Surviving and Thriving on The Management of Projects MSc

The MSc in the Management of Projects (known as MOP) is a large, very successful taught MSc programme offered by the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering at the University of Manchester.  Each year around 300 anxious looking MOP students descend on the University from over 30 countries. This year I have students from China, Japan, India, Ecuador, Lebanon, El Salvador, Ireland to name just a few.  85% of students are not native English speakers and it is our job as faculty to teach, encourage and support YOU the students to succeed on this programme.

As many of you know I teach a popular optional unit on the programme entitled Project Finance for Infrastructure projects.  I have been teaching this unit since 2008 and during that time have taught and assessed over 1000 MOP students.  Out of this experience and my own journey through a taught Masters programme, albeit at a competitor institution, I would like to share my thoughts on how to maximise the chances of success on this MSc programme.

1. Remember this is post-graduate not undergraduate or school study

In a taught masters programme such as MOP you are expected to be a self starting, motivated learner.  Nobody is going challenge you if you don’t show up for lectures, or if you never visit the library or read around the taught topics.  However, when marking assessments and exams, it will be very apparent to teaching staff which students have read more than the lecture notes, and which students have understood the theory that they have been taught rather than simply regurgitating what the lecturer says.  This statement may be obvious to those students who have been educated in the UK system but to those arriving from very different educational cultures some changes in approach may be required.  For example, I am much more impressed by a student citing a reference that provides evidence of additional reading around the lecture notes and core textbook than I am by students repeating what I have told them in lectures.

New skills are required at post-graduate level – such as critical reading.  This is the ability to read a journal or book chapter whilst questioning what you are reading and the perspective from which it has been written.  Think about what the central argument of the article is, how well the argument is made and what evidence is provided.  What data is provided in support of the argument, how was this data collected, and are there any potential biases in it.  This is critical reading and developing this skill in semester 1 will both help you achieve a higher mark on individual course units as well as serve as excellent preparation for the demanding dissertation phase of the MSc programme.

2. Manage your time carefully

Although the MOP programme is quite intense there is more than enough time to attend all lectures, read around the subject areas and enjoy a social life – IF you are organised.  Stay ahead by working consistently through the semester, finish assignments well before the deadline date and enjoy some relaxation time.  My maxim on my own taught MBA programme was to attend lectures during the day, do my reading between lectures and study until about 8.30 in the evening, and on one of the weekend days.  Post 8.30pm was relaxation time and Sundays were a day off completely.  Not a bad model to follow IMHO!

3. Take advantage of all the resources that are made available to you

Many MOP lecturers will provide comprehensive lecture notes as well as additional resources on Blackboard and via Twitter.  I provide a 100 page written module handbook that summarises what I have talked about in each lecture, some narrated slide presentations of concepts that are tricky to grasp and lots of worked examples of cash flows etc.  My colleague Paul Chan, in particular is a valuable source of insights into organisational theory and people and organisations through his Twitter account @PaulWChan. Explore these resources and make use of them in your learning.  I do appreciate that students are sometimes very strategic and only access material that is assessed, but this limits the depth of learning you will take away into your future career and seems a shame when you have paid a lot of money and devoted a whole year to full-time study.

4. Practise your English

The MOP is a discursive, largely qualitative subject which requires you to understand, speak and write well-structured, persuasive English.  Take advantage of all the support that the University Language centre can offer in terms of academic writing support and speak and listen to as much English as you can throughout your time in Manchester.  Immerse yourselves in the English language by reading the newspapers, watching the BBC and talking to native English speakers.  Don’t stay in your language groups but interact with other nationalities, using the common language of English.   Start to think and even dream in English(!) as this will help your studies no end.  Inadequate English language competency is in my experience the biggest cause of difficulty on the MOP programme and on my unit in particular so make sure this doesn’t happen to you.  Don’t be shy. Speak and write English at every opportunity.

5.  Get into informal study groups

Research has demonstrated that one of the most effective ways of learning is peer-to-peer learning.  This occurs when you think through and try to explain concepts and problems with fellow students.  On a large programme such as the Management of Projects, it is a great idea to get into informal study groups to help each other with tricky topics.  When I was a taught Masters student and did not understand a particular concept, rather than go and see the lecturer I would speak to my peers and find someone who did understand the subject and learn from them.  I clearly remember mini seminars held by different students explaining the intricacies of corporate finance or Human resource strategy – all held informally and well below the radar of the teaching staff!

6. Don’t let the weather get you down

Even those of us who are born and bred in the Manchester area struggle with the weather, and if you have come from warmer climes it must be a massive shock to the system to endure days and sometimes weeks of leaden grey skies, and endless wind and rain.  My survival mechanism for the often awful weather in Manchester is to forget any notion of seasons, or of harbouring any expectation that the summer weather may be better than winter.

Instead think of good weather days and bad weather days.  Enjoy the good weather days – get out under the blue sky and soak up the sunshine in preparation for the inevitable bad weather days that will follow!

Over to you now.

I am really keen to hear from other faculty or ex MOP students who can share their survival advice for a post graduate taught Masters programme such as the MOP on this blog.  Thanks for reading


17 thoughts on “Surviving and Thriving on The Management of Projects MSc”

  1. Thanks very much, very valuable points. I wish to add to your point about Practice Your English; I have heard too many languages spoken in the lectures, which sometimes is very disturbing. It would be more appropriate to confine our self to English Language when we speak to a class mate.

  2. this really amazing thoughts, the question here is how to be accurate with your learning, time wouldnt be enough to study everything.
    I should have the answer soon.
    many thanx
    hope to wake up sometimes at this time and give us some other inspiring thoughts !!!
    thanx to your daughter

  3. Thank you for your valuable tips. Hope I am able to distribute and manage my time the way you have been doing at the time of your MBA. Management of time will definitly make life much more fun and easier.

  4. Thank you for this great reminders Dr. Yes, I couldn’t agree more with AbdulRahman ibrahim. One of the effective way to improve our English now is to ‘force’ the students to speak, although it is just during the lecture time. Thank you again Dr. for spending time to write this entry for us.

  5. Thanks to all for your postive feedback. I am glad that you found my post helpful. You have encouraged me to keep blogging. Any suggestions for topics relevant to MOP students most welcome

  6. I real appreciate for taking your time to write this valuable and crucial piece of advice. My self am still looking for colleague to make a group discussion.

  7. Thank you for these valuable tips for us! I am now in the same situation with Raymond Godfrey Kileo for finding a study groups to discuss some critical reading materials. I think it might be a little difficult for us to find a non-Chinese study group but it actually will be great to share diverse ideas together.

  8. Thanks for you posting, That was really useful advice for me. It is true that postgraduate learning is more difficult than undergraduate learning. I think the most difficult part is the time-management. So many materials are required to read, and also I am suffering pieces of assignments that come to the same deadline. That’s not often in undergraduate. Therefore, I think I must learn to make a study plan for each day and stick to it.

  9. It is definitely a valuable read, especially coming from somebody within the school ! I can totally relate to it ! Though I have been doing my share of reading, I am still looking for a Peer Group to sit and discuss things with ! Its a very good point mentioned !

    Besides your time table, gives me something to compare and contrast, my work hours !

    Thank you for your initiative !

  10. Many thanks! It’s really a valuable reading material! I think an informal study group is very important to improve the academic performance, and fortunately, I got one already. 🙂 Besides, I think this course is more like a MBS thing, if with more learning on quantitive financial tools and theory. In brief, I have lots of expectations on this course!

  11. Thank you for your valuable suggestions! Honestly, I don’t know how to start my master’s life at all before reading your blog. Now I can find my direction. Thank you!

  12. Dear Dr., Thank you for sharing the tips for time management. I believe it is beneficial to all of us. Keep writing and updating your blog. Thanks 😉

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