Master of None
Are you a jack of all trades, or a master of none? Maddie Spencer comments on the difficulties of choosing a masters degree.
I am the most indecisive person I know. My friends often marvel at how long it will take me to choose a meal, my ‘continue watching’ list on Netflix is full of movies that I watched the first 10 minutes of before moving on to something else, and I tend to choose my outfits the night before events to avoid being late. So it doesn’t come as a shock that towards the end of my Bachelor of Arts, the thought of choosing a Masters course was utterly impossible.
Growing up I was a bit of an all-rounder. I never found that one thing I was really good at. In my eyes each of my friends had their undoubtable strengths, so I tried a bit of everything in order to find what was “my thing”. Unknowingly, this was fuelling my indecisiveness and making finding that one thing even more difficult.
This continued throughout my BA but in a more productive way: I could embrace the fact that I had many unique and intersecting interests to explore throughout my degree. I started thinking I was going to major in French and ended up majoring in Media and Communications with film, politics and gender being my areas of interest.
Having done a degree like Arts allowed me to take some pressure off myself. I realised it can be exciting to find new fields of interest and an asset to not be good at just one thing, but instead to learn about a bunch of new things that you didn’t even know existed before. I was finally able to take myself out of the box that I had been put in throughout my schooling.
However, when the day finally came for me to don my robe and get that certificate, I couldn’t help look over a sea of my peers and think, ‘Ok, now what?’ This fear is what coaxed me into almost doing a Masters in the first place. We bounce from institutions to institution from the time we’re three or four up until we’re 21 (for those of us not cool enough to take gap years) so the idea of being a “proper” adult with a career and bills to pay is pretty scary.
I couldn’t get over the irony that my BA helped me to develop nuanced interests and ideas about the world, and now I have to pick just one thing again? I could do marketing I guess, that seems a way I could continue doing media in a creative or profitable way. Or maybe gender studies, maybe I would enjoy pursuing that. Publishing sounds cool… and my brain would go on and on until I was overwhelmed with the magnitude of the decision. The idea of going into a masters degree was even more terrifying than that of not knowing the next step. The idea of putting myself back into a box, something to specialise in, something that I was supposed to build a career on was so intimidating.
Don’t get me wrong, lots of my peers managed to successfully choose a Masters degree. For instance, my friend Olivia, who is undertaking her Masters of Public Health, is so excited by her course and eager to start her career. Although when I asked her about how she managed to make a decision, she reminded me that she changed her mind about what Masters she was going to do three or four times. She cites pure chance and luck that she managed to nab a job on campus relating to public health, a field she hadn’t even considered before doing her anthropology and history major. In this role she had easy access to members in the field who could tell her what the job was really like and after that she was sold. “But how do you not worry that you chose the wrong thing?” I ask her. “Oh, I have an existential crisis at least twice a semester.” It turns out that even those who get lucky in the Masters department are not immune to the stress that there could be or should be doing something else.
Our second successful master, Angus is in his second year into the Juris Doctor degree. He chose it because he saw it as another generalist degree but has since changed his tune, “Law is not the new Arts,” he says. He didn’t see that many options for employment after Arts but admits that he may not have been looking too hard to find them. Pressure from his family to keep studying was another factor. “My mum was convinced that if I didn’t do it now then I would never go back,” Angus said.
But for others the pressure of seeing their friends entering a Masters as well as pressure from your university can lead to starting a degree you’re unsure of. Take Ruby for instance, a fresh Politics and Anthropology graduate who went into a Masters of Management after her undergrad but shortly withdrew after. Ruby says it was ironically in the subject “Creating Value” that she realised the price tag and experience her Masters would give her probably wasn’t going to give that much value back to her life or future career.
This was confirmed to me by one very sneaky Marketing tutor in my last semester of Arts. I’m sure against our university’s wishes she encouraged us not to pursue a Masters after our undergraduate degree, her reasoning similar to Ruby’s assessment, that at the end of it, we would end up in the same entry level jobs as our peers.
According to research published by Graduate Careers Australia on their graduate opportunities website, for those who’ve studied humanities at an undergraduate level, almost 30% are going on to further study, with 71.4% of those students who are available for full time employment gaining it after their degree. After a Masters degree around 82.1% of those available for full time work land a job. Whilst the employment is slightly higher out of a Masters degree, I do have to wonder if the time and price would have justified the outcome. Those who come out at an undergraduate level certainly aren’t struggling, as universities would have you think.
Institutions of course have a vested interest in getting people to continue study further at their institution. It is important to have enough funding for their research, which in turn gives them credibility and a higher ranking, which helps attract more prospective students, and so the cycle continues. And with a Masters degree starting at $10,000 and costing on the higher end $80,000 you can see why it’s a lofty investment towards a future career.
After spending a year outside of an institution I have developed a love for the freedom it has given me. I volunteer for organisations I’m passionate about, I work casually so I can still travel and take time off to write articles like this one about my many opinions and thoughts that my degree encouraged me to have.
Before you choose to do or not to do a Masters degree, I suggest you get in touch with your indecisive side and really examine why you’re doing it. Are you scared of being outside an institution? Are you scared of still being in one? Do you think it’ll help land your dream job or just defer having to apply and do that job?
After this time apart from Uni and spending a many of hours in angst and existential crises about what the next step is, I have learnt to embrace my indecisiveness and use that as a way to pursue a variety of things until I find the right fit. Finally, after some time, I have found not what will be my forever career but what will be my next step – I think I’ll finally do a Masters after all.
Maddie graduated in 2017 with a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Melbourne, majoring in Media and Communications with a minor in Politics. Maddie hopes to commence studies in Film and Television later this year.