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