As I write this, I am waiting for the results of my Masters dissertation, which will determine whether or not I can actually put “MA in Forensic Linguistics” on my CV. If I’ve passed, I may well read this back and think, “Well, there was no need to sound quite so bitter, it turned out fine”. I can’t actually think about the other course of events; it’s too frightening.
I wanted to do an MA in Forensic Linguistics well before I started university. I don’t know where or when I first heard of this small, but growing field, I just remember thinking, at some point “That’s it. That’s my thing.” Analysing language to solve real, important problems – using language to have an actual effect on the world? But of course.
I don’t wish I hadn’t done the MA. I learned a lot of very interesting things, was taught by – and with – some great people, and discovered some excellent bars in Cardiff.
I sometimes wish I’d done it part-time. Or worked for a year or so, and then done it. Or given the MSc at York some more thought. (As they say, hindsight is 20/20 vision.) Worrying about money, almost constantly, is – as I’m sure we’re all aware – a pain in the arse. It was actually my mother who insisted I went straight on from a BA in English and Linguistics to an MA, saying, “You won’t want to go back to being a student after working for a bit”. Knowing myself fairly well by now, I suspect she was right. It was tedious enough combining freelance proofreading work with a dissertation over the summer; going from some kind of income back down to no income would have been even tougher.
Doing it part-time might have taken the pressure off financially, but it would have extended the whole process. I’m not sure I could have handled that. Why? Let me explain.
It was intense. After a carefree summer, post-graduation, I thought I was ready to get back into the swing of endless analysis, essays and hours spent in the library. I really wasn’t. Being plunged into a new city to do something you’ve been thinking about for at least three years is a weird situation. I repeat, it’s intense. You have to get comfortable in a new place while throwing yourself headlong back into academia, no holds barred. You need to know what you’re getting yourself into.
Undergrad life has got nothing on post-grad life. Yeah, I know I did an English degree – I’m aware it’s not the most challenging course you can take and in terms of contact time, it’s not particularly demanding. I know that, but I’m not going to apologise for making the most of my natural academic strengths. Doing an MA is much more demanding on the schedule and on the brain – it’s something you have to be thinking about pretty much all the time. There are no real breaks from it. Which is all fine and dandy if you’re already planning your PhD, but if your jury is still out on this whole full-time academic thing, just be warned. You have to really fucking love your subject.
And be prepared to put up with academics. Most are great, some are terrifying, and some will just rub you up the wrong way. This isn’t so much of a problem at undergrad level, because you spend less time with them and can more easily avoid them if you really want to. But with smaller groups of students and more contact time at MA level, you may find yourself doing a lot of teeth-gritting, and your mantra may quickly become “it’s only for a few months”. Some academics will appear to act as if they’re curing cancer. I remember hearing someone complain about how inconvenient it was to have to prove to a particular funding board that proposed research was going to have “impact”, and upon hearing this, I had a little hissy fit in my head. That may be my problem and mine alone – the learning-fatigue may have been at an all-time high that day – but my gut reaction was “Of course your research should have impact! If it’s got no practical use in the real world, what the fuck’s the point?” Talk about things being purely academic, Jesus.
This is sounding rather bitter, I’m aware. As I said, if my results are what I want them to be, I may change my tune about the whole shenanigan, I don’t know.
Update: so I got my results in November, after an agonising wait and whilst I was in the middle of a violent cold, and I have that MA. The “final result pending” has been deleted from my CV. Do I feel differently? No. I can honestly say that I don’t. It occurred to me on the train the other day (where I do all my best thinking, except for in the shower) that I still don’t actually know anything. I really don’t. Or at least, nothing that is much practical use to anyone. Maybe in a few years’ time, it will have paid off. I’ll be glad I spent an extra year having meltdowns in the library and printing off rainforests’ worth of assignments. It is,
I’ll grudgingly admit, a slight confidence boost to be able to say, “Yes, I have an MA. I did it, I passed, I didn’t waste a year, nor over £4000”. But as I’m currently in the rather weird and frustrating position of having two part-time jobs that are enough to keep me busy but not enough to engage my brain, I’m going to have to wait and see. And being the most impatient person I know, it’s going to be quite the learning curve.
On a slightly-related but interesting note, I was reading something the other day – it might have been the Guardian problem page, don’t judge me – and a young woman had written in expressing her concerns that she was experiencing mental health problems but was about to embark upon a PhD. There were many, many responses – and a huge number of them were along the lines of, “I did a PhD/some form of postgraduate study and found it triggered/exacerbated mental health issues for me. Be warned!”
I have rambled on enough now, and haven’t even mentioned that I’ve finally joined the rest of the TV-watching world and become obsessed with Homeland (Carrie Mathison: most inappropriate girl-crush ever? Discuss), nor how I’m finally going back to Belfast in March and I’m already excited. Belfast, you’re my favourite city so I hope you’re less rioty by the time I get there. I’m very sentimental about you – a friend once decided I qualified as being half-Northern Irish, and frankly I’ve never been more flattered.
These songs seem to fit with the wintry weather we’re having. Probably because one of them is called ‘Winter’. The other one is just gorgeous.