Never mind the break I’m taking this term, I have passed the first year of my part-time MSc with flying colours! I scored As for for three of my modules, and a B for the fourth one. So, yes, I am rather pleased that all the hard work did pay off.
What follows are some things I learnt (often the hard way) in my first year of being a student again. Note to self: do read this post before you return to studying in February!
Don’t worry about the assessment at the start of term
On my course, the assignment briefs are published right at the start of term, although the work usually isn’t due until the end of term, or at least not before a substantial part of term has passed.
In the first semester, I read the assignment briefs on Day 1… and panicked. This is especially true of one of the two modules that I took that term. I didn’t understand the terminology, I didn’t understand what we were asked to do, I didn’t have a clue of how to tackle the task. Cue some random googling of terms and perusing of papers.*
I really shouldn’t have worried. The modules on my course are actually structured so that you pick up the skills and knowledge that you need for the assignments on the way. Sounds elementary, but I really didn’t think about this and wasted a lot of time worrying about the assignment far too early. What you should do instead (and luckily I also did this!): engage with the module, do the weekly readings, participate in exercises and forum discussions. By all means do have the assignment brief in the back of your mind, but don’t stress about it from the start. And, as if by magic, things will become much clearer as you go along!
* This is not how anybody should approach an assignment, but especially not a librarian-to-be!
Talk to your fellow students
As I’m a distance learning student, this is somewhat more difficult than it would be on a campus-based programme, where you’re all sat in a classroom together. In the second term, I joined a couple of Facebook groups for my modules and they turned out to be the best support network ever. It was just massively reassuring to see how we were all struggling with the same questions. We all motivated each other to persevere, especially in the days (and hours!) before deadlines. Much better than struggling along by yourself.
Read the assignment brief carefully
Ask questions about it. Be clear about what is required, and what isn’t. Break questions down – sometimes it can sound like you need to do a lot of complicated work (especially if practical work is required), but do check carefully what you actually need to do. After a year on the programme, I can now judge much better what the required standards are. And as I found out to my relief, they are not always as high as the standards I set myself! Turns out, your lecturers do want you to pass, as long as you’ve put in the required work along the way!
Make connections between the curriculum and the real world
When I was learning about cataloguing and struggling with MARC, RDA & Co., I contacted one of the librarians at the nearest university library and asked if I she had time for me to come along and ask her questions about it. She not only agreed to that, but also arranged for me to sit with one of the cataloguers for a couple of hours. Librarians just are the most helpful people! Those two hours spent in the library were invaluable, because I could finally connect the theory from the course to the real world. MARC made so much more sense after I had tried to catalogue a couple of items myself! So, whether you’re studying librarianship or another subject, do ask people who already work in the field for help if you can.