How I Failed to Get a Masters Three Times (and passed the fourth time around)

This week is my graduation at Leicester Uni - there will be photos and a big lunch, Hurrah! But it’s the culmination of some pretty poor fails along the way, I am a serial postgraduate failure.

There, I’ve said it - I am a serial Masters-course drop out, indeed if Masters courses weren’t a business that needed to take large amounts of money off students to survive, none would probably even consider any application I’d make based on my lamentable track record.

1986 (or so) my willing and slightly deluded employer picked me out as a likely lad. I was chosen to go for three days every month to Warwick University to do an MSc in Advanced Manufacturing. I’d get train and taxi there, stay overnight in incredible accommodation, get these huge folders of stuff and have some great seminars. Some of the people that taught the course have been on telly since as talking heads on the news. It wasn’t an academic experience, it was a modern business school.

Of course like the entitled, lazy idiot I am, with virtually no interest in the course (I’d already decided to leave that employer because, I kid you not, I wanted to be in a band). I did precisely zero work on the assignments. Eventually even I realised the game was up and wrote to the University withdrawing from the course. Never thought to tell my employer which led to a slightly awkward meeting with the head of HR…. sorry Hugh, wherever you are now.

I didn’t want to be an “Advanced Manufacturing specialist” and no amount of nice lunches and thought provoking seminars was going to make me care enough to put in the effort.

Ten years later I was a teacher - a deputy headteacher, working in Spain. I started a distance learning MA in Educational Leadership from Bath because it felt like the right thing to do. The folders came and I worked through them but,… at the end to year one I wasn’t going to pay for any more because…. well I was busy at work and it was an awful lot of money.

Getting a lovely folder every month to work through was just admin. There was nothing in the experience that felt anything other than just another chore - but a really expensive one.

A few years after that I passed NPQH which gave me about a third of a masters level-credits, and my employer was running a University of Leicester MBA with a module after school every week at our place. I did that module with four of five colleagues. I actually did the assignment (improvement!), and I actually passed the assignment - I had half an MBA.

Sadly they weren’t going to run any more modules within 15 metres from my office door anymore though so I cashed in the credits for some post-graduate award or other.

Finally, three years ago a new line manager in a new job asked me if I’d ever considered taking a Masters-level qualification to develop my career. Having got to know him very well since I have no idea where that came from, it’s a mystery. I spared him my past experiences and looked at some courses. They actually looked pretty good..

I returned to the University of Leicester to do the Masters in Education on a three year programme with a module every year. We had seminars after work and sometimes on Saturday mornings. Unexpectedly I felt part of a group. I discovered the absolute joy of working in the University library (I almost want to sign up for another course just to keep the library card).

As an ex-undergraduate there it felt like coming home and there was a certain bittersweet pleasure in that too.

One day I saw a poster for University Challenge and I actually made the team (we never got past the audition sadly). It was joy. Not failing to get picked to go on TV, but everything else. Joy.

The course? My first module choice wasn’t running, but the incredibly helpful office said I could transfer to a different programme to take it and then transfer back to the MA and bring the credits with me. I re-connected with research on Educational Technology, reaffirmed some of my own thinking but also learned new stuff which I have used a great deal since.

Back on the MA, we did Action Research and it was hard work, but I survived. We did an extended Enquiry and for a few weeks I was just immersed in it. It wasn’t always enjoyable, it wasn’t easy, but there was a kind of satisfaction to it.

I finished and I passed. I loved the course, for the experience. What kept me going wasn’t the expectations of other people (or even my own ambition), it was the experience of learning something and writing about it and belonging to a University again.

I’ll spare you the homily where I try and make sense of this and the whole “well if I can anyone can” other than to say that if doing a postgraduate course is interesting and an enjoyable experience you are more likely to finish than if it isn’t.

I loved it and can’t speak highly enough of Leicester University’s education department. It has been one of the best experience of the last decade of my working life. I’ll never use the MA after my name, lots of people have an MA and frankly a few of them are idiots! I don’t feel special, but I do feel I learned a lot and I did really like doing it and I would recommend the experience to anyone that is actually ready to commit.

And yes, I am considering dropping out of a Doctorate programme or two sometime one day….

Guy's MicroBlog @guyshearer