Your decision to do a postgraduate programme will in some way have been part of your plans for your career. Whatever your subject or professional field you will expect that a postgraduate degree will provide opportunities for you after graduating. You may have chosen to do a Masters degree as a way of getting an essential qualification to enter a career of your choice, or to give you the opportunity for promotion or more rapid advancement in your career.
You may have chosen to do a Doctorate for the same reasons, or perhaps to enter a research or academic career path. Whatever your postgraduate degree, you will expect that it will give you higher status and an advantage in competition for jobs.
Some students who take postgraduate degrees, therefore, do not need much careers guidance. They know what they want to do next, and will have been seeking out opportunities in that field while they have been completing their postgraduate degree. Others, though, may need considerable assistance. This could be because they are not aware of the opportunities there may be for postgraduates or because they do not know in detail how to pursue those opportunities and make the right contacts. Even those who think they know exactly what they are going to do, though, may find careers guidance useful.
There may be many interesting opportunities for postgraduates that they had not been aware of and which might be more interesting or attractive than their original plans. It is important to think broadly about careers, for having a postgraduate degree is a real opportunity both for advancement and for taking new career pathways.
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There are three main sources of careers advice that you can use.
Your university's Careers Advisory Service
The first is the Careers Advisory Service in your university. Every university has one, and you will find information on what they do and how to contact them in your course handbook or on the university website. Most Careers Advisory Services will have either a specialist adviser for postgraduate students or an adviser who specialises in your academic area, and some may have both. Some also have a specialist careers adviser for international students. They can give you individual advice, or suggest people or organisations you might contact. Also, they will probably organise each year a specialist careers fair for postgraduate students where you can meet a wide range of employers or professional organisations to discuss careers. Even if you think you know exactly what you are going to do in your career and how to do it, it is well worth talking at least once to a careers adviser. They can confirm that your ideas or plans are possible and sensible, or alternatively may give you some ideas on other opportunities.
The second is the academic department in which you are working. The academic staff will have a lot of knowledge of careers for postgraduates in their field. They will know the academic opportunities in research or university posts, but they will also have strong professional links where the field has a professional aspect to it. Most importantly, they will be part of the national and international networks in their field, and will have many contacts. Businesses employing postgraduates will often have built strong relationships with university departments, partly to make sure they are aware of the best new postgraduates. They will advertise their opportunities on the departmental notice boards or may even e-mail you directly through mailing lists. Many postgraduate programmes will provide sessions on career opportunities, which will be useful to attend. In addition, though, you should talk with your tutors and supervisors at an early stage about the opportunities and career paths they know about.
While the guidance you receive from academic staff may be very knowledgeable and detailed, you must always remember that they are not trained careers advisers. This means that there are two potential problems. First, they will not know everything about opportunities in the field, and may only know about employers or universities that they have personal experience or knowledge of. There will be many opportunities they do not know about. Secondly, they will not always be completely objective in their advice. For example, they will be trying to persuade the best Masters students to stay on to do a PhD or the best PhD students to do post-Doctoral studies. They may also feel that careers in their own specialist part of the field are more important or worthwhile than those in other areas. So, their advice is very important, but needs to be taken alongside other information and guidance.
The third is your own networks. Through your previous student life and through any employment or professional work you have done you will already have a network of contacts you can connect with. You should use this network to find out about career opportunities that might suit you.
For international students a particular issue is the problem of finding career and job opportunities in your own country while you are still away studying in the UK. This is a challenge because you may find it hard to learn about available jobs back home, or it may take longer for you to hear of them. In addition, there are problems with practical issues such as the time it may take to send an application form or the difficulty and cost of attending an interview. There are a number of ways that you can plan to deal with this issue of distance:
• You could, of course, simply plan to wait to apply for jobs until after you have returned home.
• Friends and family can be asked to look for job advertisements or opportunities in the media or through local contacts at home, and to keep you informed.
• You can identify the professional or business organisations in your field in your own country and contact them to be placed on their e-mail or mailing lists so that you are kept aware of any opportunities.
• You can use the internet to search for opportunities.
• The Careers Advisory Service in your own university may be able to give you guidance on suitable careers websites or organisations in your own country.
• If you are looking for a career in business the UK branches of international companies will be able to advise you on opportunities within their organisation in your own country.
• If you are a Masters student you might use the summer vacation before you start your programme to visit or contact potential employers or professional organisations in your own country. You can make sure they know that you will be finishing your programme the following year and looking for a suitable career opportunity at that stage, so that they keep you informed of any possibilities. This can have an extra benefit, too, in that it is possible that a potential employer may think about sponsoring you or giving you a scholarship for the course. If you are taking a Doctorate then it may be worth planning to have a vacation at home about a year before you finish so that you can make these contacts.
Most postgraduate students find that they move on into interesting and successful career pathways after they finish their programmes. Some Masters students, of course, decide to continue their studies and apply for a Doctoral programme. Whatever your plans though, it is important to start thinking quite early in your programme about how to pursue the opportunities that may be available.