I graduated (* 3 years later than expected)

On Thursday 11 June 2016, I finally graduated with a Master of Philosophy in Higher Education Studies.  What was meant to take 3 years, took 6 years instead.

The irony here is huge.  I am a lecturer, I am telling students that they must apply themselves, show grit, have a growth mindset – and then here I was at one stage needing to write a letter to get permission to write the same course 3 times.

What happened? 

Looking back, my Masters studies were always there, but I never prioritised them.  The course work I was able to handle in the two year period but it was the dissertation that killed me.  The course that I needed to repeat 3 times was actually quite easy to pass, all you needed to do was write a research proposal for the dissertation.  I just never got round to completing it for 2 years, despite being registered for the course every semester (and paying every time!).

When I eventually got round to applying myself, it flowed, and I was left wondering, “Why did it take me so long to do this?”  Here are some brief thoughts that you might be able to identify with – whether you are writing undergraduate, PGDA, ITC or APC – I think we can all fall into these traps:

  1. Lack of confidence

At the root, I don’t like failing, I like doing things that I am good at.  Writing my dissertation was not an area of confidence and so when given the choice between a teaching opportunity and writing my dissertation, I would choose teaching, because I am good at it and it makes me feel good about myself.  Is there something in your life you need to do but are avoiding due to a lack of confidence?

  1. Poor planning

I was intimidated by the scale of the project (Write a THESIS) but never bothered to collect all the facts and break the project down.  It always remained as this large thing in my mind and I never had clarity on the next step that was required.  When I eventually did tackle it, I realised that it only needed to be 25,000 words and that it consisted of many logical next steps that my supervisor helped me identify.  What massive project are you putting off because you haven’t taken the time to clarify the next steps?

  1. Lack of motivation

I lost sight of why getting my Masters was important.  I didn’t remind myself of the need to get promoted, produce scholarship and learn more about education.  The turning point was a simple question I answered a year ago.  The question? “What one thing, if achieved, would make the biggest difference to your life?”  What important project of yours has stalled due to a lack of motivation?

Learn from my mistakes

Here are my thoughts to help you not repeat the same mistakes I made:

  1. Adopt a growth mindset. Do not wait for the perfect time to get started so as to never fail.  That moment will not come.  Get started now and expect to fail.  When that happens, learn the lesson, and keep moving.  Done beats perfect every time.  Read more here.
  2. Ask, “What is the next action?” Every project consists of many steps.  Give some thought to the next steps you can take and then get going.  It is not that hard.  Get the facts, think about your approach, and then get going.  Poor planning is a frustrating reason for a lack of progress because as soon as you take the time to plan, you will kick yourself for making it such a big deal in your mind.
  3. Remind yourself “Why?” I had forgotten the importance of “Why?” and it meant that although my dissertation was on my radar, nagging me every spare moment for 4 years, I never tackled it properly until the final few months.  I had all my excuses “My kids are young, I just launched a new course, we’re so busy with the new APC exam” and had forgotten my motivation.

It’s embarrassing telling a story of when you mess up but it’ll be worthwhile if it helps you not make the same mistakes.  Go out there and finish what you started (on time!).


Paul Maughan

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