This month has been quite surreal. I don’t know how many times I’ve checked my student records to confirm it. Like, did it really happen? I’ve received my award certificate already, so it must be true. Like, it really did happen!
I passed my MA Education (Youth & Community) with distinction!
Like holy crap I did it! It’s like – shit, is this thing really happening? Am I really graduating with an MA Education with a distinction?
Looking back a year ago when I first registered for my MA Education, I didn’t really think that this was possible. Sure, of course, I hoped that I could do good enough and graduate with a distinction. But after my first semester, where I felt like shit and that everything was going wrong here and there, I didn’t think it was actually possible.
Somehow, along the way, I must have done something right, because I actually made it. This actually happened.
It’s been an interesting year.
Now… let’s see. I’ve participated in quite a few things in the last one year, perhaps more than I thought I would. I definitely did not regret doing all those things, because I knew I only had one year and I had to make the most out of it.
What’s more fun is the fact that my #100DaysofDissertation actually came true! I finished my Master’s dissertation (thesis, if you’re in the States) within that 100 days goal. I submitted my dissertation on the day submission opened (which is three weeks before the deadline), which allowed me to then enjoy my 3.5 weeks holiday back in Malaysia without worrying about editing or submitting the assignment from back home.
Sure, things didn’t go as well as I planned, obviously. The day before I submitted my dissertation, I ranted to a close friend about how I felt like it was not good enough and that I was going to screw everything up. I’ve spent a few weeks in May/early June trying to get over some mental block and personal issues. I stayed up countless nights writing (and rewriting) parts of my dissertation. Hell, I don’t know how many post-it notes and scrap papers I’ve used to jot my thoughts down. I still have all the printed articles and book chapters just sitting there on the shelf. I should probably recycle them, but for now, I just want to look at them and feel proud of my achievements.
It’s been a tough and challenging year, one that has taught me quite a few valuable lessons that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
Lesson #1: It’s okay to ask for help when you’re feeling down.
I’ve always been the strong, independent girl who knows what she wants and how to get it. I’ve also been strong academically since my school years, though you’d probably question it during my undergraduate years. But pursuing a master’s degree is unlike any other challenge I’ve had in my life.
I don’t know how many times I’ve broken down in my room, feeling useless and insecure. Questions like “Am I really up for this?” and “How am I going to survive this?” fly through my mind on a daily basis. Going through the readings and textbooks gave me anxiety and I felt like I was in the wrong path.
I’ve felt like giving up numerous times. The picture above was taken after one of my classes during my first term when I was feeling like shit and questioning why and how I was in graduate school. I stayed back after class, cried to myself in the corner of the room and prayed like hell that nobody was coming into the room so I could stay alone for a little while. That was probably one of the lowest points in my whole master’s journey. I honestly questioned whether I was good enough for it, or whether I made the right choice of pursuing this program.
So I decided to get help. I reached out to my University’s Wellbeing services and talked to a counselor. Talking to someone really helped me to get back on track. They helped me to work through some of the issues I was feeling and helped me to feel more confident in myself. That sounded weird, coming from a confident and strong person, but yes, sometimes, we all need a little push in life, no?
Lesson #2: You are in charge of what you want to learn.
When you’re in university, you’re expected to be independent and take charge of your own learning. As an undergraduate, that meant actually doing your readings and coming to class prepared. But as a postgraduate student, it’s on a whole new level.
I had like probably only 6 hours of classes every week, 3 hours on two days, and that was it. Everything else was on me. I had to do the readings, both those that were suggested and additional ones to help me with my assignments. My lecturers won’t berate me if I don’t do my readings. I was on my own, and I had to take charge.
The assignment topics were general, and I had to choose what to write about and what angle to tackle it from. Sure, my lecturers would guide me and suggest different ways I could address the topics I wanted to write. But they won’t take my hand and walk me through one-by-one.
I ended up writing a 6,000-word paper on PPSMI in Malaysia for one of my classes (which scored a 78%, woohoo!). I also had to figure out what I wanted to write my dissertation on, and I chose to do it on SkolaFund, which is something that I fully support.
But it was a lot of self-discipline and managing my time wisely. I could sleep and Netflix all day if I wanted to (err, and I did, on some days). But I also have to force myself to go to the library and really work. The struggle was real, and I won’t deny it, but it was all worth it. I’ve made it through, and here I am, with an MA Education in my hand.
Lesson #3: Learn from your classmates.
I was one of the youngest in my cohort. There were a few others like me, who recently graduated from our undergraduate years in the last couple of years. But the majority of my classmates were mature students. People with 5-10 (and some with even more!) years of experience. One of my classmates even graduated from undergraduate when I was one year old!
To add on to that insecurity, I did a BBA for my undergraduate. But I went to do an MA Education instead, which is a new area for me. And here are people who have actually worked for years in the education industry, as teachers and researchers and whatnot.
Imagine the age and knowledge gap! When I first joined, I was super intimidated and insecure because I was surrounded by all these professionals who had all those experiences, and there I was, a small and timid girl, still trying to find her way in life.
But I realized that I could learn from them. Get to know their stories & experience and learn from what they can share with me. And, most of the time, they are more than happy to help explain things for you. I’ve been clueless in my classes (especially in my Methods of Enquiry, aka research methods class), and my classmates helped to explain things in a simpler way that made sense to me. Mind you, I didn’t do a thesis/FYP for my undergrad, so anything research-related was completely new to me. But my classmates were nice and helpful and patiently explained things to this dumb-ass (who is very, very grateful for it).
Lesson #4: Get a strong support system to push you through.
Doing a Master’s (or a PhD) is a tiring and challenging journey, and you can’t do it alone. No matter how strong, independent and strong-willed you are, you cannot survive it alone. You need a strong support system – your family, your friends, your classmates. These people will be your backbone through it all, pushing you to be the best and pulling you back up when you fall down.
Throughout my master’s, I have lost my motivation to do my assignments. I’ve felt overwhelmed with every single thing that I lost focus on what I needed to do. But my family reminded me of why I came here in the first place. Having Aiman around had helped tremendously in relieving me from worrying about small things (ie household chores) so I could focus on my work. My friends, both here in Huddersfield and elsewhere, checked in on me on a regular basis to make sure I was doing OK. And I super appreciate their presence.
Lesson #5: You are good enough, no matter how shitty you feel.
This ties in a little to Lesson #1, but you have to believe that you are good enough and that you deserve to be there. This is especially true if you’re like me, going into a master’s degree with little to no experience at all. After attending the first few classes, I felt so overwhelmed and anxious. I didn’t feel like I belonged there.
One of the things I said to the Wellbeing advisor when I went to see her was that I think the admissions officer made a mistake in admitting me to the program. I felt like I was going to fail. I didn’t think that I would make it through my assignments and classes.
But, here I am, one year later, graduating with my MA Education, with distinction too! I did pretty well for my assignments, getting 70+ for all but one module, which is actually surprising. The marking criteria for a master’s level class are hard, so actually making it to distinction is a sign that yes, I do belong here.
You’re definitely going to have impostor syndrome, where you feel like you’re not worthy or that you don’t belong there. But you are good enough. You are worthy and you do belong there. Life works in mysterious ways, but one thing for sure – wherever you are, that is where you’re supposed to be.
Thank you, Huddersfield, for the memories.
It’s been good, but your girl’s gotta move on to newer pastures. I have no idea where life’s going to take me to next, but it’s back to the drawing board and time to get cracking with the job applications. Wish me luck in the never-ending job search!
Would I return to university to get a doctorate degree? Maybe, maybe not. Doing this MA Education has been hard enough, so I don’t know if I want to do a doctorate. But, eh, who knows? I am toying with the idea of pursuing an EdD in the future, so we’ll see how life turns out in the next decade or so.
My graduation’s scheduled for Wednesday, 13th November. I originally planned to write and publish this post later in November, after I’ve officially graduated. But I realized that I might as well write this all down while it’s still fresh in my mind. I’ll try to record some other things (along with my graduation festivities!) and post a vlog sometime next month though, so subscribe to my YouTube channel if you wanna be informed of when that comes out.
Alright then – until I see you again soon (whenever that is!), take care & stay awesome!
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