Sunday, January 22, 2012

How to pass a Master in Journalism programme well

David featured in Times Square, New York, as one of the presenters at the Online News Association
Time to think how well to pass that Masters and get ahead of the job queue. It's the second semester. It could even be the first, you're prepping for the months ahead - your Masters in Journalism programme.

If you've come from industry you possess certain skills, all of a sudden the volume of writing has become encyclopedic.

If you're straight from graduate school, the sudden change in independence can be daunting.

There exists scores of books in how to pass your PhD but comparatively few in depth ones for Masters, so here I offer you ten inside tips, insider things, you might not have considered pursuing your Masters degree.

1. If a degree is akin to independence, escapism from home life and dependency, a post graduate signifies interdependency. It's how you build relations, work in teams, and demonstrate leadership. Eschewing the meism of graduate programmes is necessary to help you and make the programme a success for you. It really is a wisdom of crowds.

2. A Masters programme may seem like a year, when in practice it's about six months of active learning; three months is for final projects and the summer months for polishing up unfinished work. Plan your time ahead. If like me you were a DJ during your Masters and that's interfering with your studies, drop it. You can go back to Djing after you've got through the programme.

3. A Masters programme is designed to challenge you in instruction- taking, turn taking and professionalism in time keeping and project work. In my experience professors and lecturers who lead Masters programmes possess rich histories in industry and experiential learning that they want to pass on, so if they ask you to do something there is a strong reason why you should, particularly assessment-based work.

Rania 2005 MAJI - a brilliant editor in Egypt

4. Theoretical knowledge found in books is not to be confused with practical industry experience. There are methods and systems which no literature could match. Masters programmes are dynamic learning programmes, but you often will be given assignments that involve research which is not online based. Researching in the library is a journey of discovery. They know that, they've been there. They're trying to pass it on.

5. Lecturers like to be respectfully involved in exchanges of knowledge. Yes they're still learning, but it's a different sort. It's about reading students and evaluating how and what the student can assimilate. That's how you the Masters students gain the most. Plus, lecturers also love hearing new ideas from students.

6. The lecturer-student relationship is a professional one and should remain so, and that professionalism should not be confused with "buddyism". After graudation, and with large amounts of discretion after lectures e.g. pub, that's different. But just as the lecturer should be deferential to the student in addressing them, students should be aware of that relationship. Calling a lecturer: hey, yo, hi with abbreviated name in correspondence is is inappropriate, unless both parties have agreed upon this. This is often a cultural issue, but should not negate discussion from both parties. With employment letters on your horizon formalities should be norm.

MAJI students 2006 - all doing well including Al Jazeera's Palestinian Correspondent Tamer ( R)
7.  The Rabbit Hole. Professional lecturing delivers all the necessary requirements to prepare you for industry. The module handbook will stipulate those requirements! But there is such a thing as the rabbit hole which lives in the grey area of post masters programme and Phd programme's and beyond. It shouldn't surprise you. Your lecturer has years of experience and what she talks about to Goldman Sachs, or the BBC about may not be appropriate for a Masters - but then it could.

 Lectures call the Rabbit Hole various things.  These involve personal quests from both parties and involve Chatham house rule activities and may only surface after a level of confidence. If you build a personal rapport with your lecturer asks about the rabbit hole.

8. The easiest way not to pass a masters is not to submit work. There's also a standard the university at large adheres to, so in effect, attending a Masters programme is not a guarantee you will pass. Institutions take the view that your presence and the programme delivered is a bond and one that is designed to make you pass. Otherwise what's the point of attending the programme. Many lecturers will pursue repetition within exercises and mocks to ensure students pass. I do this regularly. If you adhere by what you've been given, even templates, there's no reason you should not pass with even flying colours

9. Most lecturers are dedicated to their work, but they also have extracurricular activities, so their interaction with students is formost through the students work and contact hours. Because of that, the only way they evaluate work is by what they've been presented to the guidelines agreed. I'm yet to meet students who fill their downtime thinking about lecturers and vice versa. In my case I have got a PhD to finish, another blog to write, a talk coming up and a film to make.

10. Sometimes, not always, students are beset with personal problems and either forget to mention these to student services, or refrain for other reasons from doing so. Don't do this. If you're in trouble, have personal issues, talk to your lecturer whom in confidence will refer you to the appropriate service. But they can't take unilateral decisions by themselves. It's inter-agency, so if you don't turn up to classes, are continually late or don't hand in work but expect the lecturing team to understand your predicament on the eve of assessments, the outcome might not suit you.

Master programmes are about planning, planning, planning. You're a couple of months from entering the industry. Here's where you practice not making those mistakes. The industry is already way tough as it is.  To all those who may have heeded this and are doing well in the industry, good on you :)

The views here are my own and not of any institution. They come from my years of lecturing on numerous programmes, and from my experience on a soon-to-completed doctorate. I did my Masters in 1989, having freelanced for the BBC while completing my degree in Applied Chemistry.  In the ensuing years I have worked for all the UK's major broadcasters.