Supporting Taught Postgraduates

Setting goals

Help with setting goals to get the most out of your postgraduate study.

Why set goals?

You may been motivated to pursue postgraduate study to help you progress in your career, to change career direction, as a preparation for further study (for example a PhD), for interest only, or for another reason.  Whatever your reasons you will be hoping to gain additional knowledge, skills and experience during your time as a postgraduate student.  To do this it will be helpful to

  • set goals for your period of study
  • regularly review and adapt those goals to check your progress

Setting goals and developing a plan of action will encourage you to move systematically towards what you’d like to achieve.  It will give you a framework to help you see that you are making progress and as a result you will be more likely to achieve your goals.  It will also give you a clear record of what you have achieved during your period of postgraduate study, which can be helpful when applying for further study or employment towards the end of your studies.

What are your goals?

Your individual goals will depend on your reasons for doing a postgraduate degree. Goal setting works best if the goals you set yourself are as specific and as concrete as possible. Even if you have one overarching goal (for example to improve your career opportunities), breaking this down into more specific goals will increase your chances of reaching your larger goal.

The four areas below and the questions associated with them will help you to articulate specific goals for your postgraduate study.

Knowledge: Gain specialist knowledge of your subject
  • What courses can you choose from to develop knowledge in your preferred areas?
  • What seminars you can attend (in your School or across the University)?
  • What flexibility do you have in terms of projects or essay topics that will allow you to explore what interests you?
  • What dissertation topic will allow you to explore your areas of interest in more depth?
Skills: Develop or improve academic and / or work-related skills, e.g. academic writing, team working, time management, communication, leadership
  • Which specific skills do you want to focus on, and for what purpose (e.g. skills to build confidence in your academic work, or skills necessary for future career success)?
  • What is your starting point? Do you already possess some of these skills but want to improve or increase your confidence?
  • How will you develop them (e.g. through course requirements, other activities, skills courses offered by your School or the University)?
  • How will you know that you have developed your target skills or increased your confidence?
  • How will you demonstrate to others (e.g. employers or potential PhD supervisors) that you have these skills?
Network: Extend your professional and social network
  • Why do you want to extend your network?  To form a study group, to share programme information, to build friendships or to establish connections for your career?
  • Where will you extend your network? On your course, within the broader university postgraduate community, or through academic or other university staff?
  • How will you extend your network? Through group work, study groups, postgraduate events, online forums, or paid or voluntary work alongside your studies?
Experience: Gain additional work-related experience, either on or off your course
  • What is your purpose?  To gain experience of working in a particular industry sector, of working in the UK, or simply to gain experience in any new work environment?
  • How will you achieve this? Through choosing to do a work-based dissertation or (group?) projects with a work-related focus?  Through a part-time or full-time job during your studies? By meeting employers at networking events?

How do you set goals?

The process of setting and reviewing goals involves asking questions like the ones set out below.

  • What do you want to achieve? Make sure your goals are well-defined: the clearer you are about what you want to achieve, the easier it will be to identify how to achieve it
  • Who or what can help you to achieve your goals?  List the actions necessary to achieve your goals, and who or what might help you in executing them.
  • What could hinder your progress?  Identify challenges that may interfere with achieving your goals and strategies for overcoming them.
  • When do you want to achieve your goal by?  Give yourself a deadline by which you would like to achieve your goals, to enable you to review progress.  Make sure this is realistic and takes account of how much time you have available.
  • How will you know that you have achieved your goal?  Specify a concrete measure or indicator to assess your progress whether you have achieved your goal, or how far you have progressed towards it.


The document below will help you to set and review your goals throughout your postgraduate study.  Recording what you have done and how much progress you have made is an easy way of saving material to use in applications for jobs or further study.