As the academic year has now ended, and as most of my fellow students move to working on their dissertations (although perhaps not straight away!), I have some time to reflect on what has transpired since joining LSE in September last year. The main thing that happened was that my expectations were adjusted by the realities of life as a part-time student and by the challenges of the programme I had taken. You see, I entered the academic year with rather bright aspirations and enthusiasm for what I expected of myself and what I might achieve, but these expectations were adjusted by the reality of studies as they panned out over the year to follow. Ultimately, this was a good thing because I ended the year having a much more realistic view of study life, which I think will serve me well in the next academic year as I complete the rest of my master’s programme in Social Policy Research.
The first adjustment has come through the realisation that I had, ultimately, much less time available than I expected for studies. Admittedly, some time was lost through procrastination and not putting in enough hours when I could have, but studying part time is challenging and taxing in other ways, such as just not having the “head space” on this day or that for studying the finer points of political philosophy or the methodological implications of not using propensity score matching and so on. I found that fitting time and “head space” for study did not always go to plan and that I couldn’t really plan for study in an idealistic manner. You’ve seen it before: a beautifully set out calendar with study periods set down in different colours for different days. This didn’t work for me, and I think planning like this works better for full-time students who may have relatively fewer external commitments. And yet, not being organised is not an option. One needs to be organised to fit everything in. But having a realistic plan is the main lesson for me here. Now I know for next year how much study I can really do during a day or week, and I can work to this. I was just surprised how little it turned out to be!
The other main “reality adjusted expectation” was regarding my own abilities and competency. I came to the programme having studied literature ten years ago, and so not having any subject-specific knowledge or training was always going to present a challenge. Yet, whilst I got off to a good and strong start, I gradually adjusted my expectations for what I might obtain as a result from this MSc. I began the programme, rather foolishly perhaps, thinking “this is very manageable, I can do this and I think I will do well”, and I was doing well to start with. But as the year went on I realised just how difficult it was to perform well all the time, and I adjusted my expectations downward. By the time the exam season started, I said to myself “I’ll be happy if I pass this course; as long as I don’t fail this course, I will be content”. I realised just how challenging the final assessments were. I don’t think I was the only one here feeling that way. After all, everyone on the courses I took were “excellent students”, but we all realised how difficult it was to excel. After the last exam, I spoke to one of my classmates about how I had adjusted my expectations over the year and was now just hoping that I would just “pass,” and they said something like, “I think we have all thought that over the year”.
So I go into the next academic year with “reality adjusted expectations”. This is a good thing, and I only wish I had them earlier than the end of the year. Of course, it goes without saying that I have no idea yet how all of this has panned out in terms of final results. I have to wait for August for that. But then my expectations may need another reality check, maybe upwards or downwards.