Postgraduate study at Edinburgh

An overview of some of key features of postgraduate education at the University of Edinburgh.

Postgraduate level

Studying at postgraduate level will be different from studying at an undergraduate level. Being aware of the level at which you will be studying and academic expectations may help you prepare for your programme. This is also very useful if you are returning to study after a break from formal education or are new to studying in the UK.

Studying for a masters at the University of Edinburgh means you will be working at Level 11 of the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). The SCQF applies to all credit bearing courses across Scottish institutions and broadly explains what a student will achieve through studying at each level.

The University of Edinburgh also has a Code of Practice for Taught Postgraduate Programmes that explains how students are expected to engage with their studies. Most masters’ programmes will require students to submit a significant project of research, investigation or development, sometimes known as a dissertation.

Exactly what constitutes a ‘dissertation’ can vary from programme to programme. Check with programme staff or the programme guide to find out what is required.

Independent learning and critical thinking

Being pro-active: Postgraduate study often requires a more self-directed mind set, and more independent learning. To do this, you will need to take a pro-active approach to participating on your programme.

Asking questions & speaking up: Taking an active approach to your learning can include asking questions of a lecturer to clarify a point, asking classmates to expand their comments, and putting across your own views on a subject being discussed. You will be expected to play an active part in classes, tutorials, and other learning spaces (e.g. online discussion boards).

Most people will feel nervous to some extent about speaking out in a tutorial or writing their opinion on a blog. Interacting with your fellow students and course staff is a great way to clarify what you think and practice expressing your thoughts and knowledge.

Your fellow students on your programme will come from a wide range of educational and experiential backgrounds and your tutors won’t know exactly who knows what on certain subjects. If lecturers use unfamiliar terms, or take for granted some areas of background knowledge, you will need to ask for clarification in class or afterwards.

If you don’t know something, chances are others won’t either. They will probably be very glad if someone asks a seemingly basic question. Not only will they get the answer, but they also know that they are not alone!

Managing your time: You will need to manage your time carefully, so that you can attend classes and seminars, and find time for all the associated course reading. You will also be doing independent research and reading, the volume and depth of which can be surprising for some, and you may be expected to engage with a wider range of material than you have before.

Guidance on literature searching from the University Library

Searching using the library’s DiscoverEd tool: DiscoverEd

Finding resources in your subject: Subject guides

Advice to help you optimise use of Google Scholar, Google Books and Google for your research and study: Using Google

IAD resources  on managing your reading

IAD resources for effective study and learning

Critical thinking: On your postgraduate programme here, you will be expected to come to your own conclusion on the topics taught, through listening to and discussion with others, wide and careful reading and thinking critically about a range of evidence and perspectives. You are not expected to agree with everything your lecturer or other students say.

IAD resources for critical thinking

Academic conventions: You will also need to communicate clearly to demonstrate your knowledge and understanding using the writing and referencing conventions that are appropriate for your discipline. Use the guidance from your lecturers and in your programme guide. If you are changing subjects, you should make yourself aware of any subject specific expectations.

Your knowledge and understanding will be based on the works of others in your discipline. You need to be able to present and discuss the ideas and findings of others in your own words, and attribute the work to the appropriate author(s). Directly copying the words of others is not acceptable.

Working with your peers

Diversity: Postgraduate students on your programme may have a wide range of national, cultural, educational and professional backgrounds, and there may be a wide range of ages. You may also have students from different programmes and stages of their degree on your courses.

Use this to your advantage! Be open and willing to listen to and learn from others, especially when thinking about the bigger picture or different points of view. Remember to draw on your own experience and bring your own perspective to discussions, your fellow students can learn from you as well.

Working in groups: You may have to be flexible in how you interact with others, especially if during your programme you are to work in groups. Many students find group work and assignments difficult; that is the point of the task!

Being able to work effectively and professionally as part of a team, and in a variety of roles within a team, is very important and is therefore a highly desirable skill to develop. Different roles can include helping manage the group, organising work to be done, or pulling together the work of the group into one document or presentation.

Further reading and resources: