Wednesday, December 03, 2014

How to Pass a Masters programme ( in Journalism too)


No, not golf!

If you’re one of the selected, or have earned your self a place on a Masters programmes – congratulations.

You’re about to embark on a learning experience that will equip you with skills that will assist you in your chosen career.

Hiffington Post writes there are many reasons why you’d want to do a Masters, for example 

  • to further your job prospects in your company. A Masters is used in employment to differentiate individuals for promotion. 
  • Some want an MA as a trophy.
  • The title Masters (in journalism) after your name can alter the perception of those privy to this around you. One of the true worths of a Masters is as a finishing house. 
  • It’s the last big door that separates you from your chosen door.
But gaining an MA comes at considerable cost to you the individual. The most obvious, but misunderstood is the new cultural and social change, and implicit contract, that awaits you.
If you’ve never done a Masters before, how do you know what it’s like? It’s an environment which asks a level of interpersonal, analytical and critical skills that you’re unlikely to have witnessed in a previous learning environment.

An MA in journalism, for instance, is compounded by a phenomenon, which emerged around 2000. There’s a fair chance that you may not have prior experience in the media. In the 1990s and before, anyone wanting to undertake an MA had to demonstrate a working knowledge of association with a media form e.g. working for a radio station or newspaper.

It showed a commitment to your chosen career, but also meant you had some concrete knowledge of the industry. That happens less so nowadays. It’s progress, the world has moved on and we’re encountering a new type of student with a zeal to learn media, but often with little to none prior experience.

But if you’ve never done a Masters, then you’re relying on tacit knowledge of how things were in your undergraduate programme. This knowledge bank is transferred to the Masters programme, which unchecked can create problems.

For instance, you have a recollection of how lectures and independent learning was. You might even confess that in your BA you got by with the minimum of work. Well on the MA that’s one of the first shocks, the amount of work that you’re designed to do can seem relentless.

Firstly, it’s not your fault. How were you to know? So the university prepares you for this by a number of strategies. A module handbook becomes a vital interface. Everything you want to know is in that document. It took painful hours to make to cover every base you’re likely to encounter. It’s not just worth reading. It needs to be read.  That’s a shock in itself, because you’ve likely never had to ‘put up’ with reading such a dry document.

Then lectures will engage with your over what’s required. Often there’s no redundancy in their delivery. But to you unless the information has a critical bearing – a need to know to facilitate a particular task – it may mean nothing to you. Lecturers will often repeat themes. But the expectation of your critical thinking should build upon these knowledge nodes.

For instance, in the module handbook are a list of books designed to assist you. A lecturer will make suggestions to the list and herein lies another cultural shock. Independent learning is a major theme of an MA. The level of learning required of you after lectures to successfully pass an MA is enough to put you off doing an MA if you knew. But you didn’t back when you applying – and now it seems, well just an add-on that you could do without.

Here’s a list of ten things you might consider that will help you pass your Masters.

  1. Understanding the institutional environment. If you’ve never done a Masters, seek out previous students and ask them what is expected.
  2.  Respecting your environment. The MA you’ve come to is an environment you’ve walked into. It changes every year. Learn how to gather information about the environment and synthesis this to make sense. You do it anyway by talking amongst each other. Put together a series of points which provides probable solutions how to navigate the route by sharing ideas.
  3. Manage your Lectures. Everyone reads everyone. You read your lectures, your friends, and make judgments about them. Everyone does it.  Monaco, a respected scholar in film said anyone can read a film, but not many people know how to interpret it. He’s right! Interpretation is a skill that is learned, critical skills requires continual honing.  Once ever so often, a student might claim that a lecturer favours some students, and not others. That could be the case, but more often than not, some students know how to manage their lecturers to get the most out of them. Managing means many things.
  4. Read the lecturer. There’s a strong correlation between the way we write and the way we talk. So if you’re familiar with the way a lecturer sounds, in all likelihood a critique will be in the same tone – even when the written remarks seem terse or spartan to you. Seek clarification by approaching the lecturer. Often the lecturer may ask you come and see them.
  5. The respect thing. Most lecturers will address you in emails as ‘Dear’ or ‘Hello’, rarely ‘Hi’ and never ‘Hey’. This level of communication is an extension of the respect they accord you, even when it comes to calling you by first names. Note in many US and some UK institutions the university insists you call each other by surnames. The reason for this is to attain and sustain that professional relationship. Just as you expect the respect you feel you deserve, so do lecturers.
  6. Perceptions. You read your lectures, and they read you. Their level of reading is based on a professional interpretation – to separate personal feelings from professional ones. They come to understand you by cues and behaviours you give off. Everyone starts off as a ‘vessel’ without  much to go on. As time goes on your behavior e.g. lateness, nonchalance, exuberance, determination shapes how you are received.  This has a significant impact on shaping the faculty’s perception of you. So for instance, if you have a habit of being late to lectures that may reflect upon a critical decision when it comes to handing in a piece of late work. Likewise, if you demonstrate attention to detail and possess a record of due diligence, this is noted when faculty might be discussing a crucial issue surrounding marked work, when there is a contentious issue.
  7. Understanding how faculties work. If you feel you need to have an issue addressed, talk to your lecturer. If you get no joy, go back and say why, and if that doesn’t work go up the chain of titles. Going straight up the chain has its merits, particularly where the lecture-student relationship has broken down irrevocably. But more often than not faculty talk about students, so your issue will most likely have been raised in ongoing department meetings.
  8. Give back more, and more will come. Secretly, if not openly, your lecturer is willing you on to do well. Many lecturers carry a sense of pride seeing you graduate and climb the slippery ladder of media. Some lecturer-student become life long relations of the mutual respect club. So, intellectual rigour and a sense of self during your Masters tenure sets up this invigorating relationship. The give more principle is predicated on the understanding that, not only have you met the brief of the assignment, but you’ve in your down moments demonstrated a zeal to do other things related to the course. It’s no wonder you get spoken about in social meetings.
  9.  Test you assumptions. You believe you know what you know, because you’ve known this before, but sometimes you don’t know, and what’s more you don’t know you don’t know. This version of Johari’s window, created in 1955, which in contemporary language has been recited as Rumsfeld’s garble, is common in advanced learning. If you’ve  not done a Masters before, you’re now in the ‘testing your assumptions’ game.
  10. Enjoy what is a stimulating environment, which ‘blink’ and its gone. It will come to pass, and more often than not mostly you’ll look back on the Masters days with fondness ( hopefully) of shared times and jokes about those frustrating habits of lecturers. Mine references the Matrix and Morpheus saying ‘Again’. If you ever watch 8 Days – a film about the UK’s first regional newspaper journalists learning to become videojournalists, it’s built on ‘Again’.  Enjoy the ride of the MA programme and its resources. It’s designed to help you. If you’re in troubles of sorts, seek mitigating circumstances. Respect the programme and it will respect you. And if you’re planning on a PhD, well, that’s a different kettle of fish entirely