Working full-time, studying part-time: Holly’s story


MA Politics

For me, I see education as the key to my future success. Whilst you do not necessarily need a politics master’s degree to work in politics, I feel it sets you apart from the crowd, demonstrates your commitment to academia and increases your knowledge. I have always secretly aspired to work for the United Nations, and when looking into this it became apparent that a master’s degree would benefit anyone wanting to progress their career in this direction. However, I knew from the onset I would have to overcome some barriers and juggle a number of commitments if I was going to continue with my education.

I spent most of my childhood in foster care and for many years felt disengaged from the educational system. I questioned throughout the application process if I was even smart enough to do this, and it felt at the time as though the odds were not in my favour. But with some coaxing and support from friends I realised I would lose more by not trying; if I did not try I would never know if I could take that step, and likewise, if I do not try to work for the UN, I will never work for the UN. I think it is worse not knowing that failing.

I worked full time throughout my undergraduate degree so I had a good idea at what I was taking on. I’m now studying part-time and working full-time, and from my experience I would say that this is not an uncommon occurrence; many of my friends work part time/ full time too. Whilst I am not suggesting this is an easy task I would say it is more than doable with the right mind set. I currently work as a product manager for an IT distributor based outside of Leeds. They are very understanding of my commitment to education and give me my lectures off from work, and I then study over two/ three dinner breaks during the week. Employers must be seen to be nurturing your development and this is important aspect to consider when choosing your job. Some people may be in their “forever” job whilst studying, that’s great! Some people may not be which is fine too; I have found finding a job that understands your long term goals and supports you to accomplish them to be a very important factor.

Organising my time is key. I allocate a set number of books I want to read or words I need to write and stick to it; I read on the train, eating dinner and on my lunch hour and I write when I get home on an evening. I write detailed plans and ensure I manage my time in the plans. I find this way if I spend enough hours in the week working I get to spend the weekends socialising with friends. My course requires I spend a total of 18 hours a week in personal study and lectures per module. Some weeks I find I spend almost double this amount of time on university work; this is generally close to hand in dates or presentations.

Whilst I know it isn’t easy studying this way, many of us do not have a choice. It can be hard work, but worth it in the end!​

Holly is in receipt of the Postgraduate Financial Support Package, now the Leeds Masters Scholarships Scheme for 2015 entry.  To find out more about this funding, please visit here.

A new appreciation of studying: Becky’s story


MSc Biodiversity and Conservation

I was told prior to starting my course that it would be intense, and I can honestly say this is the first time I have had a chance to stop and reflect on this huge opportunity I have been given! I am studying for an MSc in Biodiversity and Conservation after completing my bachelor’s degree at Leeds in Zoology. This course is ideal for those who want to go on to do a PhD, with a third of the course being based on a research project working with current issues in conservation. As well as this, the course has a lot of modules that focus on those skills you can take with you into employment, and are taught by experts in the field. They really do know what current employers are looking for and tailor the modules so that you know that when you leave, you will be equipped with the latest skills and how to apply them. Some modules also include plenty of networking opportunities with relevant organisations such as the national trust, who we had the great experience of working alongside on a 5 day residential course. It was amazing to be working in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales and really getting a feel for how important the landscape is in terms of biodiversity, and how we can work to conserve this region which is so stunning and extremely important.

I think studying at this level is much different to undergraduate level; there is more of an emphasis on taking responsibility for your own learning, and with so many like-minded people who are on the course it really helps you work hard and want to achieve the best you can.

Personal tutorials are a great help also at this stage. I don’t think I really appreciated them as an undergraduate, but now I realise how invaluable it is to be able to have that 1 to 1 contact with a leading expert, and be able to discuss research ideas with someone who has so much experience – it really is good for your confidence as a student.

Taking advantage of the career guidance, including easily accessible facebook pages will prove vital in looking for voluntary and paid employment opportunities, as well as keeping up to date with the latest networking events and job fairs.

As for the financial support I have been lucky enough to receive, well if I hadn’t have been selected as a recipient I quite simply would not be here. It has been a really difficult road at times, and the award has been such an unexpected turning point for me and I intend to make the best of all the opportunities it has provided me with, and now I have gotten used to the fast pace and the work load, I am looking forward to what is still left to come from my course!

Becky is in receipt of the Postgraduate Financial Support Package, now the Leeds Masters Scholarships Scheme for 2015 entry.  To find out more about this funding, please visit here.

Focusing on Careers: Zach’s story


MSc Management

I graduated in 2011 with a non-accredited Biomedical degree and since then, despite successfully finding employment, I had found myself struggling to progress towards a satisfactory career in the same way as peers who have business degrees. Therefore, my motivation to return to university was not only to compensate for this, but to develop a transferable set of skills that would make me employable regardless of the working environment. The Postgraduate Financial Support Package (Leeds Masters Scholarships Scheme for 2015 entry) is helping me turn this into a reality.

Generally, a misconception of the business management degree is that it is only the management of people or businesses, but in fact it also deals with the management of information and the capabilities of managers. This will be invaluable to the career that I want in business analysis. I have already been very impressed with the business acumen, insight and transferable skills I am developing through my course. The crux of the Leeds MSc in Management is that it attracts a cohort from a variety of undergraduate disciplines and focuses on the transferable skills that they can bring. So far I am developing general presentation skills through video presentations; collaborative working and leading a team through group assignments; writing skills with an emphasis on reports; and personal and professional presentation. All these skills were touched upon my undergraduate degree but were never as fully developed as they are in this master’s degree, and the breadth of information and acumen is invaluable for a role in business analysis.

I feel the Careers Centre at Leeds is fully supporting me along the way and enhancing what I am learning in my course. Their careers fair put me in touch with major companies such as MARS, and their networking events have backed-up what I am learning from my master’s degree while enabling me to see the mechanics of the business through a professional perspective. Furthermore, in just an hour’s meeting, the Careers Consultant I met with saw that I had previously been on the wrong career path, and instead of generating a generic career path, she developed a structured plan that was directly related to the interests we had discussed together. She proof-read my CV and helped me with the confidence to apply for broader and more developed roles, ranging from HR and Business Analysis to Teaching, and is in stark contrast to my initial job area that had been confined to marketing.

Finally, I feel that my current degree has developed my entrepreneurial spirit beyond just dreams. The degree teaches the theory behind entrepreneurship and uses it as a conceptual framework to apply to interesting case studies, whilst giving us the opportunity to interact with real entrepreneurs through informal networking events. These have prompted interesting discussions with the entrepreneurs who visit us, and I feel that this will be invaluable when I set up my own company that fosters innovation appropriately – a form of entrepreneurship know as intrapreneurship – where an employee develops a form of entrepreneurship that enhances the productivity of the company. I can’t wait to graduate and start using my new skills in the world of business.

Learning through trial and error: Kevin’s story


MA English Literature

A new university, a new course, and new assignments. I think that’s how the order would go in terms of preference, too. With the festive season behind me, the date of my first deadline was in full view. However, between you and me, I had spent the entire Christmas and New Year period believing (or choosing to believe) that I had only one deadline due at the start of January. Unfortunately, this proved to be incorrect. I found out I had two, TWO four-thousand-word essays to write in just one week! The challenge was on.

Prior to undertaking the research and writing these assessed pieces of work, I had, fortunately, had the chance to draft a copy of my ideas in an unassessed essay, several weeks before the due date. For me, this was wonderful. Listening to all the information provided in the seminar room results in a head full of information and the want to put all that information down on paper in one essay. Not possible. This is a perfect opportunity to get everything down you think you could work with, then wait to get a thumbs-up, or thumbs-down. Although I hadn’t read half of the books at this time, the unassessed essay also gives the tutors an idea of students’ writing abilities and areas where they may need additional support.

The feedback, ready in a swift turnaround, was printed off together with my essay, allowing me see where I could make improvements. The tutors also made themselves available to go over their suggestions face to face. This approach works better for me as I can scribble down all subsequent suggestions while they ruminate over my ideas. With the tutors’ abundance of knowledge in each of the units, their feedback—with the occasional tangent that might appear off topic—has proved to be greatly valuable when making connections between ideas. These unassessed pieces will be used to my full advantage next semester.

I’m pleased to say I managed to get both essays written before the deadline, and my sanity was still largely intact. I’ve learnt that the time spent in seminars, with the ideas and opinions of others being openly discussed, has—consciously or not—helped develop my own perspective in analysis. The unassessed assignments, which at first seemed needless, were an element of the essay-writing process that proved to be the cornerstone for each of my essays. Hopefully this will have come through in my work.

Bring on the next assignments.

Kevin is in receipt of the Postgraduate Financial Support Package, now the Leeds Masters Scholarships Scheme for 2015 entry.  To find out more about this funding, please visit here.

Enhancing and developing skills: Dhara’s story


MSc Psychological Approaches to Health

My first semester at Leeds as a postgraduate student has flown by! I’ve met some fantastic people and I’m really enjoying my studies so far. My course involves applying psychological theories and research to issues relating to healthcare. It uses an integrated approach and utilises aspects of biological, social and cognitive, occupational and health psychology. Teaching is through a combination of lectures, seminars and tutorials, which has really helped me to apply the knowledge I have gained to real life examples.

I’m picking up and continuing to develop some great skills during this time. A Masters degree is intellectually stimulating and I’m really learning the importance of organisation, prioritisation and planning ahead. I know these will be invaluable for future employment opportunities. I am also enhancing my leadership skills and gaining a greater level of confidence through my role as Course Representative. I am responsible for listening to fellow students and ensuring that they are satisfied with the course so that I can accurately represent them at meetings held each term with members of administrative and teaching staff. In addition to this role, I am helping to organise an MSc Alumni Conference which will be held in January 2015. I am looking forward to this as we are inviting previous MSc Alumni to speak about their employment experiences which will provide current students with an interesting insight into the range of career/academic paths that are available to them.

Even though I completed my undergraduate studies at Leeds and was familiar with the libraries, I have found the Skills@Library sessions very helpful. I attended a Skills@Library session in my first semester which consisted of a presentation delivered by a member of the library team. This consisted of advice relating to time management, good essay writing tips and literature searching. This was an interactive session whereby I had the opportunity to write down my areas of strengths and weaknesses and share them with the group. As part of this session, I also received one-to-one advice as I had the opportunity to ask questions. This experience helped me to refine my existing journal searching skills and also helped me to learn new skills relating to time management and essay writing.

I’ve found the Careers Centre very useful too as they provide employability sessions and workshops with graduate employers that really encourage students to maximise their potential when applying for jobs and attending assessment centres. The Careers Centre website is also fantastic as it contains details of all the latest vacancies that are exclusive to University of Leeds students. I am currently exploring academia-related opportunities within the University of Leeds although I would also like to the opportunity to gain some experience relating to healthcare after my course. I am receiving regular emails regarding various work-related opportunities from the careers coordinator in the School of Psychology; which has helped me to find out more about the different options that are available to me.

I’m looking forward to my second semester at Leeds and anticipating the opportunities it’ll bring!

Dhara is in receipt of the Postgraduate Financial Support Package, now the Leeds Masters Scholarships Scheme for 2015 entry.  To find out more about this funding, please visit here.

You may also be interested to hear about the experiences of undergraduate students in the Faculty of Medicine and Health at the University of Leeds; visit here to read more.

Practical application of theoretical ideas: Lise’s story


MA Applied Psychology of Music

The psychology of music is a broad research-based field of psychology which seeks to understand the diverse effects of music on people, and vice versa. It examines issues within learning, educating, performing, musical preferences, mass and individual consumption, association with products or advertising, synaesthesia (where music is associated with other senses) and therapy to name a few. It may seem like a niche area, but the applications of the field are closer to you than you probably realise, such as the use of music in advertising and marketing.

So, I’m about to embark on the second semester, and the work is starting to feel real. Last term was a deep-end learning curve, reading numerous research papers to critically analyse and discuss, getting to grips with qualitative research in small groups and trying to put into practise seemingly straightforward interview techniques. Even having assessed and interviewed people in my last job, keeping an awareness of whether questions are leading, closed or hypothetical and picking up on answers that can be questioned further without writing it down feels like learning to ride a bike on a busy motorway. Next semester I go it alone with the dissertation, alongside learning quantitative techniques and can’t see that learning curve letting up.

It hasn’t all been learning on the task – the Professional Studies module has provided a worthwhile insight into careful referencing and researching a topic as well as information and advice on applying for research grants and roles within academia. This is to be complemented next term with talks from the careers service and giving presentations. Having watched researchers give talks in the seminar series, it’ll be our turn to stand and deliver before the semester is out, in no fewer than three separate modules. Still, it’s great chance to hone the performance anxiety techniques that I’ll be writing about in the dissertation.

On the other side of things it was fantastic to get back into performance and I was honoured to play in the first concert of the year as leader of the symphonic wind orchestra. It’s been a long time since I have played in front of an actual audience and the youthful enthusiasm of the orchestra is infectious. I have also joined the union’s music society and the extra opportunities it offers are possibly the most exciting part of being at the university, opening up contact with high quality musicians not just from the school of music but the university more widely.

The course so far has been as challenging, varied and interesting as I hoped. The course staff members are available to share their knowledge and understand the diverse backgrounds of everyone on the course. As well as a glut of academic work next term, I guess it’ll be time to consider life after Leeds and hopefully bringing the benefits of music to community groups such as those for people with dementia. Best pay attention to that careers centre talk and make use of the service.

Lise is in receipt of the Postgraduate Financial Support Package, now the Leeds Masters Scholarships Scheme for 2015 entry.  To find out more about this funding, please visit here.

A new step into engineering: Neal’s story


MSc Chemical Engineering

Having done my undergraduate degree in chemistry before moving on to do my MSc in chemical engineering at Leeds, I was quite worried about how I would handle the change due to very little chemical engineering experience. But one thing I can say from the first term is that there was a general consensus that not everyone had a background in engineering and the staff made the transition very easy by realising this. Initially the prospect of doing an MSc that was accredited by the Institute of Chemical Engineers was quite daunting as I was expecting to be bombarded with information from day one, but after the first few weeks I started to settle into the course and I felt a lot more comfortable with the work.

I have noticed that a lot of the teaching staff at the University of Leeds have industrial experiences and can mention many practical examples when introducing us to theory. I feel this is very important and can help us when we seek employment as it allows us to relate the theory learnt to specific industrial situations. I also find the weekly personal tutorials very useful, for someone who hasn’t done an industrial placement during their undergraduate degree this is important in improving my employability and my personal development. Personal skills are examined with my tutor, such as listening skills and writing a good CV, and how they can be improved is discussed; it is also handy for meeting new coursemates as these discussions are in groups, with the option of a one on one discussions if necessary.

Overall my first term at the university has been very enjoyable as well as challenging. I’ve found the teaching staff to be very helpful and easy to contact with large amounts of experience in industry.

Neal is in receipt of the Postgraduate Financial Support Package, now the Leeds Masters Scholarships Scheme for 2015 entry.  To find out more about this funding, please visit here.

In at the Deep End! Putting on an Exhibition at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery: Abi’s story


MA Art Gallery and Museum Studies

What a term it’s been!

Every year, in the first five weeks of term the MA Art Gallery and Museum Studies students are given a brief to put on an exhibition in the University’s Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery. This year, our brief was to create an exhibition using the Liddle Collection, (held by Special Collections here at the university and containing over 12500 objects and letters) to coincide with the centenary commemoration of the First World War.

Our result was The Individual Remains: Untold Stories of The First World War, which ran from 27th October – 20th December.

Let me tell you, even with a group as big as ours, putting on an exhibition in five weeks is no easy task! From the moment we got the list of objects we could work, with right up until opening night, we worked flat-out developing the theme of the exhibition, selecting objects, researching them, writing interpretative texts, organising a marketing programme – and all the unexpected hiccoughs that came in between! And it didn’t stop there – since the opening we have been undertaking evaluative research and a programme of events based on the exhibition’s subject.

A really exciting moment for me was making contact with Dr. Peter Liddle, who started the collection in the early 1970s. Networking is very important in the world of museums and galleries, so it was great that we could make this connection, especially when it was so relevant to our exhibition – as well as using the collection itself, we used Dr. Liddle’s writing to inspire the title of our exhibition ‘The Individual Remains’. Dr. Liddle was kind enough to attend the opening reception and give a speech, which was very moving and validating for us students after our five weeks of hard work!

The exhibition has been well received, making it into the Yorkshire Post’s ‘Top Five’ things to do, as well as receiving coverage from some national news outlets such as and the Daily Mail, who both did a showcase on an object in the exhibition.

It’s been a real learning curve; not only were a lot of us putting on an exhibition by ourselves for the first time, we were also getting to know each other, having only just started the course the same week we were given our brief. This experience has proved invaluable. Not only did we all get to know each other and form some strong friendships, we were able to work with each other professionally and learn as a team – sometimes there’s nothing like being thrown in at the deep end!

So now, it is onwards and upwards to next term – when I will be starting a placement project at a local museum as part of my course.

Abi is in receipt of the Postgraduate Financial Support Package, now the Leeds Masters Scholarships Scheme for 2015 entry.  To find out more about this funding, please visit here.

From administrator to social researcher: Calum’s story


MA Social Research

Following the award of the Postgraduate Financial Support Package (now Leeds Masters Scholarships Scheme for 2015 entry), this September I gave up work to embark on a Masters in Social Research in the School of Sociology, looking in particular at wage disparity, social security reform, and campaigns for a greater implementation of the Living Wage across Britain.

For the past few years I have been working in an administrative position, but the desire to pursue postgraduate study in some shape or form had been growing. When it became apparent that a part-time Masters was not an option, and after being unsuccessful in my applications for a research postgraduate position, I began considering the financial implications of embarking on a full-time Masters based on my salary and (rather small) savings. After doing the sums I rapidly came to the conclusion that it was, financially speaking, simply not a viable option for me, having no familial assistance available to me to help with funding. I applied for the Postgraduate Financial Support Package just to be sure that I had done all that I could to attempt to fulfil my ambitions at this time, and was beyond thrilled when I was selected as a recipient of the Package.

Needless to say, I could not have embarked on my chosen postgraduate course without this award. I was the first in my family to go to University, and am from a low-income neighbourhood and background which meant I could not call on the traditional monetary support to finance such an endeavour, so I can unequivocally state that without this scheme I would be no nearer to fulfilling my ambition of embarking on a PhD (and hopefully, a career) in the field of social research and welfare policy.

The run-up to the start of the course was rather precarious for me as I was leaving my previous position on the Friday, then beginning the Masters on the first day of teaching on the Monday; needless to say, “Freshers Week” was a rather busy time for me! What made the transition that much easier was the great work the administrators did in ensuring I was updated with everything that I needed in order to register on my course and set everything in place for the awarding of the PFSP, as well as the assistance of the student support team in the School of Sociology in organising module enrolment and other areas of importance. Following my enrolment I am now fully embedded on my course, hard at work on assignments, and extremely grateful for this opportunity; I only hope that the continued existence of the Postgraduate Financial Support Package continues to help support individuals in mine and similar positions to fulfil their own dreams over the coming years.

UPDATE: Since I first wrote my initial blog entry back in October 2014, I have completed my first semester assignments and embarked on the lengthy and time-consuming task of applying for PhD study at several universities across the country, a task which should not be under-estimated with regards to both time and the level of detail required! This is especially important if you are looking to put forward your own research proposal rather than applying for a pre-existing position on an existing project, and it is important to have thought in length about whether or not you really want to study for a PhD following your Masters: this is the most important part of advice I think I would give to those considering PhD study themselves. I am happy to report that my efforts were successful for my own applications, and I have been offered ESRC funding to study the campaign for the Living Wage at the University of Exeter.

Masters-wise I am currently developing my dissertation and structuring my remaining two module assignments, something that I feel much more confident with after the experience of the first semester: a Masters is certainly hard work and involves a great deal of application and dedication, but it is certainly worth it!

It’s never too late to return to education: Janice’s story

Janice Rusling

MA Theology and Religious Studies

I was so excited when I received confirmation of my funding which has enabled me to fulfil my dream of studying a further degree 40 years after I enrolled for my original BA at Leeds.  It is never too late!

Coming back to Leeds was like coming home… despite all the changes.  However, in terms of learning everything is different due to the invention of computers in the intervening years.  (What do you mean you won’t mark things written in longhand?)  Although I have used a computer for the past twenty years I have not done much online and struggled a bit with registering, choosing modules and generally seeming to live online, but I am slowly managing to ‘get my head’ around things.

What do I wish I had known sooner?  That the portal wasn’t just for registering but actually contained the whole of my life for the next year; that it had automatically set up an email address for me which those in the know were using to send me information that I was oblivious to, and that I could have got ahead of the game by spending time familiarising myself with it before arriving in Leeds rather than spending the first few weeks ‘playing catch up’

Everyone has been so helpful (and patient with my incompetencies).  Even if mentally raising their hands in despair the staff, both teaching and office staff, have greeted me with a smile and an assurance that nothing is too much trouble.  Because I have quite a long commute they have been particularly helpful in organising my timetable to suit British Rail or whatever it calls itself these days.  My colleagues are equally lovely, helpful and supportive; I know it is a disapproved word, but everyone is just so NICE and I feel privileged to be here.

Thinking longer term, because I have been widowed myself I am interested in bereavement support. To this end my dissertation is going to look at how church communities support bereaved people.  Once I have completed my study I hope to be able to use the results of my research to benefit the wider community, by setting up a much-needed bereavement support system in my own church and possibly others too.

Janice is in receipt of the Postgraduate Financial Support Package, now the Leeds Masters Scholarships Scheme for 2015 entry.  To find out more about this funding, please visit here.

UPDATE: since writing her original piece back in October 2014, in April 2015 Janice has reflected back on her experiences so far

Now halfway through the 12-month course, reality has well and truly set in.  I knew it would be harder than I expected, but it is harder than the hard I anticipated! However, if it didn’t require a lot of effort and discipline the end result wouldn’t be much of an achievement.

My first term was quite full with teaching and the preparation work required for lectures seminars and tutorials.  That was straight-forward (not easy!), but I struggled to do general reading.  After working for 37 years it felt very indolent to ‘just’ sit and read in the middle of the day and it took me a while to become comfortable with it.  I am also a very slow reader – skills@library have a useful course to help with that.

When the Christmas vacation arrived the workload doubled as assignment deadlines loomed.  It is a mistake to confuse the word ‘vacation’ with ‘holiday’.  I cancelled plans to spend Christmas with my family and got down to some serious study.  Of course everyone else was in the same boat and it was great to share mainly encouraging, (sometimes despairing), emails for mutual support.  Computers aren’t all bad after all.

Now we have reached the Easter vacation and the assignment stress cycle is starting again, but we survived the first time and we’ll survive the second!  I’m looking forward to getting everything else completed so I can concentrate on my dissertation without any distractions.

If I could have done anything differently I would have found a way to live in Leeds in term time as although the commute has been relatively easy – except for the morning snow prevented me getting to the station – and the train provided inescapable reading time, living at a distance meant missing out on extra-curricular events and lectures which would have been fun, as well as useful to participate in.

But I have no regrets.  Enrolling on the course has been the best thing I could have done.