When I started the MSc International Human Resources (HR) and Globalisation course, in February 2010, 20 years had passed since I had studied at a university. I was both excited and apprehensive. One of my lifetime goals of studying for a master degree was about to be realised. Now, as I near the end of the course, I know with certainty that my decision to study was the right move at the right time.
University and Subject choice – be clear on what you want to study and why
Deciding on the right university and the right course can be overwhelming, simply because there is so much choice. Being clear on what you want to study and how you want to study will, undoubtedly, narrow the choice. Additionally the knowledge and skills required in your homeland, country of residence or country where you intend to work should be taken into consideration. Personally I would not follow an educational path where there are few jobs or the competition for jobs in that field is high. While following your dreams is important, being realistic about work opportunities is more so.
For me, studying HR was a natural choice. It is my profession and one that I enjoy. A wealth of courses were available, however, I wanted a course that specifically focused on international HR. With companies becoming more and more international and positions in HR increasingly working across national borders, it seemed a natural choice. Regrettably there was no such course in my homeland, Norway, and so I turned to a country and education system of which I was familiar, the UK. At this point I was restricted to studying from a distance, thus reducing my choice further.
Leicester University had been referred to me by a fellow student and so I reviewed their brochure along with those from other universities. The decision was however easy. I noted that other universities were not so well-equipped for distance learning students. For example there was no online application process and no online library facility. These were key indicators for me as to how effective the distance learning process was likely to be. In short, Leicester University had no serious competitor for distance learning in my required area of study.
The course content overall looked interesting but there was one module that did not appeal. On reflection, this module resulted in the greatest personal learning for me and one which steered the choice of dissertation topic. So don’t be put off by a part of the course that does not appeal or is completely new to you. A steep learning curve may await you, but it will be worthwhile and rewarding.
Distance Learning – how it works
In short, as a distance learner you gain access to the course reading material, receive the module assignment question (usually two choices) and a submissions deadline date. The rest is down to you.
At the beginning of the course you are likely to be asked to complete an academic writing skills exercise. Having been away from the academic arena for a long time, I found this a very useful exercise in understanding what was required of me in assignment writing. You receive feedback and guidance on the exercise and can therefore make any necessary amendments to your style, technique and construction.
For each module of the course I was sent hard copies of the reading material (this is now available online). The material is all you need to answer the set module question. However I found that additional reading on the subject has been both useful for my own personal development and for the dissertation.
I found the following, very simple technique, effective in ensuring that I submitted my assignment on time………… When I knew how many articles I had to read, I calculated how many weeks I had to read them. Giving myself at least 6 weeks before the deadline date to focus 100% on writing the assignment, I worked backwards to see how many I needed to read each day/week. On average, I found that I needed to read 1 or 2 articles per day. Taking notes was crucial in this process so that I could refer back to what I had read when writing the assignment.
The time you have to complete the assignment flies by. Make sure you remain focused on the question you will answer. It is very easy to drift when reading, because you find something interesting however, it may not be relevant to answering the question. You will waste time if you do this, and time is precious.
Start writing the assignment early, as soon as you get ideas in your head of how to answer the question. Most, if not all, students suffer from procrastination. The key is, to learn how to deal with it. If you set regular deadlines as opposed to the one submission date deadline, you will make progress and avoid the panic setting in as the “big” deadline approaches at full speed! Write 10 minutes of your assignment each day. You are likely to go back and re-write it, probably up to 5 times, however you will be making progress and not letting the procrastination bug take hold.
Further, on the subject of writing, write a bibliography as soon as you start writing your notes and keep it updated at all times. You don’t want to be in a position where you have to find the source of a valuable quotation on the day of submission.
In the event that you fall behind with your studies it is crucial that you notify your course administrator as soon as possible. I got sick a few weeks before an assignment submission date and although I had completed the best part of the assignment I was concerned that I would not meet the deadline. I contacted the course administrator immediately and was granted extra time. As it was, my self-motivation and stubbornness for never being late kicked in and I submitted the assignment on time.
For each assignment submitted, a feedback report detailing your grade and commentary is provided. If you have any queries about the feedback you should make contact with the course administrator. Getting clarification may make all the difference for your next assignment’s grade! Furthermore, the academic employees are there to help. If you have a query – make contact. They are very keen to help and prompt in responding. Remember your success is their success!
Distance learning can be a somewhat lonely affair because you study from home and your fellow students may be located anywhere in the world. However, an online map facility enables you to locate students who are on the same course as you and/or are in the same country as you. The map highlights their university email account and so you can proceed to make direct contact with your fellow students. Furthermore the Centre for Labour Market Studies (CLMS) also has a LinkedIn and Facebook page where you can keep up to date with course and department developments and, of course, contribute to discussions there.
Learning from a distance does not therefore mean you are alone!
Teaching Weekends – a must
Teaching weekends are offered by the CLMS every six months. They are not compulsory, however, I have attended every one and despite the personal investment in time and money, they are a must – not to be missed. Why? Firstly you get to put a face to a name. Meeting the CLMS employees and vice versa of course, naturally helps in relationship building. Secondly, a number of tutorials are arranged. These, for example, give you guidance on note-taking, writing skills, your module question, using the library facilities, accessing the online library, and, when applicable, you can book a ½ hour dissertation tutorial. Thirdly, you get to meet other students with whom you can exchange thoughts and ideas, share stories and of course exchange details so that you can remain in touch afterwards. The latter I have found of immense value. Keeping in contact with fellow students is a priceless source of motivation even if it’s a simple email that says “how are you doing” every once in a while.
Other online facilities – use them
As a distance learner you have access to various online facilities.
Blackboard is where the department academics post important messages, where you can engage in dialogue with other distance learning students and where you submit your assignments. I found the comments and questions posted by other students of particular value when I commenced each module. Understanding what issues and questions students had raised about a module helped me prepare more and, made me aware of any pitfalls. I have however found the facility somewhat underutilized by students. Perhaps this is due to only a few students studying the same course as I. This situation may therefore be different for other courses.
You will be assigned a personal email account and should check this regularly for communications from the department. You use this to make contact with your course administrator.
The online library service is excellent. You can download articles, download e-books and if you are not able to find what you are looking for, you simply make an online request. The document supply team will highly likely source your request. They are extremely efficient and helpful.
Online tutorials on a range of subjects are also available including using the online library service, plagiarism, writing skills, etc.
Career Ambitions – they may change
As mentioned, one of my life goals was to study a master degree – and to succeed of course! When I started the course I ran my own virtual HR consultancy business. Twelve months into the course I decided to close the business. Having built the business from scratch, this was not an easy decision however, my career goals had changed. I wanted to return to corporate life, in particular to return to work for an international company. As I near the end of the course I can see a number of opportunities available to me that I would not have considered had I not embarked on the course. So enjoy the learning and be mindful that
your career focus may change.
Dissertation– make sure you are passionate about the subject you choose to research
The dissertation is the last assignment. I found that my choice of subject for thedissertation was shaped by the content of each module I had studied, my next career move and my personal interest in learning more about the subject.
The last module is a proposal which prepares you for the dissertation. Time invested here will reap rewards when conducting the research and writing the dissertation, because time really does fly at this stage of the course. Moreover, your dissertation plans, like most things in life, may not totally go to plan and so you do need to be flexible and build in extra time.
Talking of time……one thing to take special note of is the sourcing of an employer to carry out your research, if this is your approach. If you choose not to undertake your dissertation with your current employer or this is not an option for you, do not underestimate the time it can take to find an employer who will commit to the research. You need this commitment before you can complete module 4 with any level of confidence.
Being a distance learning student is rewarding. You are in charge of your own destiny.
Your success will be a direct result of personal management of the “project”, namely your studies. Whatever your subject of study, you can be assured ofprofessionalism and support from the CLMS team.
I wish you success with your studies and your future career.
Please feel free to post your comments and questions and I will respond as soon as possible.