remembered that Heriot Watt University, despite being lower ranked than other universities I had considered, had an amazing marine biology department. So I had a look at their masters programs. It was then I discovered that Heriot Watt has a campus on the Orkney Isles. The masters I found myself looking at, Marine Resource Management, was one of the programs based there. Intrigued, I looked for more information. This masters was based on balancing conservation of the marine environment with the increasing development of the renewable energy sector. In all the jobs I’d looked at in the field that I’d be interested in, renewable energy kept coming up. Although I still wasn’t sure, I applied. Yesterday, I received an email telling me that my application had been reviewed and I would receive an offer shortly. Although cautious that might mean no, I was pretty excited. I realized that even though the idea of Island Life for a year was intriguing, and probably the reason I applied in the first place, the degree was inherently practical and would provide me with the skills I needed to get the kind of job I wanted after graduating.

Photo Credit: Shannon Crighton

Today, the offer came through. And despite having so many ideas, I now have an answer to the question “so what are you doing after graduation?”. I’m moving to Orkney, guys! With an eventual aim of working in the renewable energy sector, making sure development does not overlook marine conservation.

And honestly, it’s a perfect fit.

The moral of this story? Do not let the fear of answering the “what are you doing after graduation?” question force you into making a choice you’ll be unhappy with. And even the goal you were convinced you were aiming for may not be the right one. Sometimes, no amount of pre-planning can prepare you for where life takes you. And sometimes, even unexpected choices may be the right direction for you.

How did you choose your masters? Are you still in the decision making process? Let me know in the comments below!


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  1. March 9, 2018 / 10:06 am

    In my undergraduate degree, I studied abroad for a year at the University of Sussex and fell in love with Brighton. I’ve known for a while that I wanted a Master’s degree, and one year international tuition is about the same as two years local tuition back home where Master’s degrees are longer. I’m doing a Master’s of Research degree but since it’s not a PhD, we got a lot of help choosing our topic and getting the ball rolling (I’m actually doing mine on sustainable fisheries!). I’m so glad to be in a place I love doing a great program and hope to stay here after I graduate.

    • March 9, 2018 / 12:35 pm

      It sounds like you’ve made a great choice, I’m so glad you’re enjoying it and getting to experience a new place. I have to say, the fisheries stuff was never my cup of tea, but it’s so necessary. Hopefully I’ll be reading your research soon!

  2. March 9, 2018 / 12:31 pm

    Wow how exciting – all the best when you move! I started apply for post graduate degrees when I was approaching my bachelor’s graduation because I wanted to be able to focus on something I enjoyed rather than having a super broad degree but then I found a job I really enjoy. I still think about doing postgrad at some point though, once I have some savings behind me.

    • March 9, 2018 / 12:37 pm

      Thank you! I’m quite similar, I have applied for a job and have seen a few I will apply for. But I like having the masters as my “I’m definitely doing this if nothing else comes along”! If I do work full time, I can always get a masters later on!

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