'There’s a real sense of community': why smaller courses boost the postgrad experience

Postgraduate study can at times be more of an isolating experience as there aren’t the huge numbers that you have at undergrad level. But while you may find yourself among fewer fellow students in the aggregate, taught postgraduate courses are often designed to include more collaborative work.

“There’s a real sense of community and family that develops,” says Daniel Jones*, who has just completed a scriptwriting MA at the University of Derby. “It was awesome and a lot of us are great mates after it now.”

Peers tend to interact much more and critique each other’s work and the feedback plays a large part in creating a more intense environment. “The emphasis on smaller, group work fosters a sense of community and working together brings people closer than you would normally see in undergraduate courses,” says Damon Miller, associate lecturer at the Open University. “As a postgrad student you will be much more self-directed but there is certainly a greater sense of peer relationships.”

Students also have a more intense relationship with their tutor as they tend to work more closely with them than at undergraduate level. Dublin City University, for example, has recently increased the level of small-group teaching to give students a direct and interactive experience with university staff. This is designed to help students engage, ask questions, and build connections with other students. Students are also scheduled with the same group for most of their classes to encourage the development of small communities within class groups.

Online platforms are helping too. Most courses have shared WhatsApp and Facebook groups. The success of these depends on what the students make of them, as students themselves often establish, run and keep the groups active. They can also be used to bring people together outside the course, and many students share information about their hobbies and interests, such as sport and music. This can be especially important for part-time students who may have little contact with the activities of the wider university. For many, postgraduate study is a chance to forge new friendships.

“You’re left more on your own, but it’s part of a growing process. People are no longer in that clique that they spent the last three years hanging out with at undergrad, and it helps you forge new relationships,” says Jones. Making connections is easy, he says, when you know you’re all into the same subject, and it can have a profound effect. “It changed my life, it really did. I got a job off the back of it and I’m moving to a new city.”

*Name changed on request


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