Preparing for change

Tips and advice to help you prepare personally for change and stress associated with starting a masters programme.

New postgrad student in academic year 2023/24? Visit the University's New Students website - all of the information and resources you need to help you get ready to start University.

New Students website

Culture shock

Many students come to Edinburgh from outside of Scotland for their postgraduate studies. After the initial excitement of moving here, your induction, meeting course mates and staff, it can be common to then experience difficulties. Feeling unhappy, aware of how different things are culturally and academically, can be frustrating and stressful. Some people can even feel physically ill. These can be symptoms of ‘culture shock’, and are very common. The UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) have information online about culture shock and dealing with it.

Finding support

Firstly, you should congratulate yourself. Not many people are brave enough to travel and study abroad, and face all the challenges you may be facing. So be proud! It is important to remember that. Lots of people experience a dip, but remind yourself that things will almost definitely get better! You could also try:

Talking to others about how you feel. If they are in a similar situation, share tips on what helps. The ESN Edinburgh is a social and support society for all Edinburgh University students, especially from abroad or on exchange in Edinburgh

ESN Network - for international and exchange students

Doing something familiar. Keep in regular contact with friends and family. Find things in Edinburgh that remind you of home: food shops, restaurants, faith and cultural societies and events.

Asking people who’ve lived in Edinburgh longer than you to explain any customs or practices that puzzle you, whether these are social, cultural, or academic.

Joining in. There are lots of ways to participate: a student society, a trip, a study group. Why not check out:

Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA): Get Involved

EUSA: Find a student society

The University of Edinburgh Sports Union

Seeking support: talk to the EUSA Advice Place or a student counsellor:

EUSA Advice Place

Student counselling service

Feeling alone and isolated can make studying more stressful, and stress is a barrier to learning. Peer support from other students is very important, as they will be going through a similar experience. Your cohort may be small, but knowing other postgraduate students can help prevent feelings of isolation. The Institute for Academic Development runs open workshops where you can interact with other postgraduate students from across the university.

IAD open workshops for taught postgraduate students

Coping with study stress

The challenges of postgraduate study may cause some worry and stress at times. It is a good idea to prepare for study stress before it happens so you can deal with it effectively. When preparing for your studies, think about planning for:

Busy periods: at certain times of your study, e.g. mid-programme when you have exams and assignments and planning for your next courses, can be very busy. Give yourself enough time for revising, planning and writing assignments, changing other commitments if necessary. Cramming rarely works at postgraduate level, due to the volume and depth of study material.

IAD resources for managing your time

Down-time: we cannot concentrate and study for hours on end, day after day, week after week. It is exhausting for the mind and body. Planning to take breaks as part of your timetable can help keep you motivated and refreshed, aiding your ability to study and learn. You could allocate certain evenings to be ‘study free’ for social activities, or leave the library for an hour to meet a friend. Try to avoid planning too much down-time, as this may have repercussions on your studies.

Other resources

Talk to your Student Adviser or programme team: staff may not realise you are worried unless you pro-actively make contact and tell them. They may be able to help you focus your study concerns, and help you with any problems with your course. It is important to raise things early, rather than leaving problems to build.

The University Student Counselling Service provides resources and links that can help you develop more constructive ways of thinking; resources include:

Stress: A Guide for Students (includes various practical exercises) (PDF)

Student Counselling Service website

Useful relaxation techniques can include deep breathing exercises, meditation, and mindfulness practice.

University Chaplaincy: Mindfulness resources

Keeping active, mentally and physically, is helpful for relieving stress and worry. It is good to do something different to your academic work. You could consider joining the University gym, or walking around campus and Edinburgh. If you are not based in Edinburgh, find out what local amenities are available for exercising.

Health and wellbeing

Sport and Exercise suggested walks in and around Edinburgh (external site)