Adaptation to a British Master’s Program

If I had to pick a theme for this semester, it would probably be adaptation… There are so many ways I’ve learned to adapt this semester, but I’ll focus on adapting to an MSc program coming straight from Undergrad. For one, in my final year (what the Brits call Senior year), I had the most freedom to choose my courses. That is not the case, however, with an MSc program; 3/4 modules (what the Brits call a class) are mandatory and I had 3 options for my final module. I realise (how the Brits spell realize) this might sound like I’m complaining, and though there are downsides for sure, I would consider this an overall positive thing. The 3 mandatory modules are all research methods based instead of learning about theories and concepts in Environmental Psychology, which is what all of us were so pumped for. Though that would have been much more exciting start, it was important for us to learn the background of how to conduct research before we get knee deep into our dissertation project, so we have to wait for next semester to get into the fun stuff. But that’s okay, it’s just like having to eat dinner before getting to eat the dessert, and I guess I can wait a little longer.

What’s nice about having limited options is that it really brings us Environmental Psychology students together, creating a sense of community amongst us. I went to a big University in Undergrad and knew only a few people in the Psychology Dept. and even though I often saw the same people in my classes, we weren’t friends and were barely acquaintances. There was no unity or bonding because there were so many of us all with our own schedules. But with 18 people in my MSc program and the majority of them in all of my modules, we’re forming a little international family. We already had our end of the year potluck where everyone brought food from their home country which was absolutely delicious, and we’re planning a course field trip to Rotterdam in the spring, and I can’t wait.

What’s strange about having my schedule decided for me is that in the Psychology Dept. here, we only have modules on Mondays, Tuesdays, and occasionally Thursdays. I’m a gal who works best when kept busy and on a schedule (partly why I took this ambassador job and choose to come in on Wednesday mornings), otherwise I become a Netflix binge-ing blob. With this seemingly free schedule, I have to force myself to go to the library to be productive, which I’ve learned the hard way. It took some trial and error, but I have learned how to be productive with this kind of schedule. Pro tip: getting a few friends together to book a room in the library ahead of time (which you can do on the surrey library page) helps keep you accountable for getting work done while socialising (how the Brits spell socializing) a bit. I’ve learned this is the most efficient way not to wait until the last minute to get work done.

What’s slightly terrifying but ultimately motivating about the MSc system in the UK is that grades rely on 1 or 2 assignments. Attendance and participation only affect my grade in theory now. For example, in 2 of my modules, I have two assignments worth 50% of my grade, in 1 module I have one assignment worth 25% and an exam worth 75%, and in the last module I have 1 assignment worth 100% of my grade. And this is far from unusual, this is the norm here. Does this scare the biscuits (what the Brits call cookies) out of me? Yes. Do I try not to think about it too hard? Yes. But at the end of the day, does it motivate me to work harder? Absolutely. I actually feel proud of some of the work I’ve done, something I didn’t feel as confident about in the U.S., even if I received over a 90. Which brings me to my next topic: marks (what the Brits call grades). Well, a GOOD mark, like what I would call a solid B, is a 65 here. It’s called merit. If you get above a 70, that’s considered distinction, and in the A range I would say. Above a 50 is passing, while below is failing. Getting over an 80 is super rare, and getting over a 90? You’d probably have a better chance winning the lottery. The marking system here has completely warped my view of what I’d consider an accomplishment, but in a good way. I’ve learned to respect this system because it’s basically saying that on average, we’re closer to failing than we are perfection, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In America, I would strive for a 90-100, but now I think that provides a false sense of perfection when perfection is unreachable with anything in life. So on a philosophical level, I’d prefer this system, even though it does take time to get used to seeing 70’s and 60’s as a positive.

Even though I may be biased now that I’m living in the British MSc system, I’d recommend it. Studying in a country with a different culture is a great way to make you question what you consider normal and what you consider good.

Cheers 🙂