We don’t just want to survive our degrees, we want to thrive in them and feel like we’re doing good, stimulating work in an environment where our mental health is supported. Hopefully, the resources on this page help give everyone the tools they need to help them through their studies; but, if you’re wanting more of a personal touch, here are a few tips from Charlotte (Postgraduate Officer) on how to make the most of your time as a postgraduate at Newcastle.
Make use of all the support available.
Even the most confident and prepared postgrads need some support from time to time, so make sure you know where to get the help you need as early as possible. It is a big jump from undergrad to postgrad, or from a master’s to a PhD programme – it will take you time to adjust so it’s really useful to know exactly where to seek support. Refer back to information from the Newcastle Beginnings inductions and use the resources on this PG Hub! Your school will have specific resources and contacts too, so keep these handy in a notebook or online document so you can get what you need as soon as possible.
Don’t be a stranger.
I know how easy it can be to get wrapped up in your research or assignments or just trying to make it through seminar reading each week. You do have to dedicate a lot of time to your studies as a postgraduate student, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it in isolation. This year finding friends to lean on is so important, and there are lots of opportunities to get involved with societies, clubs and course socials. All postgraduates are welcome to join the Postgraduate Research Community Society to make friends and connect with people in similar situations. Don’t spend all your free time studying or stressing about not studying, take time out to enjoy the student experience that Newcastle has to offer.
Make the most of Newcastle!
Many postgraduates are only here for a year so make the most of what the city has to offer. The SU runs Discover Newcastle, which offers student discounts and deals with partners across the city so you can try out somewhere new at a low cost. Even though these are weird times and varying lockdown restrictions, there is still plenty to do around Newcastle that will get you out and about and making your time here as enjoyable as it can be. Take your days off seriously and spend them relaxing however you want to. If you want to spend your free time getting to know Newcastle, you won’t run out of things to do. When restrictions are tightened, there’s still loads of green space to clear your head in – Jesmond Dene, Exhibition Park, Heaton Park, Town Moor, just to name a few!
Set a schedule – and stick to it.
When I started my master’s, I struggled to step away from work. I’d “just quickly do this” and end up studying until 10 or 11 pm – much later than was actually productive for me, and I just felt like I never got a real break. Setting myself a schedule really helped, especially setting a cut-off time to finish doing work, and dedicating the time outside of that to other commitments or just me-time. You might work best in the morning, afternoon or the dead of night; it doesn’t really matter when you work if it is healthy and productive for you. I don’t think schedules need to be strict if that doesn’t work for you but having set hours to do work in will help you get things done in that limited time, rather than stretching out the time but not working any more intensely. It may help you to treat studying as a full-time job in terms of the hours a week dedicated to it – maybe a 9 am- 5 pm schedule will work best to replicate this, or you might need to split your working time into smaller chunks to keep focused or allow for time for other responsibilities.
Be honest about how you’re coping.
It’s very easy to work, work, work until you reach burnout or breaking point. It doesn’t have to be this way – try to stay in touch with how you’re feeling and think about your own triggers and telltale signs that you’re struggling. When you can feel your mental health or physical health worsening, take steps that you know work to help you feel better. Self-care is self-preservation and you cannot pour from an empty jug – basically, you have to look after your wellbeing to be able to be productive or help others. Make use of the mental health resources that can suggest ways to take time out, and seek professional help if you think it’s useful. Even just telling a friend can help, and you’ll often find your stress can be helped just by sharing your frustrations with someone – chances are, you aren’t alone in how you’re feeling and you can help each other. Remember, sharing your worries with a friend is useful but it shouldn’t be a substitute for help from counselling services if this is what will benefit you more.
Postgraduate degrees are difficult and time-consuming, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get involved with activities and events around the university and NUSU. Societies don’t require much time and energy commitment to attend events, and they can help you find friends outside of your research groups too! The Give It A Go events programme and our volunteering opportunities through Go Volunteer are open to everyone, offering great opportunities to try something new and get yourself out of studying mode. If you want to make a change within NUSU and the University, why not come along to Student Council. Anyone can get involved, with voting places available each month. We have The Courier, NSR and NUTV too – student media is also fun, engaging and would welcome some new voices! What I’m trying to say is that university is about more than your degree; even your thesis, which is, of course, important and a reflection of your passion and expertise. But we should all be taking time to explore other interests where we can and give ourselves some headspace. Get involved – one very low effort way to get involved is to come along to some of the postgraduate events I organise, where you can just get chatting to postgrads from across the university and build those connections that help us feel part of something beyond our degree.