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Postgrad Expectations | One Year On

So, it hits me that I am two weeks’ away from a new semester! It will be the start of the second year of my art history master’s at the School of Art, Design and Media at Nanyang Technological University (NTU ADM).

I’m amazed that time has passed so seemingly quickly — notwithstanding this Covid-19 season, I’ve spent the last few months reading, writing, and trying to keep myself together as I prepare for my Qualifying Exam coming up in September. For now though, I’m thinking about how things have been one year in, and what to expect if you’re heading back to school for postgraduate study!

I write this as I find it funny how things were so different just a year ago. I was both nervous and excited to start my master’s at NTU ADM, which was new to me since I did my undergrad at HKU. I had no idea what to expect at all, so I went in with my eyes wide open…

Took this picture last July on my ‘matriculation’ day! It’s funny how Singapore still uses such old-fashioned British terms…

Here goes a list of things I’ve learned:

1. ‘Where does the time go?’

I say this all the time, but honestly, I don’t think I have even been so conscious of my time and hours as I’ve been since starting postgrad. Amid classes, meetings, working on research project(s), and trying to upkeep a social life, it’s difficult to maintain a regular Monday to Friday working schedule, clock out at the end of the day and have weekends off.

I’m still working on that time management skill, but I’ve found it increasingly important to take breaks from all the academic things and just make time for leisure, like how I’m writing this post now!

The facade of The Moon bookstore.

2. You have to do those readings.

No more getting away with it like in the good ole undergrad days! You will be expected to discuss the assigned readings in every class and contribute to the discussion with your classmates. Although it’s time-consuming, it’s actually quite fun to hear what everyone thinks about the readings though!

3. Coursework vs. Research

When applying for a master’s, I’d looked into both coursework and research-based programmes. I was leaning towards coursework programmes, because I thought it would feel ‘closer’ to what I’d done during my undergrad degree. I eventually chose to take up my research master’s at NTU ADM because I was so flattered that they were willing to take me on with my research, haha!

With that said, postgrad classes are actually quite different from the undergrad experience (see: readings). As a research student, I also have to take a few classes. Some are specific to research students — a standard one across all fields being the methods class — and I’ve also taken a couple of classes from NTU ADM’s MA in Museum Studies and Curatorial Practices.

Yet also as a research student, it’s easy to get involved in classes and leave my own research on the wayside… So I try to do what I can to keep up with all the work!

From earlier days before I added way more things to my desk!

4. Having a work desk on campus is the best.

From what I’ve heard or read on the internet, it seems that only Singapore universities provide work desks for both Master’s by Research and PhD students for their entire candidature. That means this desk and that fancy iMac is mine to use for however long I spend at NTU. Such a privilege!

Since I studied in Hong Kong previously — where space is a luxury — I’ve just been so in awe of the space and facilities that NTU has. I love having a space of my own to get work done, to stack my books, and to take a break when going between classes, seminars, meetings and all.

5. It’s been going better than I ever expected.

Postgrad life gets busy, tiring, frustrating, difficult, and it’s hard for most people to understand what you do — but really, I not-so-secretly embrace it and enjoy it all.

No one ever said doing a master’s or PhD was going to be easy, but it’s a choice I decided to pursue. My mood and feelings towards my work, writing and research fluctuates all the time — sometimes I think it’s going just great, and in the next hour, I’m thinking someone send help — but in the end, it’s a joy to be able to pursue my passion and to work on a topic that I really want to know more about.

I think it’s always good to get a sense of perspective about how things are, especially when I become too absorbed in my work. So I guess this is also a reminder to myself and to whoever needs it: keep going, and enjoy the process!

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