Back to the books: returning to student life as a postgraduate after working

27 June 2024

In this blog post Katya Duncan explores their experiences returning to postgraduate studies after working for three years and gives advice to new students who might be in a similar position.

I was nervous about going back to university. After my undergraduate degree, I sped straight into the workforce and enjoyed three years of picking up the lifestyle of a young professional. Yet, I knew there was more I wanted to learn as a student. I was gripped by a master's program I discovered while browsing the UCL website. I took the plunge and back to university I went.

My first concern? People.

I was excited to meet a big new group of people, but I did wonder what they would be like and if I would fit in after being outside of student life for a while. I shouldn’t have worried. My cohort is extremely diverse, coming from a mix of geographic, academic and professional backgrounds. I was relieved to meet many, like me, who returned to university after starting their careers to switch industries, explore new topics or advance their knowledge and skills. My classmates not only became new friends but also opened my mind to many more professional options after university that I had not considered.

Beyond my degree, I also pushed myself to meet new people through clubs & societies. In my case, the salsa society. It’s a great, inclusive club with members ranging from first-year undergraduates to postgraduate alumni, making it easily possible to find like-minded dance-loving people. It also introduced me to the wider dance scene in London which I enthusiastically intend to continue participating in after my degree.

My second concern? Academics.

I was initially concerned that I would find academic assignments challenging after three years of cold turkey. Once again, that doubt should have been cast aside. To the contrary, I believe my time at work gave me a more focused work ethic and a more direct writing style which improved the quality of my coursework. It also allowed me to bring practical considerations into theoretical arguments. I regularly compared examples from my experience with content in the modules. As UCL is well connected to industry practitioners, I then benefited from seminars to ask further practical questions. Overall, I have drawn on my professional interests and network (for e.g., my dissertation) to improve the level of my coursework as well as to inspire my exploration of industry challenges from a deeper academic perspective.

My biggest surprise? Time flexibility and encouraged curiosity.

The first term was light on assignments to permit students to catch-up on content as well as get used to UCL and London life. It gave me the flexibility to look further into subjects of interest, explore dissertation topics and even sign up for a graduate finance challenge which was an unplanned but greatly enjoyable experience. During this period of “encouraged spontaneous curiosity” my peers otherwise took the opportunity to take up part-time job roles, career hunt, conduct further research or take up sporting or artistic endeavours – it’s up to you. Just watch out to keep up with the reading, in term 2 UCL turns up the heat on assignments.

Overall, I’m happy with my decision to return to university for a master's degree. The return to student life created a different pace of life and a ton of opportunities to explore my interests. I was nervous, and it was normal to be: putting yourself out there is daunting, but in this case, it was also rewarding.