5 takeaways from the first semester of my masters

​Pursuing a master’s degree abroad comes with a whole new set of challenges. Here are the five key things I learned during my first semester at Chalmers.
Exam hall filled with students

As a newcomer to postgraduate education and the beautiful country of Sweden, my first semester was a roller coaster of experiences. It was filled with a lot of “oops, I didn’t know that”, “is this the right way to do this?” and an occasional “wow, I am really glad to be here!”. It’s been close to six months now since I made my big move, half the world away from the tropical lands of India, and it has been a period of self-reflection, introspection, and some hard lessons. 

So here are the top five things, in no standard order, I wish I knew before starting my masters in Sustainable electrical power engineering and electromobility at Chalmers.

1. Time flies
A full semester seems like a very long time but when divided into two study periods, it becomes much shorter than you may realize. The labs and assignments fall between the rough 9-week duration, along with multiple student activities that may pique your interest. So, taking the time to be an active participant and staying on top of your course load is very important. 

This seems like an obvious thing for a student to practice but coming from a different education and grading system, I found it a bit difficult to settle into the life of a Swedish master’s student. One really important thing I learned was to start as early as I could and then stick to a schedule that worked for me. I am still learning as I go but having some consistency in my daily routine helps me a lot to stay in touch with everything that I’m involved in.

random displayed items in the EDIT building 2. Attend those morning classes in person
In the current hybrid mode of education skipping an 8 am class, especially when it’s still dark outside, is quite tempting. However, this is a very slippery slope as one class becomes two and slowly, a week worth of information slips by. Of course, online education and digital recordings are good tools for students who cannot attend the lessons due to their health or other personal issues, it also doesn’t work for everyone. 

This was a hard lesson to learn for me. I quickly found that attending the morning lectures was what helped me stay on track with the assignments. It kept me motivated throughout the day by making me feel as if I had a head start on the course. Interacting with the professors, tutors, and students by attending the classes physically was another huge benefit. Plus between the student union activities and the hidden gems in all the different department buildings, Chalmers keept me on my toes.

3. Focus equally on tutorials, lectures, and labs
In my previous experiences, the lectures were the most important part of the course. The tutorials and labs could be understood on my own as long as I followed the classes and was updated with the theory being discussed. However, education at Chalmers focuses heavily on the applications and problems related to the course topics.

Group of students in a lab, completing their projectsThis makes it important to not only know the problem well but also to solve it in the most efficient manner. And this is where the tutorials come in handy. They prepare you to tackle the various kinds of problems related to the theory and practice the different methods to solve them. The home assignments and extra discussions further help to broaden the understanding of the subject.

The lab sessions, on the other hand, provide an excellent opportunity to ask questions that are more related to the practical applications. They give a brief overview of the errors you may encounter in the real world, something that is not generally discussed in theory. Being alert during the labs and actively participating in the problem-solving helped me to deepen my understanding of the course and co-relate the topics covered across multiple courses.

4. Don’t panic
If there’s one thing I absolutely needed to hear during my first study period, it was this phrase. I am still relatively new to the way the courses are executed and graded at Chalmers. This made me very nervous during my first examination period. 

One thing I quickly realized was that despite the ‘newness’ of the topics, I was familiar with a lot of things that were covered. They all obeyed the same basic laws I had previously studied and were simply presented in a different way calling for a deeper understanding. It’s alright to not know the course very well in the beginning but as the lessons follow, taking the time to understand the concept is all that is needed to fill in the gaps. All big ideas germinate from small seeds, the base definitions and theory that you have studied previously. So, remember that you know more than what you think.

5. Integrate yourself within the community and explore all opportunities
I have always been fascinated with traveling and experiencing life in different parts of the world. Doing my master's in Chalmers was a big step in realizing my dreams, academic and personal. I remember the feeling of being a starry-eyed newbie in this international university, I still look like one somedays, as I tour its grounds. 

The student life at Chalmers is simply incomparable in my opinion. There is something for everybody here no matter how varied your interests might be. And if you are willing to reach out, you will find help and good company at every corner. The first semester is usually the one requiring the least amount of planning and thus, it is the perfect time to experiment with your interests. 

My biggest takeaway from this semester is to take the time to explore the activities I normally would skip. Attending all the student events that sound interesting helped me find a circle of like-minded people, most of who then became my really good friends. So, be an active student, and explore as much as you can. It helped me find my footing in a foreign land and will surely help you with yours too.

These were my five takeaways from the first semester. I have compiled them with a decent amount of self-reflection, criticism, and hopes of serving as a motivational guide for the rainy days ahead! Most of these points aren’t something new that you need to hear but simple repetitions that I hope resonate within you as you embark upon a similar journey.

Picture of the student ambassador, Smita

Author: Smita

Page manager Published: Tue 01 Feb 2022.