Then Undergraduate Student in Birmingham, Now an LSE Master’s Candidate


All kinds of transitions will have their own unique challenges and will unlikely be smooth sailing journeys. Although my transition from an Undergraduate student in Birmingham to a Master’s candidate at the LSE was (and continues to be) challenging, I managed to face it head on and have an overall exciting life and study experience.

Tiara Azarine Utomo, Then Undergraduate Student in Birmingham Now a Master's Candidate at the LSE, Undergraduate, Master's, Postgraduate, United Kingdom

Recently graduated from undergraduate last July, I am currently undertaking a Master’s programme at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Since I did my undergraduate in the University of Birmingham, Masters at the LSE should not be too distinct, right? Unfortunately, nope, that’s not quite true. Nonetheless, this journey goes down as my most exciting academic experiences yet.

Changing Major

In Birmingham, I majored in economics, wherein the final year, I specialised in all kinds of policy-related subjects – International Trade Policy, Economic Policy and Political Economy, Monetary Policy, Health Economics, Economic Development, and such.

Now at the LSE, I do Masters in Population and Development, a joint programme between the Department of International Development and Social Policy. Bottom line is, it is a combination of demography, development, and social policy studies.

What is with the Choice?

My motivation to pursue this particular Masters program is derived from my passion for Indonesia. Indonesia will soon experience the demographic dividend, a demographic situation where we will have a significant number of working age population and hence a low dependency ratio. Therefore, it is an opportunity window for Indonesia to boost its economic growth.

I realise that the subject is, in fact, understudied. There are only 20 people in my cohort, and I stood as the only Indonesian.

My aim is to combine the two educational experiences to find the best economic and development policy for Indonesia.

How is the experience?

The transition from economics – a rather quantified subject – to international development, is much more challenging than I thought.  Each social science subject is different, and it is also evident in my experience. There is more nuance in development studies – as it is an interdisciplinary program after all, and there are more readings – around 15/week, and lesser use of quantitative tools. In regards to assignments, there are certainly more essays.


Academic style: Undergraduate vs Postgraduate

One notable difference is in the length of study. Undergraduate in the UK is a 3-years programme, whereas postgraduate programs are on average finished in one year. Condensing everything – readings, learning, assignments, exams – into one year is unquestionably challenging.

Also, in postgraduate studies, at least in my experience, students are expected to be much more critical. Critical thinking lies at the core of UK education, yet there is a higher demand for it at the postgraduate level.

However, I find that masters study is quite similar to my final year of undergraduate. Contact hours are minimal – could be less than 10/week, and thus students are expected to be independent learners. One area where LSE is starkly different from Birmingham is in the number of office hours available.  Office hours in LSE need to be booked at least a week or two before -often gone within a day after being published, and capped to a certain length of time per visit. Such condition demands students to be organised and pro-active in their study.

More Variation in your Cohort

Studying abroad, wherever you are, will give you exposure to a multicultural and multilingual learning experience.  But especially in International Development and Social Policy Department in LSE, I have been lucky to meet people from various backgrounds; nationalities, experiences and/or interests. LSE is truly global in this sense, and I have learnt so much from being in this environment. Open-mindedness, tolerance and curiosity are essential for us to expand our circle.

Most of my cohort are more mature students with at least a few years of work experience, and this stands in stark contrast to me who jumped straight from undergraduate studies. You can certainly take this as a big challenge, but on the flip side the circumstances provide me with the opportunity to gain as many insights about various work experiences and ‘real life’ before actually immersing in them.

One of my friends in the Population and Development programme is a 60 years old gentleman, retired from the private equity sector. You and I who are on average still in our 20s and 30s should be much more motivated to learn!

LSE’s Magical Public Events Experience

Every university has its own charm, and LSE’s – in my opinion – is its public events, i.e. public lectures and discussions where they host some of the most influential figures from the public and private sector, as well as academia. Two of my favourites this year is the talk by Amartya Sen and a lecture on one of the World Bank’s most recent report ‘Making Politics Work for Development’.

These talks are eye-opening and intriguing, – and trust me you would like to attend most if not all of them! Nevertheless, as a student, my first responsibility is to study, to prepare for seminar classes (where students are expected to engage with their classmates, and the lecturer merely act as facilitators!), and submit good quality essays and assignments well on time. Time management, priority setting, schedule and planning are absolutely vital. Enjoyable activities in your new place should serve as extra motivation, not your upmost priority.


The City: Birmingham to London

The city and areas where you live in also matter in a transition phase. It is not the single aspect that determines your experience, but it is one of the key factors. London, is “The City”, whereas Birmingham, although it is the second biggest city in the UK, is much more calming. I think, the fact that I enjoy London makes this transition not as painful as it is. The hustle of London City motivates me to keep going.

Each of us diverse in preferences. In cases where you might not enjoy the city as much, try to explore more, and you might just find a particular areas or activity there that you appreciate.


Final Thoughts

In general, this experience has only been what, like six months in? Even so, it is almost halfway through my whole Master’s degree. And it has taught me so much, about my subjects of study, about life and most importantly, myself.

I guess the message that I would like to convey to you, no matter what stage of life you are in, no matter what kind of transition you are in, you will always experience a sort of hardships. It is up to you whether you would want to be stuck in misery, or to fully embrace the life that you are living.

To conclude, and to go slightly beyond this article, I would like to share with you some of my all-time quotes – ones that I hold dearly since I was 10.

  1. Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass; it is about dancing in the rain. – Vivien Greene
  2. The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. – Eleanor Roosevelt
  3. And to be grateful, because no matter who you are and what you have, there are always people above and below you. Because “happiest people do not have the best of everything, they make the best of everything they have.”

Photo provided by author. 


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