Facilitating the transition from undergraduate

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Understand the nature of the transfer from undergraduate to postgradute studies as a complex Rite of Passage which entails the acquisition of new knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes as part of the process of adaptation to the new circumstances

Adopt and adapt recognised strategies for assisting the new graduate to make the transition from undegraduate to postgraduate studies successfully


Education consists of a structured process of learning beginining in early childhood and extending, in principle, throughout the lifetime of the individual

It is typically organised into three stages or levels: Primary (age 5 to 11 or 13), Secondary (age 11-13 to 15-18) and Tertiary (or Higher) Education (age 18+ onwards)

Primary and Secondary Education is delivered at schools (Elementary, [Middle] and High Schools/Secondary Colleges), Higher Education mainly at Further Education Colleges and Universities

In contrast with Primary and Secondary Education, which are typically (or, at least, ideally) compulsory and universal, Higher Education is non-compulsory and selective.


Higher education (also referred to as post-secondary or tertiary education, third-stage or third level education) is education provided by institutions which award academic qualifications: certificates, diplomas, or degrees.

It comprises all types of academically-oriented post-secondary education, with the exception of vocational education, unless it is linked to an academic award (as in the case of the professions) and is provided by a range of institutions.

Higher education includes both the teaching and the research functions of tertiary institutions with two levels of teaching: undergraduate and graduate (or postgraduate).

The purpose of secondary education is to provide adolescent learners with general knowledge and skills to prepare them for employment, training or continued education.

The purpose of higher education has two aspects or orientations both of which build on the results of secondary education.

The first, external, aspect is oriented towards the needs of society in general and seeks to provide adult learners with enhanced and specialised knowledge and skills to prepare them for employment, continuing education or entry into or advancement in a profession.

The second, internal, aspect is oriented towards the needs of the educational establishment and attempts to create and sustain a cadre of academic professionals with a grounding in the known and the techniques for probing the unknown, and the ability to impart professional knowledge and skills to others in order to preserve, question and extend the frontiers of knowledge.


Undergraduate education consists of programmes of study leading to a first degree: typically a bachelor's degree such as a BA or BSc

Postgraduate education consists of programmes of study leading to an advanced degree: typically a Postgraduate Certificate or Diploma, Masters or Doctorate (e.g. a PGCert or PGDip, an MA or MSc, an MPhil or a PhD)

The primary objective of an undergraduate programme is to provide, in addition to a broadening of the student's knowledge, a grounding in a particular discipline and, frequently, an introduction to one or more ancillary or cognate disciplines e.g. Archeology + Classical Greek, or Marketing + French.

The primary objective of a postgraduate programme is to provide a means of deepening knowledge acquired at undergraduate level either a) by means of a more in depth treatment of a specialism contained in the discipline(s) studied for the bachelor's degree or by b) developing practical applications of the discipline(s) e.g. i) the archeology of the cities and settlements of the Hellenistic period or ii) professional commercial translation (e.g. English - French - German)


Undergraduate (first degree) programmes are typically organised as a series of courses (or modules) on a Major subject (e.g. History, Languages, Mathematics, Physics etc) and on a term-by-term or semester-by-semester basis. The dominant mode of teaching is one-to-many: the lecture.


Postgraduate (higher degree) programmes at Certificate, Diploma or Masters level are similarly organised as a series of courses (or modules) on aspects of the discipline (e.g. in Linguistics: Phonetics, Phonology, Syntax, Semantics, Pragmatics, Sociolinguistics, Psycholinguistics, Applied Linguistics etc) and on a term-by-term or semester-by-semester basis. The dominant mode of teaching is one-to-few: the workshop or seminar.

At bachelor's level, a course may include some project work but the bulk of learning takes place through input from taught courses and will normally be assessed by examination and/or continuous assessment, potentially including an extended essay or project report

Higher degree level programmes vary considerably in terms of their make up, depending on the discipline and the level of the award to which the students are working. However, the progression from PGCert/Dip through MA, Mphil to PhD is strongly marked by

a reduction in the weight of taught courses (with a potential for individual or group research) in favour of increased personal study and individual research (with or without mandatory or optional taught courses),

a growing preference, at PGCert and PGDip levels, for continuous assessment, including exercises, and essays, with the final assessment in the form of examination and/or extended essays and/or project report(s)

a greater reliance, at MA level onwards, on project or dissertation based assessments.

an overall extension of the right of choice, with students increasingly being given the option of selecting their own courses and/or topics for research or modes of assessment.


Postgraduate students are those undertaking postgraduate degree programmes in a recognised institution.

In contrast with the essentially homogeneous demographic make up of the school population and the relatively homogeneity of the undergraduate, postgraduate students appear only to have their adulthood and heterogeneity in common. This (as we shall see in § 7 and § 8) has extremely important implications for the kinds and degrees of adaptation they have to undertake, especially if they are "nonstandard" students (mature, overseas, disabled etc), as they move from bachelor to higher degree programmes.

The role of the postgraduate student is to work to enhance his/her knowledge and skills with the assistance of accredited university teachers who are responsible for the taught courses, for the supervision of individual work, for the mentoring and tutoring of particular students and for interpreting and enforcing the regulations of the institution and as the link between the student and the institution

As students move through the educational system, they are required to take greater and greater responsibility for their own learning and, thereby, shake off their dependency on the teacher and become autonomous learners and scholars

The learner's activity progressively moves from passivity and submissiveness, though co-operation on demand, to active and participative learning marked by trust and acceptance of diversity.

If the student is to take these steps, (s)he has the right to expect the supervisor to facilitate them by abandoning the traditional dominant teacher's role as director and controller of learning and adopting the more open roles of coach, mentor, stimulator, facilitator, and co-ordinator of learning.

Balancing these rights and expectations are responsibilities which the student will need to shoulder. These include responsibilities to the Tutor, to the Institution, and to him/herself:

The Student is responsible to the Tutor for the quality of the work (s) he does and to the institution (e.g. the university) to abide by the regulations it has set for the proper implementation of postgraduate programmes and to demonstrate commitment and honesty in learning.

The Student is also responsible for his/her own learning: the development of research skills: the growing ability to recognise appropriate problems, formulate and test hypotheses, critically appraise data, document, summarise, reflect, be up to date in the field, understand and appropriately apply methods and techniques be up to date and learn new techniques

The Student's role shifts as (s)he works through from PGCert to PhD.

(S)he enters this process in a state of dependency on the teacher (and, initially, on the supervisor) that (s)he carried over from school, moves on to growing independence from the mentor and, finally, to the collegial interdependence of peers.

The Student's model of these shifting power relationships (teacher-student: peer-peer) reflects the development of the Medieval European craftsman who begins as an Apprentice to a Master, becomes a Journeyman and, ultimately, a Master in his own right with Apprentices of his own.

This movement carries with it implications for the rights and responsibilities of the student and of the supervisor/tutor/mentor: particularly the issue of motivation (see § 17 on this).


As the learner moves through the educational system, each stage marks a rite of passage which carries with it new challenges that generate new needs and require adaptation to a different way of life.

The extent to which these needs are satisfied and the individual is able to adjust to the new environment directly influences the individual's motivation and, ultimately, ability to satisfy the demands of the institution

Going to school for the first time can be a traumatic experience, since it marks the transition from infant to child, so similarly, can moving from Primary to Secondary, which normally coincides with the onset of puberty and the shift from child to young adult.

Entering Higher Education can be an even greater challenge, since it coincides with and marks the acceptance of the individual into the community as a legally recognised adult. Often, this is also the first occasion that students are away from their parents and friends and this requires them to adapt to a new life: the new campus, the new programme, new teachers, new classmates, new accommodation, new food, and new friends.

Even becoming a postgraduate in the institution from which they gained their bachelors degrees can be problematic but in subtle ways. In particular, the attitudes of the "same" academic staff to students change. For example, they no longer monitor in the overt way they did with undergraduates and progressively shift their teaching style away from instructing to facilitating individual learning.

The end of each stage of higher education is universally marked by some formal ceremony at which successful students are officially granted their awards and publically recognised as graduates.

The beginning of each stage is, in contrast, usually less clearly marked. Although there is likely to be a Prospectus issued by the institution and often some kind of formal or informal induction, the responsibility for easing the transition falls mainly on the shoulders of teaching staff (teachers, lecturers, tutors).


The major parameters in learning are a) the content (what has to be learned), b) the context (where and when the learning is to take place) and c) the participants (who is involved).

Of the three, the participants are probably the crucial variable in terms of the success of the process. Each has particular long-term and short-term motives and needs (the why of the equation) and, just as the teacher has particular preferred strategies for teaching, so has the learner for learning; both answers to the question of how? Congruence between the teacher's and the learner's strategies is an important, perhaps a criterial, requirement for the successful outcome of an educational programme (see § 12 on teaching and learning styles and § 17 and § 18 on motivation and needs).


Learning can be divided into what is learned and how it is learned - content and mode - and, within the alternative ways of learning, preferred learning styles.


Learning the content consists of the acquisition of knowledge: facts and skills: factual and procedural knowledge: knowing that and knowing how.

But knowledge is not neutral: it brings with it explicit (and implicit) attitudes and values which also form part of the acquisition process and this attitudinal knowledge affects not only the way in which the facts and skills are acquired but also how the individual interprets them and puts what is learned into practice.

The factual knowledge for the learner will be the body intellectual knowledge within the discipline and the procedural or practical knowledge the skills and techniques required for its acquisition and application which, in the case of the postgraduate student, will not only include literacy, computer literacy, and numeracy but also a range of communication skills such as active participation in seminars, presenting at conferences etc).


Commonsense tells us that there are default modes of learning for different kinds of content: the way something is learned depends on what it is.

Facts (e.g. dates and names) need to be memorized

Concepts (e.g. intellectual models of phenomena) have to be understood

Activities (e.g. swimming) demand physical activity and constant practice to keep at peak level

These defaults apply to specific aspects of a discipline rather than to a particular discipline as a whole. For example, in chemistry, the periodic table needs to be memorised but the influence of valency on chemical reactions cannot be memorised. It has to be understood as a system. Equally, while it is important to know what is involved in an experiment and why, the actual conduct of the experiment requires the application of skilled laboratory techniques which can only be acquired through use: demonstration and guided trial and error.

In higher education, there seems to be little call for memorising but far more emphasis on understanding and the development of learning skills and research methods and finding ways of applying the acquired knowledge


Irrespective of the default mode for a particular content, students adopt their own personal learning styles which may be defined in part by where they are located on the following five dichotomous dimensions:

sensing-intuitive: preferentially perceiving information through the senses (sights, sounds, physical sensations) or through intuition (memories, ideas, insights)

visual-verbal: perceiving sensory information most effectively through the visual channel (pictures, diagrams, graphs, demonstrations) or the verbal (sounds, written and spoken words and formulae)

inductive-deductive: preferring information to be organised inductively (facts and observations presented first from which underlying principles are inferred) or deductively (the principles are given fist and from these consequences and applications are deduced)

active-reflective: processing information actively (through engagement in physical activity or discussion) or reflectively (through introspection)

sequential-global: progresses towards understanding sequentially (in a logical progression of small incremental steps) or globally (in large jumps, holistically)

Naturally, a student's preference on a given scale (e.g. for inductive or deductive presentation) may be strong, moderate or weak, change over time and vary, depending on the subject or the setting and the combinations generate a total of 32 potential learning styles.

Nonetheless, seven relatively distinct learner types do emerge

Visual (spatial): a preference for using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.

Aural (auditory-musical): a preference for using sound and music.

Verbal (linguistic): a preference for using words, both in speech and writing.

Physical (kinesthetic): a preference for using his/her body, hands and sense of touch.

Logical (mathematical): a preference for using logic, reasoning and systems.

Social (interpersonal): a preference for learning in groups or with other people.

Solitary (intrapersonal): a preference for working alone and using self-study.

There are implications here for both the learner and the teacher. Both need to know what kind of learner/teacher (s)he is and the teacher needs to adopt a range of styles and techniques which are congruent or at least not antipathetic to the preferred styles of the learners.

Since preferred teaching styles presumably derive from the teacher's own preferred learning style (s)he may well assume it to be the most appropriate for particular content and, as a result, attempt to impose a preconceived and not necessarily appropriate learning style on the students.


The defining characteristic of a research based programme of studies is that it must include the creation of a piece of original research by the student which leads to the award of a Higher Degree (most commonly a Doctorate) by the institution.

Research is defined by academic institutions as original investigation undertaken in order to gain knowledge and understanding and, while gaining knowledge might be narrowly seen as amassing facts, understanding necessarily involves explanation: finding out why the phenomenon is as it is.

The essence of research is, therefore, problem solving which involves:

the isolation and specification of the problem: the setting of a clear and attainable objective and the definition of its associated research question in tightly formulated, compact, and brief terms. Until this is done, deciding on what data (if any) is needed, what methodologies should be used and so forth is pointless.

setting of the problem and question in context by considering the factors that are likely to make the attainment of the objective (answering of the research question) easier or more difficult. There are, inevitably, internal and external constraints: a) attributes that the student possesses that are helpful to achieving the objective and those which that are harmful to achieving it and b) contextual variables: external conditions that are helpful or harmful to achieving the objective. A useful tool which illuminates these variables is the SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) which takes these constraints and considers the impact of each in the successful achievement of the goal.

planning and carrying out the investigative process. The key stages of the planning process are 1) specifying objectives (key, critical and specific), 2) organising the implementation of the plan (providing the means and appointing the agents) and 3) ensuring the validation and evaluation of the process (in terms of efficiency and effectiveness) both as it unfolds (monitoring) and as it comes to an end (summative assessment).


A research programme, unlike a taught course programme, may begin at any point in the academic year and, although the ideal is for completion within three years, many research students take longer than that to submit.

Research degree programmes (at MPhil and PhD level) consist of few (perhaps no) courses and focus on a single aspect of a specialism within a discipline. The dominant mode of teaching is one-to-one: the tutorial.

Whatever the duration, a research programme must pass through three (ideally annual) stages each of which is dedicated to a different activity or series of activities which are planned and organised to form a critical path leading to the presentation of the thesis (see Chapter 3 on this).


All that has been said earlier (in § 7 about the transition from undergraduate to postgraduate studies applies with equal or perhaps even greater validity to the final shift from taught postgraduate programmes to research based.

The research student is even more challenged by the change in status and is required to become much more self sufficient and self motivated (see § # on this).


Motivation is a drive that compels an individual to act in a way which is directed towards some goal.

It may be intrinsic, deriving from personal interests, desires, and internal needs. It can be seen in the engagement of an individual in an activity for its own sake rather than for any obvious external incentive e.g. a hobby.

It may be extrinsic, deriving from external factors such as rewards or punishments. It can be seen when an individual engages in an activity because of obvious external incentives e.g. working for money rather than enjoyment and personal fulfilment. Motivation plays a crucial role in student learning.

In education it is accepted that high intrinsic motivation is associated with high achievement and enjoyment but also that extrinsic motivation - feeling the need to score good marks or gain a higher degree classification - also has a positive effect.


A general model of motivation suggests that human beings share a common set of needs whose satisfaction provides the conditions for positive motivation (and the converse) and that the person advances to the next level of needs only after the lower level need has been at least minimally satisfied.

The needs can be subdivided into two type: a) primitive, basic "lacks" (physical and social) the satisfaction of which can facilitate motivation but are not, in themselves, a guarantee of it, and b) more sophisticated "growth" needs (aesthetic and developmental) which, even in the face of continuing lacks, do so.

The first set consists of four needs: i) physiological, ii) safety, iii) social, and iv) esteem.

i) Physiological needs relate to the needs of the living organism for food, water, sleep, shelter etc which ensure its continued existence. If some needs are not fulfilled, a person's physiological needs take the highest priority. Physiological needs can control thoughts and behaviours and can cause people to feel sickness, pain, and discomfort.

ii) Safety needs include both a) protection against physical or psychological attack and b) the security which comes from predictablity, order, the frequent occurrence of the familiar and the rare occurrence of the unfamiliar.

iii) Social needs relate to the desire to be accepted and loved: to have a sense of "belonging". This involves the retention and strengthening of the primary relationships of family, kinship and friendship and the building and preservation of supportive or at least non-threatening secondary relationships: work etc.

iv) Esteem needs relate to the need, to have self-esteem and self-respect, and to be respected and to respect others. To gain recognition individuals engage in activities that give them a sense of value and of contribution. Low self esteem can be very corrosive of the individual personality and lead to deep demotivation.

v) The second set consists of a single, final need which is concerned with "being" and developing rather than merely existing. Striving to realize one's own maximum potential and possibilities is the master motive which can override even unsatisfied deficiency needs. What counts is not the context of the work but its content. When the work itself is seen as providing great satisfaction - extending the potential of the individual - people will accept appalling conditions to do the job. Examples can be readily seen in the commitment of paramedics at the scene of an accident or the hours of painful physical exercise the dedicated dancer is willing to endure in order to create a perfect performance.


The student moving from undergraduate to postgraduate studies or within postgraduate studies to a research degree programme is faced not only by the need to acquire or enhance appropriate knowledge and skills but also to modify attitudes to the new situation (s)he faces.

Responding positively and successfully to these challenges requires a high level of sustained motivation which cannot be achieved unless the student's needs are satisfied or, at the very least, reduced to the point where they no longer constitute a demotivating factor.

Those who teaching and/or tutor him/her must, therefore, be aware of situations - including their own interaction with the student - which can constitute a threat and set about attempting to remedy or neutralise them.

Demotivating factors can occur at all five levels and, equally, remedial action can be taken to reduce or even cancel their effects:


Student motivation is likely to be reduced by such physical matters as personal ill health, inadequate space for teaching and learning, rooms which are dirty, poorly maintained, and lit, at wrong level of temperature and humidity etc.


While the danger of physical attack is likely to be small in a university, that of disorganisation and uncertainty is not. Some examples include:

poorly planned and structured input delivered in a way which is not conducive to learning is likely to reduce motivation (see § 8 on the relationship of teacher and learner styles).

the study load is heavier in university than in secondary school and the opportunities for non academic activities are far greater. This implies that students must be focused, disciplined and develop good time management techniques if they are to make the most out of their time at university. A clear jointly agreed timetable with realistic milestones built into it is therefore a necessity (see § 13 and § 14 on planning)

the student also needs to understand the internal and external forces which constitute potential obstacles to the work (see § 13 on this) and ask:

What are my strengths and how can I use each of them?

What are my weaknesses and how can I reduce or remove them?

What opportunities can I perceive and how can I exploit them?

What threats do I face and how can I defend against or neutralise them?

The SWOTs the student discovers can form part of the basis for facilitating the research by acting as inputs to the creative generation of possible strategies,

The attitude of the tutor to the student can also constitute a powerful positive or negative motivational force. The accepting and non judgemental tutor who praises appropriate work rather than criticises the inappropriate goes far to providing a level of security which facilitates learning.


The student needs to feel that (s)he is a member of the academic community rather than an outsider. This assumes the fostering of positive relationships between tutors and students and between students and students: nurturing friendships, creating appropriate degrees of closeness etc.

The tutor can do much by adopting open styles of teaching and interaction which entail the abandonment of teacher dominated 'top-down' processes and their replacement by a 'bottom-up: top-down' iterative style which rather than assuming a "solution" seeks to arrive at a 'provisional truth' shared by (most of) the participants about the problem and possible solutions to it.

Relationships between students which are probably most conducive to motivation are those which are founded on mutual trust and co-operation rather than suspicion and competition: peer tutoring and joint research activities provide opportunities for this.


A situation in which an individual possesses self-esteem, receives respect from others, and, reciprocally, shows respect to them provides students with opportunities for confidence building and pride in their achievements and is likely to be highly motivating.

Indicators of such a situation will include:

Self-esteem: individuals developing new knowledge in the basis of their existing background and specific knowledge and being able to share this with others in a competent way.

Respect for and from others: a learning environment in which students are positive and nonjudgmental and empathetic and good listeners


It must be the case for the vast majority of the academic community - staff and students alike - that each individual sees self actualisation as the fundamental purpose of the activity.

Motivation in such a context is likely to be intrinsic rather than extrinsic: rewards in the form of promotions, titles, fame are, as it were, byproducts rather than the goal.

In knowledge-sharing communities and organizations, such as universities, altruistic reasons for participation tend to be cited: contributing to a common good, having a moral obligation to the group, mentorship or 'giving back'.

References follow