FAQs, Moving to postgraduate study, Postgraduate life

Progressing to postgraduate studies: differences between undergraduate and postgraduate study

Whether you are new to Cardiff University or not. Progressing to postgraduate studies is a step-up. Some of our current postgraduates have outlined what they have found particularly different between their previous undergraduate studies and their current postgraduate studies at Cardiff University.

Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies

Charles, MA International Public Relations and Global Communication Management

“My experience of postgraduate study thus far has differed greatly from my undergraduate experience. I am granted even more independence in conducting my studies. This is most pronounced in preparation for undertaking my research-based dissertation. We are referred to as ‘researchers’ rather than ‘students’ when we discuss this work. My research project (due in August) is 20,000 words. While this seems frighteningly big to me now, we are building up nicely to the project!
My workload has increased exponentially. It is not unbearable by any means, but it has been a challenge to manage my time effectively. The deadlines for these assignments tend to be tightly bunched together. This means that prioritising tasks has been central to getting the best out of my work thus far. It is interesting that my assignments up until now have prioritised group work. This is probably more a representation of my course (MA International Public Relations and Global Communications Management) than it is of postgraduate study more generally.
What also stands out when I compare my experience with my undergraduate experience is the level of support the teaching staff offer, and the level of support my fellow course mates off. We have a close-knit network, with a community feel, ready to support one another, bounce ideas around and discuss employment opportunities”

Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies

Jamie, MA Broadcast Journalism

“Workload is substantially heavier at postgraduate level – having completed an undergraduate elsewhere and worked a 9-5 job, I can say with complete honesty that I work longer and harder hours now than I did in the workplace. The work is intellectually stimulating, but challenging and, at times, mentally exhausting.
Assessments are also much more frequent than at undergraduate level – in my first degree (History at York), I would have approximately four assessments per semester. At Cardiff, I have an average of five per fortnight in some form.
However, tutor interaction is also much higher, as are contact hours; class size is smaller, and there is a far greater emphasis on teamwork. The nature of postgraduate means it feels less like a university course, and more like a ‘real’ job. Overall, it is enjoyable – but the key thing is that postgraduate studies are far more intensive”

Business

Katy-Jayne, MSc Human Resource Management

“I’m finding postgraduate study to be much more enjoyable than undergraduate study because I’m genuinely interested in each of my modules, which generally wasn’t the case in undergraduate study.
The workload is a little more intense because you need to do reading and studying outside of the classroom in order to do well. My course isn’t overly difficult, this may be because I’m interested and willing to learn what I’m being taught.
The most difficult part is understanding the assessments that we’re given and what the lecturer actually requires from us.
In undergraduate study I was given a lot of guidance on what was required in addition to a detailed assignment brief but postgraduate assignments require you to use your own initiative to determine what you think is relevant to the topic or not.
We don’t have exams but have ‘class tests’ instead, these are so much more relaxed as they aren’t in huge rooms without people walking around and both of mine were invigilated by the lecturer so we had a familiar face in front of us.
Class sizes are much smaller than in my undergraduate study, I much prefer this as we get the opportunity to really get to know each of our course mates and I’ve met some really great friends in the process.
Because of the smaller classes we are getting much more interaction from the lecturers, each of them know our names and will happily set time aside for us should we need it. I may not be able to have the social life that I had in undergraduate study, although I still manage to have a night out from time to time, but I’m lucky that I’ve met a great bunch of people and we spend hours laughing together.
The contact hours of my particular course are also much less than in my undergraduate course, only 12-15 hours per week and four modules per semester”

Law and Politics

Michael, MSEcon Politics and Public Policy

“I would say the main differences between undergraduate and postgraduate study often relate to issues of time management. Workload is fair but can be very demanding at times, and you would be surprised how much more time it takes to read around for seminars or prepare for presentations then you would at an undergraduate level! This trend is further evident in assessments-researching, writing and editing a Master’s essay can take more time and investment than the same process for undergraduate essays.
However, this is made easier in that assessment at a postgraduate level is more flexible and can be tailored to suit your interests. This is reflected in my experience of my autumn assessments.
Seminars are tailored to students interests and readings, and there is more engagement arguably because all your classmates are prepared to actually do the reading and take part in seminar discussion. Most class sizes are small, not topping more than fifteen in most of my assessments, a far cry from the usual twenty-forty in undergraduate lectures. Tutor interaction is also very helpful, as they not only engage in seminars but are also always happy to discuss assessment, reading or even advise you on the Master’s dissertation.
Undertaking a Master’s degree can be quite a difficult endeavour, but I would offer three pieces of advice to help with the transition from undergraduate to postgraduate. Striving to be academically independent is a crucial element, as you cannot expect to be spoon-fed information by lecturers. Embark on the core reading and chase-up leads, and try to instil a unique and individual element into every piece of assessment you do if possible to maximize your grade and enjoyment of the course.
Time-management is another important aspects to bear in mind-it is crucial that you manage your time effectively in terms of seminar reading and ensuring that assessments are completed to a high standard in time of hand-in. Advance planning and ticking off lists are the order of the day in this process”

Business

Rico, MSc Maritime Policy and Shipping Management

“Workload has been different in the way that assessments were rather exam-based than coursework. This required a continuous understanding of each lecture’s contents (my undergraduate studies were mainly engineering related modules) in order to be capable of passing the exam well at the end of the term. Conversely, undergraduate study allowed more freedom for students to arrange their time spent for preparation and follow-up of the lectures, but at the same time demands more self-management from the students.
 Undergraduate study was mainly exam-based, hence it is a new experience to be confronted with more independent learning, which is not only academically stimulation, but also teaches invaluable skills and lifts the personal academic qualification onto a higher level.
My undergraduate course didn’t have a tutor system in place. However, cohorts were rather small, so professors and lecturers were always approachable during office hours. Nevertheless, the tutor system is a vital point of contact for any kind of issue or concern relating to both private / student /personal development and academic matters.
My undergraduate course was about the same size as my PG (15-30 students). I guess that’s pretty unique and is rather due to the fact that both UG course (Nautical Science) and postgraduate course (Maritime Policy) are quite specialized fields.
Both  challenging. Undergraduate in terms of amount of modules taught at the same time along with exams respectively; postgraduate in terms of academic / research standard and expectation towards academically sound work”

Engineering

Yanna, MSs Civil and Water Engineering

“I would say the main differences between undergraduate and postgraduate study often relate to issues of time management. Workload is fair but can be very demanding at times, and you would be surprised how much more time it takes to read around for seminars or prepare for presentations then you would at an undergraduate level! This trend is further evident in assessments-researching, writing and editing a Master’s essay can take more time and investment than the same process for undergraduate essays.
However, this is made easier in that assessment at a postgraduate level is more flexible and can be tailored to suit your interests. This is reflected in my experience of my autumn assessments.
Seminars are tailored to students interests and readings, and there is more engagement arguably because all your classmates are prepared to actually do the reading and take part in seminar discussion. Most class sizes are small, not topping more than fifteen in most of my assessments, a far cry from the usual twenty-forty in undergraduate lectures. Tutor interaction is also very helpful, as they not only engage in seminars but are also always happy to discuss assessment, reading or even advise you on the Master’s dissertation.
Undertaking a Master’s degree can be quite a difficult endeavour, but I would offer three pieces of advice to help with the transition from undergraduate to postgraduate. Striving to be academically independent is a crucial element, as you cannot expect to be spoon-fed information by lecturers. Embark on the core reading and chase-up leads, and try to instil a unique and individual element into every piece of assessment you do if possible to maximize your grade and enjoyment of the course.
Time-management is another important aspects to bear in mind-it is crucial that you manage your time effectively in terms of seminar reading and ensuring that assessments are completed to a high standard in time of hand-in. Advance planning and ticking off lists are the order of the day in this process”