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How to Manage Your Postgraduate Course

Book Review

Lucinda Becker, Hampshire, Palgrave Macmillan, 2004, 187pp, paperback, £14.99, ISBN 1 403 91656 X

This book is predominantly aimed at students who have recently enrolled on a postgraduate course, although undergraduates and those from professional backgrounds who are beginning the process of applying for a postgraduate course may also find it helpful.

The book provides valuable advice regarding how to effectively manage your postgraduate course from beginning to end.  This is presented via eleven main chapters, from how to actually select a postgraduate course, through to how to work successfully with your supervisor, how to present your ideas, and guidance on writing up research.

However, there are two chapters that stand out, in my opinion, as the most useful; chapter seven ‘what if things go wrong?’ and chapter eleven ‘moving on from your postgraduate course’.  In chapter seven ‘what if things go wrong?’ a range of issues are covered with practical solutions, such as what to do if you are anxious about giving a presentation, if you are running out of time to complete a piece of work, if you feel isolated, or “if you feel as if you are losing the plot altogether” (p. 99).  Furthermore, via chapter eleven ‘moving on from your postgraduate course’, the book remains helpful once you have been awarded your degree; it is a continuing source of advice, when ‘what next?’ enters your mind.  For example, guidance regarding how to make direct contact with potential employers and how to produce a research proposal for further postgraduate study is covered here.

A key strength of this book is that each chapter begins with a ‘troubleshooting guide’ and ends with a ‘spot guide’.  Firstly, the ‘troubleshooting guide ‘allows you to assess whether the chapter will be beneficial to read.  For example regarding chapter five ‘working with your supervisor’, part of the troubleshooting guide states;

“Read this chapter...if you are unsure about the type of support you can expect from your supervisor...if you are unclear about how a supervision works...if you find it difficult to take criticism” (p. 64)

This enables you to assess your own knowledge, and decide whether the chapter would be beneficial to read at the time.  However, as each chapter is separate and has its own troubleshooting guide, you are able to dip in and out of the chapters, as and when it is appropriate to read them.  In relation to the ‘spot guide’, this section basically summarises each section and identifies “key points to remember” (p. 39).  This is incredibly beneficial, as the amount of advice provided in the book may become overwhelming.

Additionally, the book as a whole goes deeper than solely providing information regarding, for example, how to effectively produce assignments and presentations which are frequently covered in other books.  The book encourages much self-development and advises you to really think about your course and how you can get the most out of it, as well as how to overcome difficulties.  The following quote sums this up;

“When you feel that things are going well, [this book] will help you to assess your success and analyse where to go next in order to build on that success.  When you feel isolated, confused or just plain demoralised, it will reaffirm for you that your difficulties are both a normal part of the postgraduate experience and entirely surmountable” (p. 1)

However, I feel that the lack of case studies or vignettes from postgraduate students in the book makes the issues covered less ‘real’.  I am frequently drawn to student case studies as I feel I can relate to them, and therefore due to the absence of vignettes in this book I am unable to take on board how previous postgraduates tackled issues successfully, and cannot learn from their mistakes.

Nonetheless, I wish I had invested in this book during my Masters degree, which I have recently completed.  However I will definitely be reading it again, and use the guidance during my PhD venture.  It is an invaluable tool for any student beginning their journey towards obtaining a postgraduate degree.

Reviewed by Karen Buckell, University of Lancaster

At the time of writing, Karen Buckell was in the first year of a PhD in the Department of Educational Research at the University of Lancaster.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of FindAPhD.

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