Having just finished my own MA History Degree at the University of Manchester the Historian asked me to write a short piece reflecting on the year. I thought that firstly it would be useful to outline my motivation for staying on for the year after completing my undergrad years in Manchester. Over the year I joked with a few people that I only stuck around because I’d been paying for the construction of the Alan Gilbert Learning Commons for three years and it made sense to see what my fees had contributed towards, but I must confess to only going in a couple of times, preferring the quieter confines of John Rylands or the clusters within Sam Al.
On a more serious note, money was definitely a large factor in my decision to take my MA. The tuition fee saga which has rumbled on throughout my own time at university was probably the deciding factor. I had to take out a career development loan with the Co-Op bank to finance the course’s £5k cost but I feel that having completed the course that decision has been justified. It would be a great shame if postgraduate study is denied to large numbers of students for purely financial reasons. Unlike PhD courses, the funding available for masters level is much narrower in scope and accessibility so the career development loan was my only option – the interest of the loan is paid for by the government for the duration of the course but then you are expected to begin payback three months after the course ends. I’ve just checked and the course cost has risen to £6,300 for the 2014-15 academic year – a 26% increase – and unfortunately this increase in cost may continue to turn future prospective students away from postgraduate study.
In purely capitalistic terms, as a university course unfortunately must now be viewed, what did I get for my money? I continued to work within a department in which I felt comfortable working and took a wide range of modules to enhance my own historical knowledge and expertise. I set out with the attitude towards my MA of filling in as many historical gaps as I possibly could from my modular selection in order to aid me when I reach my goal of teaching at secondary school level. This involved taking Philipp Roessner’s Reformation module and Charles Insley’s module on the Making and Breaking of England, both of which were excellent and helped abate my fears that my focus was too modern. I also took the opportunity to audit two modules, one in each term, this means I attended and contributed in the seminars and did the reading when possible around other commitments. This experience was again useful in helping me fill in gaps on certain issues and periods and made me feel like I was getting more for my investment. The idea of auditing classes is something I wish I had heard about doing earlier in my university career, but I don’t think the department as a whole would be too happy if suddenly each lecture contained swathes of extra students.
Unlike the undergraduate modules, postgraduate classes definitely had a more personable feel to them. All of the classes I attended were either held in the lecturer’s own office or in smaller seminar rooms, and this definitely allows a greater rapport to develop between the lecturer and the students over the course of the term. The smaller group sizes of the classes definitely ensured I got more from each class, but they do mean there is no chance of getting away without doing at least the bare minimum of the required reading for each week. My MA thesis in many ways felt like going through the process in which I had undertaken 12 months previous, but was more enjoyable as I realised from an early stage just what the required effort would be and choosing to work with Max Jones was definitely the correct decision. I cannot speak highly enough of Max, he is on research leave this year, but I urge anyone who is going to be in the department in twelve months to consider taking his modules.
The final thing I’d like to say a little about postgraduate study is that it can feel a little lonely at times. In the second semester the compulsory weekly Historical Research class does mean the whole year group does get together, but on a social level the group seldom met outside of classes which hadn’t been my experience as an undergrad. I always felt that I connected better with friends I had made in the year below, particularly after the Prague trip in February and completing the BOGLE walk in the spring last year, both of these events will definitely ensure that I remember my MA year as not just overstaying my welcome in the John Rylands University Library.