Mbote na bino [greetings in Lingala, DRCongo Language….keeping to our proudly African theme :D]. If you have just finished your first degree, I believe congratulations (more like “hululations”) are in order! Well done on getting that degree: it may have been a long, emotional and winding road but here you are: (i) you ran the race and won it! (ii) You are privileged as one of the few Africans to be educated with a tertiary degree. For many, the real difficult decision to make after graduation is whether to go home (find work and/or plan the next degree abroad elsewhere) or whether to remain in the host country. Those who choose to stay in the host country, either study further and pursue a postgraduate degree, or look for work. As you know already from my bio that I chose to stay, in South Africa. Today is about sharing what I learned through my completing masters, and the 5 key questions you need to answer before embarking on this journey.
Answer this important question as you will need it when approaching a supervisor, but also when things get tough. For many Africans, I know that the struggle is double REAL both as immigrants and fresh graduates… Studying further just seems to be the logical next step which allows one to specialise and also test the waters with job hunting while still being legal in the country. My case was no different, I had a job offer that did not materialise and my plan B was the masters.
The other (probably the main) reason I did my Masters was because my parents felt their careers were limited by the fact that they both did not possess a Masters and encouraged me (more like dictated me…lol!) to go straight for my masters and get it out of the way. This is probably the only reason why I eventually bought into the idea-As I was eyeing (still am) working for the UN or one its agencies and I know many require a postgraduate degree.
Do your research and ask around to understand your area of interest and what you would like to specialise in. In my case, I knew main stream engineering was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and luckily an elective in environmental engineering helped me spark my interest in the sustainability/environmental field. Once you have a rough idea of what field you would like to specialise in, the next big step will be identifying your research topic with the help of your supervisor.
The MOST important step after choosing your field of specialisation is to identify who you want to do it with/for/under…and hope that professor decides the same about you. Generally, each professor would have a list of open topics they want to explore that year based on funding/interest available. Contact them via e-mail, make an appointment and arrange an informal chat to better introduce yourself and identify opportunities within their research group.
This is about finances. I know that if you are amongst the lucky few whose African parents could afford to pay for your tertiary education, most were often only willing to cover your fees for the first degree. Beyond that, they estimated that one is old enough to make a plan and survive :D. It is therefore important to understand the cost implications, scholarship, funding and related job opportunities that you might tap into so you do not have to waiter while writing your thesis. Also for example, masters in the sciences tend to have more funding opportunities compared to other faculties.
Also share your concern/struggles with your supervisor (they are human beings too :D), he might be able to direct you in the right direction if he/she cannot provide for you. I knew a guy (from Congo) who was desperate to study and worked as a security guard to save up for his masters in Chemical Engineering, enrolled and registered at his own costs until the supervisor discovered what he did for a living to survive & to cover his living expenses-that changed in a few weeks after that ;-).
There may be discounts that might be applicable to you as well e.g. in South Africa, students from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) qualify for 40% discount that other international students do not have; in the US there are all sorts of Scholarships for African Americans.
This is not about the location, but rather where this probably “expensive” and “demanding” degree will take you. Keep in sight, where you want to be career wise (private sector, NGO, Government or academia) and/or in life when selecting your thesis topic. Having a Masters Cum Laudein “perpetual energy generation from a brick wall” (makes little sense because I totally made this up might…lol!) sounds very interesting but if never going to happen at a commercial scale, this WILL remain a research topic with very little value in the industry and might end up being a stumbling block later on.
I hope you found this useful, and would love to hear from you. Are you thinking of doing a masters or are you currently doing your masters? I plan to have a series of articles on postgraduate studies to document my journey and share what I learnt in the process. Until then, stay well.