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From the eyes of a mature student – 4 tips to make the most of your student years


16 November 2015

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I’ve just finished my MA in English Literature at QMUL. As the full-time MA is only one year, it feels like you’ve just started when you finish! But what’s astonishing is the amount you manage to fit in that year.

Let me just start by pointing out that the English Department at QMUL is one of the best in the country. That and the university’s London location were a priority for me, and it’s why Queen Mary was my first choice. Now having finished my degree, I am convinced it was the right choice. It offered me the enriching experience that I was looking for.

Be proactive

Though British by official status, I was by all accounts an international student, having had no previous experience of the British Education system. The difference in education systems, my lack of English-Literature background, the fact that I had been out of academia for 11 years, and the breakneck speed at which Master’s Degrees in the UK proceed, meant that I had a massive learning curve in my first term. I didn’t realise just how much difference those things made until after the first term’s assignments.

When my first term’s grades weren’t what I wanted, I practically hounded the entire English Department speaking to a lot of tutors. I told them my situation as a mature student of non-Literature background, asked them for advice, and to point out my weaknesses.

No one said no. Each and every one of them took the time to meet with me, and speak to me. But it happened because I actually went to ask them for help.

My second term’s grades were better, but I still went – looking for further weaknesses in my work. I wanted to graduate with Merit, and it happened because I asked for feedback.

So don’t hesitate. If there is anything that you don’t understand, or you just want some advice, go speak to people in your department. The Faculties here at QMUL are incredibly helpful.

Keep your eyes open

Being at university is not just about education, it’s also about other opportunities. A lot of things happen on campus – education related, career based, as well as social. Keep your eyes open, get familiar with the campus, because you never know when and where you will discover an opportunity that is just right for you, or how you might end up making new friends.

I got a job working on Social Media for the International Office, by applying for an advertised role with the UK Student Recruitment team. The person who interviewed me thought my background was more suitable for the International Office and I received a position in their team.

Queen Mary offers a lot of opportunities for student placements and internships. In fact, nearly all the jobs on campus are aimed at QMUL Students and Graduates, depending on the position. Take advantage of being part of this community!

Soak in the experience

Hindsight is everything, but it’s usually better for us if we learn from other people’s mistakes. During my undergraduate degree I didn’t take advantage of everything my university offered, such as going to the gym or participating in social events. This time around I was determined to do things differently.

When my MA began, all of the students were new. After my first lecture, I invited everyone to go to the pub. Some people came and the next week, a few others came. It became a regular thing, and I made lots of friends. I went out of my way to make an effort to reach out to other students on my course, because making friends enhances your university experience. From studying together, or critiquing each other’s work, to just hanging out after class, it’s an all-around better experience when shared with those who are on the same journey.

You can do A LOT if you manage your time

I was doing my MA full-time, while working full-time and still had a social life. Whilst I wouldn’t recommend this if you don’t need to, the point is that you can do a lot during your university years if you manage your time well. Managing my calendar was absolutely key for me.

I’ve now received my official results, and I will be graduating with Merit in December. I’m looking forward to the official ceremony with my friends, as it might be my last official academic ceremony, unless I decide to do another degree in the following ten years, which is always a possibility 

• Dolly Garland has just finished her MA in English Literature at Queen Mary University of London. She works as a writer, editor and social media consultant, and is the founder of Kaizen Journaling



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