Now that I am drawing towards the end of my Masters studies and am facing the inevitable leap back into the graduate pool (albeit with considerably more awareness and experience than after my undergrad), I feel it’s important to finally take a step back and answer the recurring question I keep being asked…
Was it actually worth it?
Admittedly, I can understand where my friends, colleagues and family were coming from last summer when they expressed concern about my returning to academia after a year out in the ‘real world’? After all, I had one degree already, not to mention a fair amount of (sadly unpaid) experience in public relations. What could returning to De Montfort University for ANOTHER year of study really offer me? Other than another load of debt to shoulder, I mean.
Additionally, PR tends to get the subtle reaction of ‘eh?’ when described. I wouldn’t think it’s that hard to understand. After all, its all about helping to shape and maintain the image of a company, organisation or individual whilst marketing its products/services via third party endorsers.
Doing a Masters didn’t just allow me another year of burying myself in fascinating areas of contemporary research though (Don’t judge me; I’m a nerd!), it in fact opened doors for me that I’d been hammering on for a while – not to mention a few that I didn’t even realise had been closed.
Don’t get me wrong. Graduating with a 2:1 in International Relations and Journalism from a fairly well-respected university gave me options. However upon realising in my third and final year that despite being a dab hand at editioral copy and being skilled in meeting short and changeable deadlines, I didn’t just want to report on campaigns that did (or didn’t) do well; I wanted to work with clients to help build and shape these innovative campaigns that justified being reported on. I knew that turning to the ‘dark side’ (or at least pursuing it enough that I could sit on the fence and juggle the two) was something that would not only be rewarding to my professional and personal growth, but also was pretty inevitable.
Although I’d thrown myself into the deep end and gained a range of experiences across sectors, I felt that undertaking a MSc qualification would provide that added sense of ‘confidence’ and ‘sureity’ in my knowledge and skills that I felt I was lacking in my job-search, whilst also demonstrating to potential employers how determined and dedicated I was (and am) to seriously pursuing PR as a career.
Saying that though, I won’t deny having second thoughts. Everybody does.
The niggling doubts whispering that taking out a PCDL on top of a student loan was ‘irresponsible’ and that I should have just pulled on my big girl pants and gotten a job were pervasive and despite being irrational, were always at the back of my mind until perhaps mid-way through my second term.
Sometime during that second term though, I honestly think I had my ‘lightbulb moment’ that this was exactly where I was meant to be, doing what I was meant to be doing.
I’m not sure what set it off… Perhaps it was realising that I do in fact know an awful lot more than I thought I’d known; perhaps it was talking to people who expressed feeling just as much of a duck out of water as I had after graduating; or perhaps it was just the sense of waking up in the morning and actually looking forward to another day of writing about things I really cared about. All I know is that somehow, suddenly, everything just seemed to settle and ‘click’ into place.
My second term ended, and quickly blended into my third; and alongside being shortlisted for a national blogging contest for PR students (in which I subsequently came joint ‘Second/Highly Commended’), I also began being regularly invited to join local BBC radio panel discussions with Ben Jackson talking about aspects of the 2015 General Election – something the political geek in me was THRILLED at.
So… now that I’m truly at the end of my Masters (I handed in my last proper ‘assignment’ today), I thought it was high time to reflect on this last year and the value of the further education I’ve chosen to invest both time and energy into.
I decided that my experience can be summed up in the following key ways:
1) No matter how much education you feel you should ‘have’ before seeking a job, the key thing holding new graduates back is a lack of confidence and awareness of how to translate academia understanding into professional practice.
2) A postgraduate qualification is effectively a piece of paper. A nice piece of paper signposting your ‘knowledge’ in a particular area, but not the be all and end all of an employers analysis of you.
3) Extracurriculars are vital. Whether it’s writing a blog, joining a club/starting a new hobby, or taking part in your local paper/radio etc., having elements such as these on a CV act as a ‘balance’ to academic ability and professional experience, tells the employers your values and priorities and (perhaps bluntly) whether they could put up with sharing an office space with you for more than five minutes.
4) These ‘extra’ curriculars are just that; ‘Extra’. They often do not come as part of an academic course and unless you are *extremely* lucky/wealthy/well-connected, be sure that they will not just “fall into your lap” if you wait long enough. Be proactive.
5) Invest in your personal development and recognise that at the end of the day, in pursuing a Masters qualification in something that expands your skillset and is professionally applicable, that is precisely what you are doing, and keep doing it.
Its like putting a puzzle together without the box for guidance. You flail around a lot to begin with getting flustered and frustrated at both yourself and the world. Then you plan out an in-depth plan of action in solving the ‘challenge’ being faced so that when you finally do make that step and face the daunting prospect of putting that puzzle together, you know that althoguh it may take a little longer, you’ll still get there eventally.. The decision you have to make is how you ‘flail’ and how you approach complex issues in later lfe.
Whether this degree is ‘worth it’, I suppose is yet to be seen – after all, I’ve not found a job yet.
However it is early days and I know that compared to my prior experiences as a new graduate, I am now far more knowledgeable about the industry; far more self-aware about my role and priorities within it for professioanl and/or personal growth; and far more confident in my abitlity to use the skills I’ve learned to positive effect.
So it seems that as I dive back into the fray, I’ve grown as a person. My MSc may or may not have improved my career prospects (I like to think it did), but as I consider the future, I have realised that I’m content. Not happy per ce, as I’ll miss spending weeks looking into yet aanother niche area of research, but definitely more content about my current situation, the future, and about life in general.
I’m ready to make that step into the job market without fear of rejection. I know I’m ready.
Bring it on!