Choosing the right masters course

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For the last six months I have been labouring over the painstaking task of choosing the right masters course – while reminding myself why I don’t just run away to Hogwarts!  I have poured over course curricula, researched list after list of supervisor profiles, checked out flat prices, and changed my mind so many times I’ll most likely doubt my final choice anyway!  I have been dead lucky, however, in receiving lots of advice from those around me who have already been there.

As of today, I THINK, I have made a decision…. 😉

My final two choices were the University of Exeter, Falmouth – MSc Conservation and Biodiversity, and University of Kent – MSc Conservation Biology – the city or the coast?

At first glance it’s a no brainer, why would anyone choose the city over the Cornish coast?!  Buut, Kent have a fantastic reputation and I have been recommended this institution by more than one person for their professors, affiliations, and the course curriculum.  On the flip side, Falmouth is a beautiful location with ample opportunities for wildlife research sitting right on its doorstep.  What’s more, it has a brilliant range of thesis opportunities both locally and abroad.

View of the sea in Falmouth
The view on the way to Falmouth campus

See my predicament??  For those of you out there in a similar pickle, here are some important considerations:

What is your long term goal?

This applies to academia as well as a job; do you want to pursue a PhD or dive straight into the work place?  Depending on your decision, it’s best you consider the course content and the difference between a ‘taught’ and a ‘research’ degree.  In the case of the latter, you should also consider your skill set, for instance, I am hesitant to move straight from an undergraduate degree to a research masters as I don’t feel ready for such a large jump considering my largest research project to date will be my dissertation.  I’m also keen to widen my scope of knowledge through taught classes.

Moreover, if you are not yet sure what career you want to pursue in your chosen field (like me), then choosing a course that is less niche may be the best option.  For example, the biodiversity course at Falmouth is fairly niche as it focuses mainly on behavioural ecology, whereas the biology course at Kent comprises a broader curriculum; good for those who are not sure exactly where they are headed.

What is the programme and university’s credibility?

I had trouble with this one, as I’m sure some of you will/have done.  You can google university standings all day but it’s difficult to achieve a good indication from the internet.

Speak to your current or past college tutors.

Speak to colleagues you work / have worked with in the industry.

Speak to graduates of said institutions.

I am lucky enough to know of a graduate from each of the universities I have been considering, both of whom I work with at Durrell.  They told me of the location, the university facilities, the tutors, the curriculum and intensity of workloads, and whether they felt supported.  It was invaluable to have this information with me when I attended both open days.

What is the course content?

Simply put, what do you want to study?  Does the course content include it?  I kept obsessing over the difference in curricula and which would prepare me best for a future career.  However, as my friends/colleagues at Durrell pointed out, both courses are fantastic, covering the conservation fundamentals, and both boast well renowned tutors – either will set me in good stead – so I should seriously think about which course I’m going to enjoy.

There is little to be gained from spending a year studying a course you’re just not that in to.  It will show.

What are the thesis opportunities?

Whether you choose a taught or research masters your thesis will account for a huge chunk of your degree.  I have found it really difficult to get an idea of the opportunities available to me this far in advance.  This was relieved somewhat when I visited the unis and spoke with the course heads and researchers.

That being said, a really good tip is to research the thesis supervisors.  You can generally find these on the university websites, but if you have trouble just give the institution a ring.  The profiles should list their credentials, their career history, and their areas of expertise; even ongoing projects that could well be on offer to you should you secure a place.  This information has played a huge part in my decision.  Not only do you want a project that you will enjoy, but your thesis is another string to your portfolio bow!

One last nugget of info here – are you hoping to travel for your project?  If so, then does your university choice offer this opportunity?  This could sway your decision one way or another.

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Last minute tips:

Don’t underestimate location  –  yes your first priority should be the course and institution but you’re going to be spending 12 months of your life in this location, make sure you’ll be happy living there.  Once again, it will affect your performance.

Visit!  Visit, visit, visit  –  both open days for me were pretty arduous trips, and I must bless my long suffering fiancé and mum for making the trips with me, but I wouldn’t have been able to ‘get the feeling’ if I’d not been there.

Entry requirements  –  even if you don’t meet the requirements you may fit the bill in other ways – work experience? research portfolio? Etc.  Give it a go, it can’t hurt.

Just in case you were wondering…I have chosen Conservation and Biodiversity in Falmouth (I will be playing it safe by applying to both though!); the location, course content, and thesis opportunities far outweighed the nicheness (google tells me this is a real word…!) of the course.

(:

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