Postgraduate Pressures

Why do we feel like we need to keep on studying?

Colin Graham | Tue, 5 Feb 2019

Image Courtesy of caio_triana, Pixabay

In our youth, it is often instilled in us that a successful life has a trajectory not dissimilar to that of the protagonist of a dull coming-of-age film. Start with a school career that - despite the occasional attitudinal encounter with an obtuse teacher - is almost impeccable. Next, go to university and forget everything you ever knew about sleeping patterns. Continue until the day your dissertation hand-in picture is posted to Instagram, signifying that you have, in fact, found yourself. Finally, go straight into the profession that you chose before you knew how to pronounce academia and be excellent at it. Should you have failed to meet any of these milestones, you are now a certified disappointment.
As I near the end of my university career, I find myself becoming increasingly desperate to prove to myself that university has done more for me than drain my funds and inflate my ego. The solution? Apply for postgraduate degrees which will be of no use to me whilst simultaneously planning how to scrape together nine thousand pounds for the privilege. For many students, a postgraduate degree is a prospect that excites them and will ultimately benefit them greatly in their chosen career. Despite my best efforts, however, I have struggled to convince myself that this is the case for me. It is not that further higher education is not something that I aspire to, rather I am not entirely certain that I am ready to make the next step just yet. 
In all honesty, I have known this to be the case for a while now and I wondered if this was because I felt unworthy of a position on a postgraduate course or, even worse, that I was about to complete a degree with no idea what to do with it. After much consideration, however, I have reached a couple of conclusions. The first is that the last four years have exhausted me. Working in hospitality for the duration of my degree has allowed me to achieve the financial independence I have always desired and forced me to work harder than I ever would have anticipated. I have worked tirelessly for several years to hand in each and every assignment on time and to my best standard, all the while working an undetermined number of hours a week. Heaven forbid I should want to give myself a break after it is over. Secondly, although I have loved my degree and am aware of the various career paths I could choose from, I am still uncertain which one is right for me. 
I have often thought about taking a year or so out of education to save money, build up experience and ultimately determine what I would like to do in life before taking on another degree. But there is a persistent voice in the back of my mind telling me that to do so is to admit defeat. Admittedly, the voice makes some valid points. For instance, if I did so, I would be the ripe old age of twenty-four by the time I completed a postgraduate degree - by then, life is essentially over. Furthermore,
my answer to the recurring question, “So what are you doing after uni?” will likely be met with raised eyebrows and the dreaded look of pity. In response to this voice,
however, I would suggest that it is much better to take time to seriously consider the path they would like to take than to embark upon a postgraduate degree out of fear of uncertainty. Moreover, the only validation anyone should need in knowing they have made the right decision is from themselves. 
Just last year, my sister completed her masters degree in mechanical engineering, one of the few women to do so at her institution. It came as a surprise when she decided to travel around Australia for a year instead of delving straight into engineering work. Oddly enough, it was the moment when she made this choice that I had never been more proud of her, for she decided to make her own happiness a priority.
I am certain that someday soon she will put the degree she worked so hard for to good use, but it will be on her own terms, the only ones that truly matter. 
I am sure the prospect of the future is daunting for the many students rapidly approaching the end of their studies. It is incredibly disheartening to realise that much of this fear is a result of social pressure. It is important, however, to stay true to yourself and know that as long as any decision satisfies you alone, then it is the right one to make. 

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