By Sarah Thomson |

As someone about to embark on their seventh consecutive year of university study, this time of year is always one that makes me quite nostalgic. The transition from one academic year to another is no longer as clear cut as it was as an undergraduate (ie. marked by a sprawling summer holiday), but instead by a flurry of activity as the university gets ready to welcome new and returning students.

This time last year I was in the middle of the transition from Masters (MLitt) to PhD study. I submitted my MLitt dissertation at the University of Glasgow one year ago today (hurrah!), and picked up my PhD student card and teaching contract at the University of Edinburgh five days later. While it all worked out in the end, there are definitely some things I wish I’d known about completing two degrees back-to-back. So, without further ado, this Pubs and Pubs post is on transitioning from Masters to PhD study without taking time out.


Be aware of potential administrative headaches

This one is probably the most important. My offer of admission to the PhD programme at Edinburgh was conditional on obtaining certain grades in my Masters. Since my Masters dissertation mark didn’t arrive until six weeks after I’d started my PhD (and my official transcript took a further two weeks), I didn’t technically fulfil the entry requirements for my PhD until well into my first semester. This meant that, to be admitted onto the PhD, I had to request an interim transcript from the university where I was completing my Masters, and then request to have my conditions waived. This went reasonably smoothy, but took a surprisingly long time. The procedure involved in this can vary drastically from university to university, so it’s definitely worth finding out what the policies are at your institution(s), to spare any frantic emails with admissions at the start of term.

Burn Out

My biggest worry about transitioning between degrees without a break was that I’d feel burnt out from writing my MLitt dissertation, and therefore not ready to start my PhD. I really worked to pace myself for the final few months of my Masters, and felt fine (or so I thought) when I arrived in Edinburgh to embark upon my PhD. By Christmas, however, my brain was desperately in need of a break. The handful of people I’d spoken to about this told me that they didn’t have any problems with completing their degrees back-to-back, which made me feel like I ought to be able to just ‘keep calm and carry on’ too. This is nonsense. It is PERFECTLY fine if you need to take a break, either before you ‘officially’ start the PhD, or during the first semester.

Be honest with your supervisors about how you’re feeling, and don’t be afraid to let them know if you need to take some time off, or take things easy in your first few weeks. At the end of the day, the PhD is a marathon, not a sprint. Taking a couple of weeks to recharge at the start will most likely benefit you and your work in the long run.

taking time to recharge is highly advisable!

Saying goodbyes (and hellos!) 

One thing I definitely didn’t anticipate was the emotional toll that moving flats, changing jobs, and saying ‘goodbyes’ would take on my academic work in the final few weeks of my Masters. Having spent a year making a new city feel like home, having to fit saying goodbyes around finishing up my dissertation wasn’t ideal. Adding the stresses of moving flat and city to the administrative hassles of changing institution, and it was a busy (and unexpectedly emotional) few weeks!  Having to swiftly meet a whole new cohort of course mates and complete all the induction and ice breaker events that are inevitable at the start of a new degree only exacerbated this. It’s a cliche, but you don’t have to say ‘yes’ to everything. I definitely don’t regret sneaking out of a four-hour long induction session to go home and watch Netflix, and you most likely won’t either.


Getting your results 

The overlap between finishing one degree and starting another meant I got my final degree result two months into my PhD, right before heading to my first conference. I didn’t factor in any time to process the end of my MLitt, because I already had my head down, focussing on degree #3. I would definitely recommend allowing at least few days off to process (and celebrate!) finishing the Masters. It’s a huge achievement on its own, and it’s important not to let the PhD workload overshadow this. Also, in the event you don’t get the results you were expecting or hoping for, you may well want to take some time to mull this over and process what that might mean for your PhD research.

You might need to factor in returning to your old institution to graduate. I toyed with skipping this graduation, but was glad that I went and would recommend it!

Sarah is a second year PhD student in History at the University of Edinburgh. She researches 1980s American political history, and is an outgoing Contributions Editor at Pubs and Pubs. She would like to credit Black Medicine Coffee Co., Edinburgh for providing the caffeine to fuel virtually all of her Pubs and Pubs contributions over the last 18 months.

All images: Sarah Thomson