Should I go for a postgraduate study?

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Occasionally I do get requests from friends and associates on giving advice on a postgraduate course they can embark on as educators to improve and upgrade their professional knowledge and practice. While I find such requests endearing, although I’m not an expert in this area, I usually get bogged down with two fundamental issues:

  1. What are the specific professional needs of the enquirer?
  2. What is the cost implication of doing a postgraduate course?

Firstly, let’s get the business of why people undertake postgraduate studies out of the way. People go for postgraduate studies for many reasons. For some people it’s a case of their drive for lifelong learning among many other reasons. For others it could be due to: their curiosity to explore an area of interest; a statutory requirement by their government or a regulatory body; boredom; ego; a need for career change; their employer’s request; promotion at work etc. However, people will undertake postgraduate studies for many reasons and usually not solely driven by one reason but a combination of factors.

Secondly, as regards question 1 above, it’s important to understand that a postgraduate degree wouldn’t answer all the professional career needs of an individual but most likely it will prepare that individual to be a more critical thinker, reader and writer. Also, it will prepare the person to be more critical and confident in engaging with research and develop an eye for engaging with professional practice more reflectively, reflexively and consciously. However, it wouldn’t – in most instances – directly, address some of the challenges that an individual is facing in their professional practice.

As regards question 2 above, except an individual is funded by their employer or gets a scholarship or grant, it can be financially overburdening for most people to self-fund their postgraduate studies, particularly if undertaking such studies will involve relocating to another country for their programmes. Hence, the idea of undertaking an online postgraduate course could be more appealing and practicable for some people. However, online programmes – in general – have their own challenges, such as: motivation to stay on a programme, a good pointer is the high attrition rates on different MOOC courses; active learning engagement by programme participants etc. But if an individual is determined and a programme is well-designed, online programmes can offer pragmatic solutions and opportunities for their participants.

Personally, as someone who has multiple postgraduate degrees I will like to say, if one can afford to enrol on a good postgraduate programme, it’s worth the effort BUT irrespective of where and how you undertake your study – home or abroad; part time or full-time; residential or online – you’ll only get as much out of a postgraduate programme as you put into it. Also, it’s important to study in a supportive environment under teaching staff that are willing to help you as an individual to aim high and significantly improve your academic writing and reading skills, as well as improve your ability to engage with research work and debates, constructively. Likewise, having good course mates is one of the best gifts that one can get from undertaking a postgraduate programme, because they will significantly challenge and enrich your study experience and life views on many fronts, going forward.

This now brings me back to the second issue of cost in question No.2. It’s important to note that inability to pay one’s tuition fees can easily derail, demoralise and destabilise one’s learning and this will easily lead to a loss of focus on one’s study, which eventually might lead to an inability for an individual to complete their programme or poor learning engagement during the course of the programme. So, if cost isn’t an issue, I will suggest going for a postgraduate study is the way to go and it doesn’t matter if it’s done full-time or part time. What are most important are the quality of programme and the commitment of the person undertaking the study. However, if cost is an issue, I will suggest the alternative routes of: continuous professional development (CPD), self-development, use of public library, engaging in online discussions and joining book clubs etc. For instance, a cheap means of doing CPD to attend to one’s immediate professional needs while exploring other new areas and challenges in the education world is by building a positive online Professional Learning Network (PLN), and I have enumerated below some of the ways one can build a PLN:

  1. Engage colleagues at work in constructive professional discussions, and also show non-invasive interest in important parts of their lives, e.g. family, hobbies, health etc.
  2. Join online groups on social media – Facebook and Twitter are two notable platforms that educators use a lot in widening their PLN (Professional Learning Network)
  3. Avoid binary discussions, as they’re more likely to polarise people than bring them together
  4. Subscribe to educational podcasts and blogs on your areas of interest. All you need to do is to type e.g. “podcasts on classroom assessment” or “blogs on curriculum” etc. and you’ll find multiple links to freely available high quality contents, usually produced by academics and professionals.
  5. Don’t forget the old school approach – books. Buy books – used or new – read them, discuss them with your PLN buddies; reach out to the authors for clarifications if you have questions to ask; review the books you’ve read – I find reviewing books make me to be more engaged with my reading, particularly from a reflective point of view.
  6. Follow and read educational news from different parts of the world
  7. Read academic journal articles – many are freely available on open source platforms and Google scholar

Finally, I have to say that this blog post is not exhaustive of how an individual can engage in CPD, and it does not justify the need or not to undertake a postgraduate study. Rather, it is a post to share some of my personal experience and views on the need for an educator to undertake a postgraduate study or not.

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