So, you’re doing an MA, No. 1: Surviving the first few weeks

My MA advice series moves into a new phase following on from ‘So, you’re thinking about doing an MA No. 1: Are you ready?’ and ‘So, you’re thinking about doing an MA No. 2: Choosing a course’. In this phase, I will look at some dos and don’ts for getting through the whirlwind that is the first few weeks of registration and induction, balancing your new study commitments with everything else that keeps you busy, reading from the screen and approaching your first assignment. Anything else you want to hear about, let me know!

The Registration Process

After going through the search for a suitable course and the application process, it’s time to begin. However, first you’ll have some registering to do. As you are a distance learner, this will most likely be done over the internet and, without direct guidance, it can be a bit tricky. Although all steps will have been taken to ensure it goes as smoothly as possible, errors can occur – delays due to overloading of the university system, incorrect information in the database, courses not showing up in the enrolment section… Of course, each university operates differently but my main advice is the same: Don’t panic! and Don’t be afraid to ask for help! These problems are anticipated and your university should have an IT support team and a dedicated registration support team for you to contact. I had problems registering in my first year due to the fee for the entire course rather than Year 1 showing up on the payment screen and again this year with a course that I wanted to take not showing up properly but in both cases a quick email to the relevant person led to it all being sorted out quickly.


Even for distance learners, there is likely to be an induction period. This serves as a chance to get acquainted with whatever Learning Management System/Virtual Learning Environment your university uses as well as to meet your tutors and course mates and do some introductory tasks. This can all seem overwhelming at first, especially if you’ve never done a distance learning course before. My main advice is the same as above: Don’t panic! and Don’t be afraid to ask for help! :) The teaching staff will have seen it all before and are there to assist you with any problems you have orientating yourself in your new virtual surroundings. If the system works like the one at Manchester, you may have the chance to interact with continuing students as well, who will also be willing to help. A quick email or message posted on the forum will usually result in a swift reply. With a little time and exposure, you’ll soon learn to find your way around.
Beyond the technical issues, here are my top tips for getting the most out of your induction programme:
  • Use the chance to make connections
Above all, doing an MA is a great chance for professional development. You will be meeting ELT professionals from all over the world, all with different experiences and backgrounds and different areas of expertise. Introduce yourself in whatever space is provided and reply to/comment on the introductions of others. You’ll soon find some valuable additions to your PLN, maybe even a few new people to follow on Twitter! This year, a few new students based in Turkey contacted me and it was good to connect with them and offer advice. We also soon found out who was on Twitter and followed each other and even prompted a couple of people to sign up and start tweeting!
  • Find others who work in the same field as you
Whether you teach weekend courses to adults, work with kids in a regular school, do business English classes or train other teachers, odds are you won’t be alone. Connecting with someone with a similar teaching background can be very helpful, especially as you work through the first semester’s studies. This applies both to your fellow students and to the academic staff running the MA course as well. I was a little concerned that I seemed to be the only teacher of young learners starting the course so I contacted the tutor who was overseeing induction and asked if there might be anyone in the department with experience in this area. He promptly replied and put me in touch with two of the teaching staff who had done research with children. One of them was even originally from Turkey. Both were very helpful, recommended some books and articles relevant to young learners to me and went so far as to give me a draft copy of an article they were preparing for publication!
  • Read the literature provided and attempt the tasks
This may sound obvious but all the induction material is there for a reason. If you take the time to look through it, you will find invaluable help with things such as accessing electronic journals, referencing the literature and using the VLE space effectively. There may be tasks to complete such as a short piece of writing. It’s worth doing these to get early feedback on your writing style and also to make an early connection with your teachers!
And finally, a couple of more technical tips:
  • Link your university email to another existing account/mail reader
As your university email will only get official messages from the university administration or your MA department, it’s easy to forget it’s there. If it is possible, either link it to your personal email account so your messages are redirected there or add the address to whatever mail reader you use. My university email all comes to Live Mail on my laptop so I never miss any urgent messages about the course.
  • Find out if you have access to a VPN
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a small programme that can be used to allow you to access a network remotely. In my case, I use a VPN fro the University of Manchester which makes my computer appear as though it is accessing the internet from inside the university campus. This saves a lot of time when viewing journal articles as I no longer have to enter my university log in details anytime I want to view or download a pdf. It’s also great for circumventing regional restrictions on sites like YouTube or Vimeo (just added to day :()…. But that’s another rant for another post! ;) Anyway, if your university has such a programme, download it and use it!