Saturday, 30 April 2011

Is a Masters worth it?

I've been in my first professional post for about two months now, and it's seven months since I finished my Librarianship course at Sheffield. I thought it was a good time to think about my Masters and how it has benefited me personally and professionally.

I must admit that before I started the course, I saw it simply as a hoop I had to jump through in order to qualify. I was excited at the prospect of living in a new city, being a student again, and meeting new people, but less so at the prospect of having to actually do work. How could you learn a vocational subject like librarianship in an academic context anyway? I must admit I started to change my opinion during the course, and my experience after qualifying has led me to believe it was definitely worth it.

The first thing I should point out is that a library or information qualification was a prerequisite for my current post (in a higher/professional education college): I couldn’t even have contemplated applying without having studied my MA. In addition, I only found out about the post via an email from the course leader – an example of how knowing the right people can help you.

It wasn’t just the course in a general sense that got me the job. In my interview for the post (which involves building courses on the College’s VLE, or Virtual Learning Environment), I was able to talk about a particular module I’d studied, Educational Informatics, which looked at e-learning and the ways in which use of electronic learning platforms such as Blackboard (the one we use at the College) can facilitate learning, particularly in a higher education context. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have got the job without being able to discuss these issues, and in the job, the knowledge and experience I gained from this module are certainly helping me to perform my role more effectively.

What about the course as a whole? I studied several topics throughout my MA, including archives and records management, information literacy, information retrieval, and of course management. I’ve been able to apply some of it, though not all, in my work. Immediately after leaving Sheffield, I got a temporary job as a Senior Information Assistant at a university which involved working with the institutional repository. Though I didn’t need a librarianship qualification (or indeed any degree) for the job, studying the Academic and Research Libraries module and completing an assignment on institutional repositories and digital collections definitely helped me understand the wider context behind my role.

It’s not just about the modules I studied though. I met lots of people on the course, many of whom I now count as friends. I hate the term ‘networking’, but I the course did help me to do this, pointing me in the direction of the New Professionals Network and meet other librarians and information professionals. More particularly, I felt that the course helped me understand what it is to be a professional librarian, as opposed to someone who just works in a library. It enabled me to develop a wider awareness of the profession as a whole. I gained confidence from the course that I didn’t have before. This was partly down to the pastoral aspect of the course – all the staff were lovely, and the relatively small group of students were very supportive.

This sort of thing is difficult to translate into anything concrete like exam results or defined skills, so I understand why some people might not find it useful, but for me it made all the difference. Although I should point out that I was lucky enough to get AHRC funding for my Masters course: someone who had to pay the full whack might feel differently. For me, though, completing the MA was completely worth it.