I haven’t written anything here since the end of May! I think that speaks volumes about how busy my year has been since then with getting this degree wrapped up. I am now very happy and proud to say that I have completed the LJMU MSc in Astrophysics and will be graduating with a distinction. After spending 8 years as a part-time student, this ultimate validation is unbelievably sweet. So what’s next? Some time out from formal study/academia to a) give my brain a much-needed break from the pressures of student life, b) pick up some skills I haven’t had time for alongside the degree and c) work full time for the first time in a decade. I would like to do a PhD of course, just not right now.
I should tell you however that the LJMU MSc has left me feeling like I am ready to take on a PhD, so that’s a real credit to the course. At the end of my BSc, I felt like I would feel lost at sea being thrown into independent research, but now I feel like I could handle it. A lot of this is because of an increase in confidence but also through having more experience doing research, particularly thanks to the final project.
I will probably write a scicomm style piece about my research project in the not too distant future, but I hope you’ll forgive me for not being ready to pick that work back up just yet. I like to submit/complete a piece of work and then have some closure on it for a while… I’m sure I will love the process of submitting work for publication and constant tweaks etc…
For now, I just wanted to let my readers know that I did, in fact, finish and to tell you a bit about the process at LJMU for this final part of the course.
As discussed previously, part-time students spend 2 summers on their projects in between academic years. How you spread the workload is completely up to the student with some guidance from a supervisor. I did a lot of my data gathering in year 1 and the analysis in year 2. In the second year, I had regular contact with my supervisor (Phil James) via email and weekly Skype calls. The amount of contact does seem to vary with the supervisor so this may not be typical. Once I’d completed my analysis and data processing, I wrote the report/thesis/dissertation (whatever you want to call it), which in my case was under 10000 words. The guidance is that reports will be around 10000 words but this is not a strict word count and LJMU seem to be pretty relaxed on this and also things like which referencing style or format you use. I opted to just type mine in Word but I know others that used LaTeX. I followed a typical layout of a physics paper and used Mendeley to deal with Harvard style referencing for me. I was lucky to have a project that didn’t require any coding (one of those skills I will pick up now I have time), so I didn’t need to produce anything complicated. During the writing process, I sent drafts to my supervisor for a bit of feedback and advice, then I felt ready to submit my final work 2 weeks before the deadline.
After the final work is submitted, everyone has a final viva which makes up 30% of the project marks. This was a video call with my supervisor and one other academic where I quickly summarised my work and answered questions about it. It was less demanding than a PhD viva but tougher than the usual LJMU post-exam vivas. This viva lasted about 40 minutes and was essentially to prove my work was my own and that I understood background physics related to it.
After all this, I expected a long wait for results but they were released 2 or 3 weeks after the deadline so it was a nice early surprise. I have finished with a distinction overall and now cannot wait for my graduation ceremony in Liverpool next month! The day after graduation we will have a day of students presenting their work in short talks at the ARI (optional). I’ve never been to Liverpool before, so it’s going to be really nice to finally see my university and meet the people I’ve been learning from face to face.
I realise that this post is too late to sway any newcomers to the course this year, but I really can’t recommend this course enough. If you’re looking for a part-time/distance learning Masters in Astro, this is perfect. The staff have been great to work with and learn from, the course is well presented and I believe the prospects are really good for anyone wanting to follow it with a PhD.
If you are a newbie on the course, do check out the Discord group (you can find links on Canvas discussions), it has saved my sanity on many occasions.
If you want to know about my asymmetrical extinction findings, watch this space!