Postgraduate study, whether at Masters or PhD level, is a popular choice, but given that postgrads cost a significant amount of money, how can you be sure if the investment is right for you and your future career?
Well there is no cast iron guarantee but according to the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education 2015 survey, 92% of the 42,328 Masters leavers in 2013/14 were in work or further study six months after graduation.
Undertaking a postgraduate course can be an opportunity to ‘pivot’ or change your career direction to find a role that gives you satisfaction and which you’re going to enjoy.
What should you consider when embarking on postgraduate study in order to change direction?
This decision requires you to think about some big questions such as What is important to me? What am I interested in? Why would I want to work in this area?
Understanding what motivates you and what your values are is key to working out what type of career will be a good match for you. I coach many people who want to change careers mid-life because they ‘fell into’ something after university and then became stuck. So spending the time answering those questions now is incredibly valuable if you want your career to be fulfilling and give you a sense of purpose.
Dan had worked for a few years as an Administrator for a green think tank after leaving university but felt that he wasn’t developing his career even though the environment he worked in was very stimulating. He knew he wanted to be delivering more practical change within the sustainability agenda. He realised postgraduate study made sense and has just started an MSc in Outdoor Environmental and Sustainability Education, also organising a three month voluntary project manager role in Mexico when he has finished the programme. This will give him practical experience as well as a qualification. By thinking strategically he is positioning himself well for making job applications on his return from Central America.
Ask yourself what you want to be doing in 3-5, or even 10 years time? You can then work backwards in order to plan what you need to do to make the most of your postgraduate study, and which opportunities to say yes to because they fit with your long term goal. It will also help you stay focused and achieve your goal.
Chloe, for example, wanted to do an MA in History of Art with a view to a job as Curator at a gallery or museum. However, when she asked herself that big question she realised that ultimately she wanted to be the person who would conceive and execute the curatorial programme, she wanted to be the Director of somewhere like the Tate Modern. She understood this would not happen for many years but having such an inspiring goal allowed her to see each step of her plan, including her expensive MA, and the initial junior roles would betaking her closer to where she wanted to be in the long term.
Exploit your Niche
A postgraduate course allows you to develop a depth of knowledge in a particular field, so choosing to focus your dissertation or thesis on a topic that your potential employer will be interested in can be incredibly valuable in helping you stand out. Do your research on what employers you want to work for need answering or addressing, consider a work placement so you can understand more easily what topic an employer would find fascinating.
Sue Moseley, Senior Careers Consultant with London University agrees, she suggested ‘think of your research and dissertation as a ‘trojan horse’ to get on the inside of the organisations you may want to work for – you can ask them for research participants, offer to present the findings to them and make valuable contacts’.
However, make sure you find your research topic fascinating too. Your research proposal and dissertation require a huge amount of effort and energy so you need to be motivated and interested to do it.
Launch your own business
Postgrads can also be a way to equip yourself for the future if you’re interested in running your own business or social enterprise. Undertaking a postgrad prior to starting your own business may not necessarily be an obvious route but it could be a sound investment. The number of start ups in the UK hit 608,110 in 2015 according to national enterprise campaign StartUp Britain. MScs in Entrepreneurship and Innovation are now available, with some offering a more applied approach to learning to suit a more practical audience. You can gain the necessary knowledge and support before you launch your idea which could provide a shortcut to business success.
A postgraduate degree is not only an opportunity for personal development, where you can plan and take control of your future but it can also be a springboard into a new career. It will give you the chance to make contacts through both your course and your research which will enable you to build networks in your field. You will have access to an alumni network to explore opportunities. Plus if you can also publish your research in an academic journal then this can also add to your credibility with potential employers.
Finally, although many employers don’t require a postgrad as an essential, by choosing to undertake one you are demonstrating a commitment to the topic and extending your knowledge in a specific professional sector which is a big plus when applying for jobs.
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This article first appeared in Guardian Students
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