That feeling of “what now?” when you finish an MA

It is almost a week since I finished a Masters in Magazine Journalism with handing in my final project. A whole year of working, trying to be a journalist and creating, culminated in a few minutes discussing my final project with my tutor during a viva voce, and any problems I’d encountered along the way. I have, after a week reflecting realised that the only real problems have occurred after, and not during the MA.

Journalism is intense, you spend four days a week working closely with others on your course, learning new skills and swearing at computers. I’ve learned more this year, than during any other qualification I’ve done before, because this is so different. Journalism is very practical, yes you have to be a good writer but there is so much more to journalism than that, and it’s developing these new skills that will make you sink or swim. I always remember my tutor saying at the very beginning “you have to learn to read and think like a journalist.” It is also an incredibly network driven industry and this to most people can be a daunting and overwhelming prospect.

On Friday I skipped into uni feeling elated, “it’s nearly over” I thought. “The next time I walk through these doors I will have done everything possible to get myself another freaking masters.” I’d of course been there before, four years earlier at Durham when I did the youth work MA. It really was a strange feeling. It was only when I walked out of the doors of the media centre half an hour later, armed with the words ‘good luck and keep in touch’ from my tutor, that I wondered “what am I supposed to do now?” I went across the road for a coffee to compose myself before going home. I’d asked myself this question several times before – but this time it felt different – like it really meant something. I’m 28 and as you get older appearing ‘sorted’ seems more relevant, I really should have worked my life out by now, in more ways than I will ever bring myself to write about.

As I sat there and pondered this further, I realised that universities are great at preparing you academically and for what is expected of you on the course, and I’ve never really struggled academically (unless you count maths), but no one ever prepares you for the “what now?” questions. No one talks about the feelings you will feel, the sense of numbness and confusion, when you walk out of that university campus for the final time. I felt very prepared with what to read, what books to buy, who to ask for advice and even how necessary shorthand really is – although I did go to outside the university for a few of those. I knew where I had to be and when, deadlines to work towards and was given support to improve my writing – basically everything you’d expect from a journalism degree. Although there was something missing – there is a transition period after university – ‘graduate depression’ is beginning to be recognised as an actual thing, so why wasn’t this ever mentioned? That after the final day, you’d feel more lost than you have ever felt before.

I am at a crossroads, having gone from such an intense year, that even included a Guardian interview in between two exams, to absolutely nothing. I’ve felt this on different levels before but now I’m at a stage in my life when whatever I decide to do seems more important. Applying for jobs is made more challenging when I know there are some jobs I just can’t do. If you’ve read this blog before you’ll have an idea why, but regardless of my strengths and weaknesses, that has made shorthand and some areas of youth work impossible, everyone leaving university has these feelings. The feelings that are in part the reason why I chose studying again, and the stress it brings, over some of the other options.

I’ve decided after a week of thinking about my future, to take some time (hopefully partly away) to work out what I want, where I want to be and to make a plan. I’m going to do things I enjoy, see people I care about and decide what it means to be me, so I can really answer the ‘what now?’ question. I loved my time at journalism school, training to do something that I enjoy and I know I am good at, but I wish someone had prepared me for having to do this. That the first few days will almost feel like a bereavement and that you’ll need time to adjust and come to terms with something even though you don’t quite know what that ‘thing’ is yet. I of course have to work some of this out for myself, and it’s important to do so, but having those conversations about the world beyond the course would have been beneficial to us all. Sometimes it’s worthwhile to remember that what goes on after university is just as important as what happens (or doesn’t) while you’re there.

But YES I have finished an MA and I am super proud to have got here! And I had wine to celebrate.

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Hand in day was with everything considered, a good day…

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