postgraduate life

The Misconceptions of Postgraduate Life

What are the misconceptions of postgraduate life?

Many people tend to think that when you are pursuing your Master’s or PhD, your life will be easy.

Here are some of the common misconceptions of postgraduate life:

  • You will be on an extended holiday
  • Having a postgraduate qualification, such as a Master’s or PhD, will guarantee a higher salary
  • Break and freedom from the real world
  • You have a lot of “free time”
  • Postgraduate study is less stressful than undergraduate study
  • Harder or easier to get a job when you have a postgraduate degree

However, not many people know the realities of being a Master’s or PhD student.  

The expectations and realities of postgraduate students are:

Independent learning:

You are expected to be independent and not expect your supervisor to hold your hand throughout the entire journey.  

An advanced and high learning curve:

Since this will be an independent journey, the learning curve will be very high. There will be many things that you will need to learn thoroughly such as research methodology, theories and more.

Critical thinking and analysis:

As a postgraduate student, you are expected to put on your thinking cap and use critical thinking and analysis. You would need to highlight gaps in research, weaknesses and strengths of arguments, and sometimes even contribute something new.

Difficulty to communicate with lecturers and classmates:

As many lecturers are busy, sometimes students may have a hard time communicating with lecturers and classmates. Your classmates may be working and have families, therefore finding it difficult to form a bond like how it was during undergraduate days.

Financial constraints:

Not every student has financial assistance. Many students may even need to self-finance. Therefore, this can add some stress to postgraduate students.

Peer pressure:

If you are pursuing a postgraduate degree and have financial constraints, you might feel left out of your social circle. Moreover, not many people may understand the intellectual journey of a postgraduate student.


Having said that, postgraduate life is often a lonely one.  Therefore, it’s very important to have a very strong support system.

Imposter syndrome – feeling inadequate:

As you dive deep into the world of academia, you might feel inadequate as you learn. This is quite normal for many students. However, you should always believe in yourself and try to keep positive as you will need it to persevere throughout your postgraduate journey.

Mental Health of Postgraduate Students

As there are many initiatives and support systems for undergraduate students, postgraduate students are often overlooked. This is mainly because people have this misconception that more mature students should be able to look after themselves.

Postgrads are 6 times more likely to experience depression and anxiety as:

  • 50% of students are normally stressed out about their work
  • 66.7% are anxious about their future plans, and
  • 70% fretted over finances
  • Check the full research here.

As a result of high pressure and expectations coupled with a lack of support system, postgraduate students often experience a lot of stress which could lead to depression.

Therefore, it is important to be aware of the common difficulties Master’s and PhD students experience so that you can better manage time between work, family, and studies.

The benefits one can gain from a Master’s and PhD programme are:

  • Increase personal development
  • Challenge yourself and develop new strengths
  • Improve current skills and develop new ones
  • Professional networking
  • Use real-world applications to solve global problems
  • Gain industry relevance
  • Meeting new like-minded and like-hearted friends

Having said that, postgraduate students will also need to sustain mental strength and be resilient during their studies.

postgraduate life
Photo by Stanley Morales from Pexels

There are certain ways you can instil grit and discipline as a Master’s and PhD student:

  • Control your exposure and triggers
  • Set positive and achievable goals
  • Gather your information carefully to plan your next move
  • Nurture and make meaningful connections
  • Try to have a change of perspective: gain more opportunities for self-discovery
  • Practice daily gratitude and reflection

You also need to :

Set the right intentions, understand why you are doing this.

If you are doing this just to earn the degree, you might not be able to persevere.

However, if you are doing it for the sake of knowledge and self-improvement, then you have the right mindset. Therefore, it is important to know your why.

For postgraduate students to persevere, they will need to know their sense of purpose, have passion, and most importantly, discipline.

Here are some good ways you can establish good habits:

  • Start and end your day early
  • Being mindful and aware of your emotions. If you are stressed, try to meditate, exercise, do journaling, reduce screen time such as social media
  • Make the time count. If you don’t have much time, try to spend quality time on your research. This also applies to family relations too.
  • Let go of unnecessary stress
  • Set reasonable expectations
  • Try to overcome guilt by remembering your purpose
  • Remember your source of motivation!

Tips for being consistent and disciplined:

Work on your postgraduate thesis or studies every day. However, take necessary breaks.

Be organised with your time and your class resources.

Keep track of assignments, set reasonable timelines, and meet deadlines.

Related post: How to study effectively

Find a positive support system

Since postgraduate life can be a lonely one, it’s very important for you to find a positive support system.

A positive support system can be:

  • Your spouse/partner
  • Parents/family members
  • Colleagues
  • Friends
  • Therapist

Seek guidance and mentorship:

In addition to having a positive support system, it would benefit you if you could seek guidance and mentorship

Related post: How to establish a good relationship with your supervisor

Keep an eye for useful resources that can make your life as a postgraduate student much more efficient and easier. Useful resources that you may benefit from as a postgraduate student are:

Grammarly: You can install this on your desktop to ensure that what you write are free from Grammar mistakes. They have a free and paid version. It is very beneficial especially if you have a lot of assignments to write!

Related post: How Grammarly can make your work easier

PDFDRIVE.COM: To gain access to pdf books online for free

Join FB Postgraduate Support Groups

Establish your own study circle

postgraduate life
Photo by Stanley Morales from Pexels

Overcoming Challenges as Postgraduate Students

As mentioned earlier, you will be presented with various challenges. How do you overcome these challenges as postgraduate students?

Communication is key

  • If you are working and you have a certain workload or may need to go out of state, talk to your lecturers and supervisor. Speak to them about your workload.
  • Communicate your difficulties to your lecturer
  • Find time to spend on yourself
  • Acknowledge the challenges you are facing
  • Admitting when you need help is NOT a sign of weakness
  • Discuss your concerns with your partner/family
  • You are not alone. Seek help from those you trust!
  • If you feel that you cannot talk to anyone that you personally know, you can always approach a therapist.

You can contact the following well-centres that have services that can help:

Centre for Psychological and Counselling Services by Help University

The Thrive Centre

Association for Private Counsellors Malaysia

Once we take charge of our predicament, we can soon change our environment.

However, you still need to focus on yourself:

  • Respecting ourselves by being mindful of our time
  • Respecting OTHERS by being mindful of THEIR time
  • Set healthy boundaries – with classmates, family and friends
  • Support others, and we will be supported too.

By now you’ve learned that a postgraduate life has its ups and downs. Therefore, be aware of the challenges and may lie ahead and more importantly, don’t be shy to ask for help. Enjoy the intellectual journey that you are in! It’s a process.

Remember that having a sense of purpose, discipline, perseverance are important factors in achieving success – and you can be successful too!

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