How do I know if my work is good enough?

Published on 13 December 12

Understanding the difference in expectations between undergraduate and Masters can be one of the most stressful things about postgraduate study. We asked two recent graduates - one who is now lecturing at the University - for their advice.

Jack is a recent graduate of MA Art Gallery and Museum studies. We asked him how Masters students can tell if they’re doing enough:


Did you worry about your work being good enough?

Knowing whether your work is good enough for the higher level of study is definitely one of the most stressful aspects of your first semester as a PGT. It can feel like you’re heading into the essay-writing period, particularly in the first semester, very much in the dark.

What advice would you give to postgraduate students?

My advice would just be to make the best use of your supervisors; give them a paragraph to read over, catch them in their office hour to talk through your ideas, and feel free to send them an email, mid-panic, in the dead of night! Your relationship with your PGT tutors will be a more collaborative one than at undergraduate level, and they should be happy to help you at any stage throughout your masters year.

In your experience, what is the difference between undergraduate and postgraduate level of study?

In my experience, the step up to masters level often isn’t as huge as students perceive. The volume increases quite dramatically, but the academic concepts that you learned at undergraduate level don’t change radically. You still need to write with originality, purpose and flair, you still need to read widely and reference fully, and the mark schemes are remarkably similar. It’s the level of care and attention you must treat every submission with that changes. Grammatical errors, too narrow a bibliography and inaccuracy of source material are less forgivable at masters level, and every essay requires a far greater investment of time.”

George is a recent graduate and has now been appointed as a lecturer in English Linguistics here at the University of Manchester. We asked him what difference is expected between undergraduate students and Masters students.


What is the difference between undergraduate and postgraduate level of study?

First of all, none of us expect miracles. PGT is just one step up from an undergraduate degree, so students needn't worry that they are suddenly expected to perform at a much higher level. We only expect what is realistic.

PGT written work doesn't differ much, in essence, from advanced-level UG work. Marks will be awarded on the basis of structure, argument, methodological soundness, and to a lesser extent on presentational matters such as formatting and referencing (usually we expect PGT students to get this right anyway). Don't worry too much about originality at this level; original ideas (and new data) are always a good thing, but you can't force it, and staff know that. One of the skills you should develop during the course, in fact, is the ability to identify areas that are ripe for investigation, where original research may be possible. The best way to work towards originality is to keep reading and learning more about the research context. (And yes, PGT students are expected to read a lot.)

What is expected of me as a postgraduate students?

PGT students are expected to be proactive in following up areas they want to pursue. Staff are always happy to provide reading suggestions, but PGT students need to take their education into their own hands to some extent: a PGT degree is very much what you make it. The best advice I can give to PGT students is to be aware of the possibilities the course makes available, and to make the course their own.

What changes do I need to make as a postgraduate student?

Work at PGT level should show genuine engagement with research literature. It's not sufficient at PGT level to rely on basic textbooks; research articles should also be read and cited. (Often, committed undergraduates will have been doing this anyway, so it's not a big deal.) This holds whether or not the PGT student intends to go on to PGR study, because one of the hallmarks of Masters-level education is knowledge of the research context and ability to apply that context to whatever comes next, be that research, industry, teaching or something else.

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