What is the experience of transition like, for new post-graduate students? They are not new to University as such – but they may be new to our university. They will have studied at levels 4,5,6 – but what do they expect postgraduate study to be like and are they prepared for it?
At the university of Greenwich we have engaged in considerable development in our provision for new students over the last few years; there has been a lot of innovation, increased activities, information and support, new policy and reporting mechanisms, and a new statement of entitlement for new students – but this has focussed primarily on undergraduates.
Last November I attended a one day conference at the Institute of Education, on learning transitions for post-graduate (M level) students. The conference was one outcome from a project begun in 2008, focussing on postgraduate study and transition and, more specifically, assessment & feedback at M level.
There was some interesting discussion about types of transition, eg, level, identity, organisation, environmental; transitions from pure to applied disciplines, from international to UK context; intensification of work patterns, transitions from widening participation backgrounds.
Aspects of postgraduate transition which particularly emerged from this study included:
- The levels of risk undertaken by PG students and the multiple challenges they face.
- The compressed nature of their experience, with only 1 year for transition.
- The high proportion of international (incl. EU) students at M level.
Overview of outcomes from the conference:
Lessons learned from the project were especially about resilience, belonging, experiences of power, the dialectic between collaboration and competition, and about forging senses of satisfaction and progress.
Many of the issues raised and identified through the project mirror those widely identified as issues for undergraduate transition (for example, the importance of managing expectations, of early and iterative feedback). It was suggested that the distinctiveness of postgraduate transition might be located particularly in the co-construction of knowledge at M level, and in students’ transition into communities of practice where they may feel unprepared for a different kind of role; also that students need clarity about this and help in adjusting.
Other conclusions were that pre- and early course support are vital, and can’t be only or mainly generic – programme-specific support is needed as well; that students need help developing academic writing skills in their discipline-specific context; also that a sense of belonging to the programme is crucial, and it is important this is done pedagogically. Changes to incorporate participatory pedagogy will benefit all students.
This conference was very timely for us at Greenwich, as we are currently conducting some research on the experiences of our own postgraduate students, and staff who are responsible for them. Our research on the postgraduate experience of transition will help us to evaluate current provision for supporting their transition, to share effective practice and to make recommendations and plans to improve this.
We are holding focus groups for staff and for students, on all 3 campuses and will be conducting some individual interviews after Easter.
If you are interested in this work and would like to participate or discuss with us further, please contact Sally Alsford (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Karen Smith (email@example.com).