Mastering Your Masters: In Conversation with Carmen Miedema

University of Manitoba Administration Building. (Michael G. Noll / Flickr)

Brandon University graduate and former Quill reporter Carmen Miedema is hard at work on her master’s degree at the University of Manitoba, where she received a $40,000 entrance scholarship. Miedema is working on an intense project that will see the transfer of archives from Canada’s residential schools to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. She sat down with The Quill to answer our questions about her master’s experience thus far.

The Quill: Why do a master’s degree?

Carmen Miedema: I chose to do my Masters because I can’t enter my chosen field without it, and I plan to get my PhD. For someone thinking of doing their Masters, I would say that they need to stop and think hard about what they want to do with their life. Do you really need a Masters? Have you researched your desired field thoroughly? Most of us believe we have to get a Masters because our Bachelor Degree is of little value, this is not true. We learn many valuable skills during our undergrad, you just need to learn how to apply them. Figure out what you want to do, research it, then make the decision best for you. A Masters is not to be taken lightly.

TQ: So far, how does your master’s program experience compare to your undergrad experience?

CM: We have all had at least one professor who has told the class they would never redo their undergrad. For me, it is the complete opposite. I love what I am doing, but the reality is the pressure is real. For me, BU was an amazing experience, with incredible mentors, and unbelievable friends. My undergrad might have confined me in certain ways but the experience was one that I do not think I will ever experience anywhere else. Enjoy your undergrad, value your professors and their wisdom, make lifelong friends, and most of all let it change you for the better.

TQ: What is the best part about pursuing your masters?

CM: Not being restricted when it comes to my research. The freedom is amazing.

TQ: Can you recommend some non-school related things you can do to help get into a masters program?

CM: I would suggest researching the school you want to attend and looking at their admission requirements. You are competing for a spot, and want to stand out from other applicants. Ask your professors to review your letter of intent—Doctors Naylor and Harms reviewed mine countless times and I am forever grateful. I also suggest meeting the professor you wish to study under before applying. Just because you read someone’s research does not mean that you will get along. Meet that person, discuss your research interests, and then decide if you can work with them for two to four years—they will be a big part of your support system. This will aid you in your decision and hopefully make a good impression on your future advisor, especially when your application crosses their desk.

TQ: What advice do you have for student’s thinking of pursuing a master’s degree?

CM: Ethics approval is a pain, start early, and remember it is only good for one year. Apply for research grants and scholarships early and as many as possible. Be organized. If you don’t have to work don’t. Have a support system. Self-preservation is necessary, don’t feel bad for doing what you have to. Mostly importantly find the joy in it—even if it seems small at the time.

TQ: Coffee intake – masters versus undergrad? Is there a maximum caffeine limit?

CM: Everyone’s caffeine intake is different. During my undergrad I was rarely seen without a coffee in my hand. I cannot say how many I drank, but the kid at McDonald’s knew me by name. Personally, I have become immune to the effects of caffeine and have switched to water. It seems to work a lot better. If caffeine is the only thing that keeps you awake than cut back during your undergrad, you will need the stimulus during your Masters as sleep is rarely an option.

TQ: Do you still have hopes and dreams, or have they been crushed under the weight of academia?

CM: Yes, I still have hopes and dreams. However, I have realized my hopes and dreams might not always be in agreement with future institutions. I’m okay with this; I’m a bit of a rebel and my own worst enemy (according to Dr. Winter). You have to keep your hopes and dreams alive, they’re the reason you are currently ‘torturing’ yourself, and sometimes the only thing keeping you going.

Republished from The Quill print edition, Volume 107, Issue 19, January 24, 2017.