Struggles Of Postgraduate Students

Doing a Postgraduate is an incredibly daunting task. Normally at least 2-3 years for both masters and Ph.D.’s, there are some challenges that you are almost certainly going to have to face. Below we look at some of the biggest (and most common) problems that Postgraduate students encounter. If you are considering being a postgraduate student/candidate or just beginning one, advanced awareness of these stresses may help you overcome them if you ever have to make their acquaintance (don’t worry, we have our fingers crossed). Plus, knowing that they are frequently experienced and nothing out of the ordinary will hopefully provide you some comfort as follows:-

1. Isolation

One of the most common problems for Postgraduate students is the feeling of isolation. Postgraduate candidates often work alone, having few, or sometimes no other people on their project, this while friends may be working in offices and teams, enjoying a far more social side to the 9-5. Predictably, this can lead to loneliness, lack of motivation, and the fear that no one understands, or can relate to the problems you are experiencing. As an antidote to this, it is advisable to make an effort to get into contact with other graduate students. There are many ways of doing this, for instance, through journal clubs, conferences, or networking. Being in contact with other Postgraduate students will give you someone to talk to, moan to, and will help alleviate these disruptive and negative feelings. Simply breaking up the routine(/monotony) of studying can do you a whole world of good!

2. Stress

With looming deadlines, large-scale projects, and a huge amount of personal investment, a Postgraduate can be extremely stressful. This is compounded by the fact that everything is always riding on you and you alone, making the highs higher and the lows, well, let’s not go there. It has been found that Postgraduate students have high levels of mental disorders – likely related to high levels of stress they have to endure. For this reason, one must find healthy ways to decompress, whether through exercise, meditation, arts, or anything else. Any university worth it’s salt will also have mental health services that can be sought if things get particularly difficult. Regardless of how bad you’re feeling, it’s always helpful to talk it through with someone. No problem is too small.

3. Conflict with your supervisor

Another common problem can be issues arising between Postgraduate students and their supervisors. Supervisors are part-boss, part-mentor, and the occasional friend. It’s an odd combination, the balance of which sometimes can be hard to maintain. When disagreements surface, and of course, over 3 years it is only natural that they will, some students can feel that they have to defer immediately to the wishes of the more senior and experienced supervisor. Again, here a  supportive network of Postgraduate students around you can help navigate these challenges. Also, familiarity with the faculty in a broader sense (which is encouraged) will allow you to canvass more opinions, maybe helping you clear up a point of particular contention. Who knows, maybe you were right all along!

4. Funding issues

Most Postgraduate students rely on external funding to support themselves while studying. Unfortunately, this too can be a source of concern. Funding can, at times, be insecure. It has been known, for example, for funding to be reduced while still in the middle of the Postgraduate This is a precarious position to be left in and it can be extremely stressful to secure new funding. Ideally, supervisors should be on hand to help with this. One should never think twice about approaching them for advice, it’s what they are there for. Still, it’s also recommended that students ensure that they are financially secure themselves, or at least have some money tied over in case of emergency.

5. Managing finances

Students have always had to carefully manage their finances, lacking the time and experience to work lucrative full-time jobs. It’s also tough to put significant effort into a job when so much of your energy is going towards your studies. Right now, the global recession that inevitably stemmed from widespread lockdown efforts and the effective shutdown of some major industries (such as tourism) is adding to the complexity, making it tougher to rely on family. The solution? Leaning on any and all government support schemes that appear, cutting back on frivolous spending, and pooling resources with other students to buy staples in bulk (it’s cheaper that way) as well as save money on accommodation. There’s also a lot of value in enterprising students finding ways to make money on the side, something that’s more accessible than ever before through the rise of e-commerce in mainstream awareness. Plus, you can apply for a Postgrad Solutions Study Bursary worth £500 towards your tuition fees.

6. Building professional credentials

Here’s the point of bringing up e-commerce: with online retail largely unaffected by Covid-19, smart students can be running their own online stores using fulfillment methods such as dropshipping to sell without ever buying anything. The consequences of this go beyond just making money. A side hustle may be a side venture (hence the name), but it’s a business even so, and there’s experiential value in running a business — value that can really prove its worth down the line when a postgrad student concludes their studies and wants to find a career opportunity (or even commit fully to self-employment, something that’s growing in popularity these days). It is really hard to stand out in the business world when there’s so much competition around, especially given the hiring backlog that resulted from the main lockdown period. Starting a business is a fantastic way to show initiative, creativity and commitment.

7. Looking after mental health

It’s perfectly normal to feel worn down at this point, having been living with a global pandemic for about half a year already but it’s worse for postgraduate students in some ways. Undergraduate students are more commonly shielded by their families, while budding professionals should have regular incomes (and free time) to calm their fears. But postgraduate students fall somewhere between the two. They need to make sure they focus on their wellbeing, keeping their physical health managed through regular exercise, talking about their problems whenever useful (to their friends will suffice), and refusing to dwell on the negatives. The future can still be bright and it’s vital to remember this.

8. Working & socializing safely with Covid-19

It seems that there isn’t going to be a hyper-convenient wrap-up to the Covid-19 outbreak: even if a safe and effective vaccine arrives as promptly as possible, the virus will likely stick around for a few years. The truth is that some parts of life have changed for the long haul. The principles behind social distancing will last, for instance, as will the move to remote working. This is tough for postgraduate students. They don’t just need to work, after all: they also need to socialize to make their workloads bearable, embrace their adulthood, and network for future professional opportunities. And all of these things are tougher now. So how can they keep their lives going without taking undue risks? This partially comes down to following best practices concerning Covid-19  – washing hands regularly, wearing masks at appropriate times, avoiding unnecessary contact, spacing out social activity, etc. The rest of it is about making the most of modern technology: using laptops and smartphones as effectively as possible, holding virtual events, working from home when possible, and keeping up with the latest advice.

9.  Time management

So much to do, so little time to do it! This is probably the mantra of our age… Learning when to jump at new opportunities and when to say no to extra tasks is a skill that every academic should develop if they are to avoid going mad. This can be honed by knowing how to prioritize. What is essential that I finish today? What, at a push, could I postpone till tomorrow?  Setting out enough time in your day to fulfill these tasks will help this process and enable you to, when necessary, say ‘nope, I do not have the time for that. Rather obviously, it helps to be organized and to calendar your appointments carefully. And remember, it is better to do a few things well, than some things badly.

10. Work/life balance

It sometimes seems like Postgraduate students are expected to study all the time; to be in the office every weekend and to work late every day. But this is not sustainable; you also need time for hobbies, friends, and family to function at peak level. This may seem a really obvious point to make, and yet, many students still suffer from the effects of having an incredibly lop-sided schedule. Students should always remember: making time for activities outside of the Postgraduate is vital for long-term success. A healthy social life, regular exercise, and cultural activities will be stimulating, fun, and are likely to make you happier. Happiness is the end goal of everything; it should be valued.

11. Lack of institutional support

Some universities are better than others at supporting Postgraduate students. The best universities have extensive programs for helping them, through mentoring, workshops, and social events, while at other universities students are left to fend for themselves. Graduate schools can be helpful here, as they are geared towards meeting the specific needs of PhDs. Try to find out what kind of support is offered by your institution there may be more than you think!

12. Lack of personal support

Another challenge for Postgraduate students is dealing with a lack of personal support. Friends, partners, and family members may not understand the worth of a Ph.D., and may not be supportive of the choice to pursue one. Many a Postgraduate student has been distressed by a well-meaning relative asking when they will be finished with their Postgraduate and gets a real job. This is another reason to get in contact with other Postgraduate students, who can understand the stresses you are experiencing and give you the support you need.

13. Concerns about the future

In addition to worrying about their current projects, many Postgraduate students feel concerned about their future too. In this uncertain job market, and academic jobs being intensely competitive, no guarantee getting a Postgraduate will lead to a desirable job (we hope it will!). That said, research does show that having a Postgraduate under your belt hugely increases your chances of not only getting a job, but also being paid better, and enjoying greater job satisfaction. To help ensure you get to enjoy all of these benefits, it’s sensible to start the job hunt early. Remember, too, all the transferable skills you develop during your Postgraduate could also help you to get an industry job if you feel you have had enough of academia.

14. Problems with motivation

with a Postgraduate typically takes at least two-three years (at the very least); it’s hard for anyone to maintain motivation throughout their whole project. Feeling fed up, bored, or dissatisfied with one’s project is a very common experience! When things are not going so well, and motivation is low, you should consider giving yourself a break. A few days or even a week away from your project can sometimes be helpful, allowing you to come back to your project invigorated and able to look at it from a fresh perspective. Maybe you see something that before you had missed? Or even better, maybe you realize that the work you’ve done is a whole lot better than you had previously thought. THIS can be brilliantly motivating. Plus, you probably deserved a break anyway!

About the author

Dr. Muchelule

He Is an Alumni of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture & Technology (JKUAT) and a Grasshopper faculty member (U.S.A), PMI Certified member (U.S.A), Microsoft certified IT professional, ISO-certified Internal Auditor as well as an External examiner of Azteca University in Mexico and Canada, a scholarly friend to African University of Zimbabwe an author of various academic literatures globally and a consultant in ICT and project management fields locally and globally.

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