Transitions from Undergraduate to Taught Postgraduate Study: Emotion, Integration and Belonging

Main Article Content

Charlotte McPherson Samantha Punch Elizabeth Graham

Abstract

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.

Article Details

Section
Original Research
Author Biographies

Charlotte McPherson, University of Stirling

Charlotte McPherson is a doctoral researcher exploring the lived experiences and social capital of young people ‘not in education, employment or training’ (NEET) across the UK at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Stirling. Her research interests include highlighting endemic power disparities between social groups, including those between adults and children/young people, and critically analysing social policy in the areas of youth, social welfare and education.

Samantha Punch, University of Stirling

Professor Samantha Punch is Professor of Sociology and Dean of Graduate Studies at the University of Stirling. Her research interests are within the sociology of childhood/youth and the sociology of development, including food practices in residential care; youth transitions and migration in Latin America and Asia; sibling relationships and, more recently, the sociology of Bridge.

Elizabeth Graham, University of Stirling

Elizabeth Graham is a doctoral researcher exploring the experiences of support for pupils with an autism spectrum disorder in secondary school from a sociological perspective at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Stirling. Her research interest are within the sociology of childhood/youth and the sociology of emotions. She recently conducted research on gender inequality and identity in the card game of Bridge.

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