Recently I’ve been talking to a lot of people about postgrad options. At the beginning of the year I decided that I would rather die then do an MA. I then started applying to a load of graduate jobs, decided that I really did not want to do any of them, then stared blankly and disheartened at the computer screen. Then an email came: “Have you considered doing an MA?” I read the email and decided that yes, maybe I should do an MA.
I am currently trying to decide which MA to do: Art Gallery and Museum Studies or History, and whether to do it at Manchester or Kent. But that’s not really relevant to this story. I went to an AGMS open day, and it looks very good. I just need to arrange some work experience before I apply as work experience is a prerequisite to being accepted onto the course. But again, this is effort so I’ve put that on the back burner a bit and had some time to think. Thinking is my downfall. “What if half way through the course I decide that I don’t want to work in museums?” Of course, work experience will help this worry, so I should really get on that. History, my other option, is (or so I thought) a relatively safe bet. I’ve done it for three years, and there’s a lot of careers that you can get from it, or so I am told.
I went to speak to one of my lecturers about something completely unrelated and we ended up talking about my desire to do an MA.
“Why do you want to do a History MA?” he asked.
I really had not expected this question to arise, so my answer was less than satisfactory.
“It’s something to do I guess.”
“That’s not a very good reason.”
He was right. It is not a very good reason. Of course it isn’t the real reason, but I was having an off morning. I asked him what would be a good reason to do a History MA.
“The only good reason to do a History MA is to do a History PhD.”
I do not want to do a History PhD (I say now. Who knows, in September I didn’t even want to do an MA). He then told me that I should spend my £5000 on something better, such as getting a train to London to get work experience in something that I want to do. I don’t know what I want to do, which is part of this problem. But I’ve been told that an MA can make you more employable. We then went on to talk about the pros and cons of certain jobs. “The first five years of every job is hard. You have to work a lot and, generally, you get paid very little,” he told me, leaving me feeling downtrodden and confused.
Disheartened, I went to the postgrad careers fair at the GMEX (or Manchester Central as the City Council is now trying to call it), had a nice mosey round and had a chat with a careers advisor from Salford Uni. She was very nice, very helpful and a lot more balanced than my lecturer. She asked me questions that I had asked myself but had not really properly addressed. For instance, I have decided what jobs I do not want, but hadn’t properly questioned if there was a theme throughout these jobs which made me turn away from them. In short, I don’t want to work too much with maths; I don’t want my work to be my life (as is the case in a lot of well paid jobs); I want to work with people that I’d get on with; I want reasonable hours and I would like the possibility of being able to move abroad. She said that they were very good thoughts. I then went on to ask about the pros and cons of doing an MA. In short, the AGMS MA is very good if I’m sure that this is what I want to do. As I said, work experience will be invaluable here. (If you work in a museum and are reading this please do contact me). She also said that wanting to do a PhD isn’t the only reason to do a History MA. Whilst it is the only thing that directly follows, only 20-30% of people that do the MA go on to do the PhD. What the MA will do is enhance the critical, analytical etc. transferable skills that the History BA will already have given me. It would also, she said, be a good chance to meet people in the industries that I am interested in working in, make connections and get some work experience. After this meeting I felt a lot better about my decision, but am aware that I need to get some more work done on the matter, and, of course, actually applying for an MA.
Even though some of the advice given to me did make me want to cry, I think it was important that I have spoken to more people about my options as it has clarified the pros and cons in my head. Also, I will add that the postgrad studies fair was very good, and if you are free you should take the time out to go to events put on by the careers service. That’s my ad for the day.
Sophia White, Student Blogger