Main Article Content
The notion and terminology of ‘transition(s)’ have long dominated discussions of pathways from youth to adulthood and have increasingly come to characterise the educational journeys people make, with a strong emphasis on the shift from schooling to undergraduate study. However, the transitional experiences of postgraduate students have been significantly overlooked with powerful presumptions around postgraduate students being educational ‘experts’ and ‘naturals’ obscuring the often highly challenging nature of their transitions. The lack of literature in this field is most pronounced around the taught postgraduate (PGT) population, about whom the least is known. This is due in part to ambiguousness around PGT study itself (Glazer-Raymo, 2005) which falls between the clearly-defined undergraduate and doctoral degrees, and has been declared as the “forgotten sector” (Millward, 2015) of higher education.
This paper addresses this gap in understanding by synthesising the available literature on PGT transitions, and on postgraduate transitions more generally, alongside qualitative focus group data from a small-scale project with Masters students and supervisors conducted at a Scottish university. It finds that transitions to PGT education are complex, emotional and challenging for most students, and highlights some institutional practices that can isolate, confuse and hinder the progress of Masters students.
Thus, the paper argues that, contrary to conventional assumptions, transitions from undergraduate to PGT education are not inevitably straightforward and can be characterised, at least initially, by anxiety, self-doubt and disorientation. Key challenges for Masters students do not necessarily relate to the higher learning materials, but the lack of clarity around what PGT level study entails and the limited opportunities for integration and sense of belonging. Greater clarity of expectations and earlier feedback, alongside peer support, can help to smooth transitions to postgraduate study. The paper also highlights the particularly difficult transitions of students unfamiliar to the university and identifies challenges specific to funded and non-funded students.
Authors who publish with this journal agree to the following terms:
- Authors retain copyright and grant the journal right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License that allows others to share the work with an acknowledgement of the work's authorship and initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), with an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are permitted and encouraged to post their work online (e.g., in institutional repositories or on their website) prior to and during the submission process, as it can lead to productive exchanges, as well as earlier and greater citation of published work (See The Effect of Open Access).
Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice has made best effort to ensure accuracy of the contents of this journal, however makes no claims to the authenticity and completeness of the articles published. Authors are responsible for ensuring copyright clearance for any images, tables etc which are supplied from an outside source.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Backhouse, R.E. (1997). The changing character of British economies. In A.W. Coats (Ed.) The Post-1945 Internationalisation of Economies (pp.33-61). Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Briggs, A.R.J., Clark, J., & Hull, I. (2012). Building bridges: Understanding student transition to university. Quality in Higher Education, 18(1), 3-21.
Brooks, R. (2002). Transitional friends? Young people’s strategies to manage and maintain friendships during a period of repositioning. Journal of Youth Studies, 5(4), 449-467.
Brown, L. (2009). An ethnographic study of the friendship patterns of international students in England: An attempt to create home through conational interaction. International Journal of Educational Research, 48(3), 184-193.
Chester, A., Burton, L.J., Xenos, S., & Elgar, K. (2013). Peer mentoring: Supporting successful transitions for first year psychology undergraduate students. Australian Journal of Psychology, 65, 30-37.
Christie, H., Munro, M., & Wager, F. (2005). ‘Day students’ in higher education: Widening access students and successful transitions to university life. International Studies in Sociology of Education, 15(1), 3-29.
Clarke, G. & Lunt, I. (2014). International comparisons in postgraduate education: Quality, access and employment outcomes. Bristol: HEFCE.
Cluett, L., & Skene, J. (2006). Improving the postgraduate coursework student experience: Barriers and the role of institution. In D. Kristoffersen (Ed.) Proceedings of the AUQF 2006: Quality Outcomes and Diversity (pp.62-68). Melbourne: Australian Universities Quality Agency.
Department for Education and Skills. (2003). The future of higher education. Retrieved from http://www.educationengland.org.uk/documents/pdfs/2003-white-paper-higher-ed.pdf
Department for Innovation, Universities & Skills. (2008). Higher degrees: postgraduate study in the UK 2000/01 to 2005/06. Retrieved from https://www.hecsu.ac.uk/assets/assets/documents/research_reports/Higher_Degrees_2008.pdf
Glazer-Raymo, J. (2005). Professionalising graduate education: The Master’s Degree in the marketplace. Hoboken, NJ: Jossey-Bass.
Goluvushkina, E., & Milligan, C. (2012). Developing early stage researchers: Employability perceptions of social science doctoral candidates. International Journal for Researcher Development, 3(1), 64-78.
Haggis, T., & Pouget, M. (2002). Trying to be motivated: Perspectives on learning from younger students accessing higher education. Teaching in Higher Education, 7(3), 326-336.
Harley, D., Winn, S., Pemberton, S., & Wilcox, P. (2007). Using texting to support students’ transition to university. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 44, 229-241.
Heussi, A. (2012). Postgraduate student perceptions of the transition into postgraduate study. Student Engagement and Experience Journal, 1(3), 1-13.
Higher Education Academy. (2015). The Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey 2015: What do taught postgraduates want? Retrieved from https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/ptes_2015_what_do_pgts_want.pdf
Higher Education Academy/National Union of Students. (2013). Learning journeys: Student experiences in further and higher education in Scotland. Retrieved from https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/sites/default/files/resources/learning_journeys_2013.pdf
Higher Education Funding Council for England. (2004). Widening participation and fair access research strategy. Retrieved from http://www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/hefce/2004/04_34/04_34.pdf
Higher Education Funding Council for England. (2013). Trends in transition from first degree to postgraduate study: Qualifiers between 2002-03 and 2010-11. Retrieved from http://www.hefce.ac.uk/media/hefce/content/pubs/2013/201313/Trends%20in%20transition%20from%20first%20degree%20to%20postgraduate%20study.pdf
Hussey, T., & Smith, P. (2010). Transitions in higher education. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 47(2), 155-164.
Janta, H., Lugosi, P., & Brown, L. (2014). Coping with loneliness: a Netnographic study of doctoral students. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 38(4), 553-571.
Kallio, K., Kallio, T., Tienari, J., & Hyvonen, T. (2016). Ethos at stake: Performance management and academic work in universities. Human Relations, 69(3), 685-709.
Lue, B., Chen, H., Wang, C., Cheng, Y., & Chen, M. (2010). Stress, personal characteristics and burnout among first postgraduate year residents: A nationwide study in Taiwan. Medical Teacher, 32(5), 400-407.
Mattanah, J.F., Ayers, J.F., Brand, B.L., Brooks, L.J., Quimby, J.L., & McNary, S.W. (2010). A social support intervention to ease the college transition: Exploring main effects and moderators. Journal of College Student Development, 51(1), 93-108.
McCormack, C. (2004). Tensions between student and institutional conceptions of postgraduate research. Studies in Higher Education, 29(3), 319-344.
McEwen, L., Duck, R., Haigh, M., Smith, S.J., Wolfenden, L., & Kelly, K. (2005). Evaluating the ‘postgraduateness’ of vocational taught Masters environmental courses: Student perspectives. Planet, 14, 8-12.
McMillan, W. (2014). ‘They have different information about what is going on’: Emotion in the transition to university. Higher Education Research & Development, 33(6), 1123-1135.
Menzies, J.L., & Baron, R. (2014). International postgraduate student transition experiences: The importance of student societies and friends. Innovation in Education and Teaching International, 51(1), 84-94.
Millward, C. (2015). Postgraduate education. Retrieved from: http://www.blog.hefce.ac.uk/2015/03/25/postgraduate_education/
Morgan, M. (2015). Supporting postgraduate taught student transitions into and out of study. Retrieved from https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/supporting-postgraduate-taught-student-transitions-and-out-study-0
Morris, C., & Murphy, C. (2011). Getting a PhD in law. Oxford: Hart.
O'Donnell, V.L., & Tobbell, J. (2007). The transition of adult students to higher education: legitimate participation in a community of practice? Adult Education Quarterly. 57(4), 312-328.
O’Donnell, V.L., Tobbell, J., Lawthom, R., & Zammit, M. (2009). Transition to postgraduate study: Practice, participation and the widening participation agenda. Active Learning in Higher Education, 10(1), 26-40.
Panda, S. (2016). Personality traits and the feeling of loneliness of postgraduate university students. International Journal of Indian Psychology, 3(3), 27-37.
Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education. (2004). Access to higher education development project. Retrieved from https://www.accesstohe.ac.uk/AboutUs/Publications/Documents/AHE-development-project-04.pdf
Reay, D. (2002). Class, authenticity and the transition to higher education for mature students. The Sociological Review, 50(3), 398-418.
Ruud, C.M. (2015). Social networking and social support: Does it play a role in college social integration? Paper presented at the 2015 Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago.
Sastry, T. (2004). Postgraduate education in the United Kingdom. Oxford: Higher Education Policy Institute.
Scott, P. (1995). The meanings of mass higher education. Buckingham: Open University Press.
Symons, M. (2001). Starting a coursework postgraduate degree: The neglected transition. Paper presented at the Changing Identities: Language and Academic Skills Conference, University of Wollongong.
Symons, M., & Samuelowicz, K. (2000). Working with research students in language and learning: The learning dimension of our work. Paper presented at the National Language and Academic Skills Conference, Monash University.
Tinto, V. (1975). Dropout from higher education: A theoretical synthesis of recent research. Research Review of Educational Research, 45, 89-125.
Tinto, V. (1993). Leaving college: Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Tobbell, J., O’Donnell, V.L., & Zammit, M. (2008). Exploring practice and participation in transition to postgraduate social science study. Retrieved from http://www.eprints.hud.ac.uk/7755/
Tobbell, J., O’Donnell, V.L., & Zammit, M. (2010). Exploring transition to postgraduate study: Shifting identities in interaction with communities, practice and participation. British Educational Research Journal, 36(2), 261-278.
Treby, E., & Shah, A. (2005). Bridging the gap between academia and practitioners: Training coastal zone managers. Planet, 14, 16-17.
Universities UK. (2016a). Higher education in numbers. Retrieved from http://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/facts-and-stats/Pages/higher-education-data.aspx
Universities UK. (2016b). Patterns and trends in UK higher education. Retrieved from http://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/facts-and-stats/data-and-analysis/Pages/patterns-and-trends-uk-higher-education-2016.aspx
Wakeling, P. (2009). Social class and access to postgraduate education in the UK: A sociological analysis (unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Manchester, Manchester.
Wakeling, P., & Hampden-Thompson, G. (2013). Transition to higher degrees across the UK: An analysis of national, institutional and individual differences. Retrieved from https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/transition_to_higher_degree_across_the_uk_0.pdf
Wakeling, P., & Kyriacou, C. (2010). Widening participation from undergraduate to postgraduate research degrees: A research synthesis. Swindon: NCCPE and ESRC.
West, A. (2012). Formative evaluation of the transition to postgraduate study for counselling and psychotherapy training: Students’ perceptions of assignments and academic writing. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research: Linking Research with Practice, 12(2), 128-135.
Wisker, G. (2012). The good supervisor. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.
Wisker, G., Robinson, G., Trafford, V., Creighton, E., & Warnes, M. (2003). Recognising and overcoming dissonance in postgraduate student research. Studies in Higher Education, 28(1), 91-105.
Zaitseva, E., & Milsom, C. (2015). In their own words: Analysing students’ comments from the Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey. Retrieved from https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/sites/default/files/ptes_in_their_own_words.pdf
Zuber-Skerritt, O. (1987). Helping postgraduate research students learn. Higher Education, 16, 75-94.