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The postgraduate's advantage in the job market
Undergraduate study teaches, postgraduate study helps you to learn. The difference is illuminating. Working towards postgraduate qualifications provides a deeper understanding of your subject, highly portable skills and an international network of professional contacts. And it's not always the most obvious programmes that offer the best route.
University-based postgraduate programs
Jason Palmer is from the US and took bachelor degrees in physics and maths at the University of Florida. He is now pursuing a PhD in Physical Chemistry at Imperial College, London and is considering doing postdoctoral research in Spain: 'I was working in California when a colleague suggested the PhD. It's had its ups and downs, but I'm very pleased I did it. Not only have I been able to contribute to the body of knowledge of my research area, but I've got a lot of useful additions to my CV.'
Taught postgraduate programs frequently provide in-depth knowledge for specialist disciplines. The MSc in World Animal Production from the University of Wales, Bangor, for example, is aimed at those with careers in raising livestock, and studies both temperate and tropical animal production systems. The MSc in Industrial Rocks and Minerals from the Camborne School of Mines is particularly popular with overseas students, all of whom have returned to conduct geological surveys in their own country. Many such university programmes arise out of non-academic needs and link directly with specialist careers.
Practical specialist skills
Some postgraduate routes are designed specifically for those already started on their career. The University of Law, for example, offers an International Practice Diploma Program of continuing legal education for lawyers, the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Test, which enables lawyers from outside England and Wales to qualify as solicitors, and English Law for Foreign Lawyers, a structured training programme in English and EU law for lawyers outside Europe.
Edilou France-Massey, from Venezuela, says: 'I was a practising lawyer before coming to the College,, but I wanted to qualify as a lawyer in the UK. I'm particularly enjoying the Legal Practice Course (LPC) as it's training me to think in a practical way.'
Many LPC students at the University of Law have the opportunity to practice their skills by giving legal advice to members of the public. Edilou again: 'the Legal Advice Clinics were particularly interesting and challenging as we were facing issues which we'd have to deal with all the time in our future careers.' Bola Olayiwola Olosun, a Nigerian student at the college agrees: 'I want to be involved with human rights and international law, and I'm already using what I'm learning at college. I'm currently pursuing two cases at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasburg.'
Some specialist skills stem from postgraduate fieldwork. Jose Xavier from Portugal took a degree in marine biology and fisheries at the University of Algarve before taking a PhD in Zoology at the University of Cambridge. Now employed as a postdoctoral researcher with the British Antarctic Survey, Jose finds the fieldwork particularly gratifying: 'Having the opportunity to study zoology on an isolated Antarctic island, collecting my own data and improving my methodology in the field was a real privilege. I also learned a lot of techniques, such as satellite-tracking, analysing sea-surface temperatures, developing a Geographical Information System (GIS) programme to combine different data etc, all of which will be very useful in my future career.'
Postgraduate study is widely recognised as representing a career investment. Sometimes students finance themselves and sometimes companies or governments sponsor staff to study for relevant postgraduate qualifications. Such was the case with Silvana Silva, a Brazilian student doing a PhD in Microbiology at the Natural History Museum, London. Silvana says: 'I'm sponsored by my government, and so must return and work for them for a few years after I qualify, but, eventually, I want to become a lecturer. The facilities are fantastic at the Museum and I particularly enjoy being treated as an independent expert.'
Industry, research organisations and academia increasingly collaborate on research projects for the mutual benefit of organisations and individuals. Students working on such projects not only gain valuable experience, but also come into contact with employers looking to recruit or retain high-flying staff.
Keeping up to date with current thinking, skills and techniques is vital for a successful career and postgraduate qualifications are an excellent way of maintaining professional development. Jos Kuijper is Head of Quality Management at Europcontrol in Brussels, the European organisation for the safety of air navigation. As part of his senior management training programme, Jos chose the Executive Development Programme at Henley Management College. He says: 'I work on strategic change within Eurocontrol. The practical project within the Henley program focused on how to lead change and improve efficiency in strategic change management. It was ideal to help with my work. The programme also mirrored the multicultural ethos of Eurocontrol as program participants came from many different countries.'
Postgraduate study opens doors
Increasingly, postgraduate qualifications are becoming benchmarks of excellence for employers, colleagues and professional organisations alike. The possession of such qualifications indicates superior ability. Postgraduate programmes not only provide subject knowledge or specific skills for a particular career, but also develop important transferable skills.
Jason Palmer comments: 'Critical reading, computer literacy, the ability to manage a project or glean information efficiently – quite apart from the specialist research, I've gained so many portable skills.' Jose Xavier agrees: 'My postgraduate qualifications gave me some very basic life tools – maturity, experience, capacity to argue a point, time management etc, etc – all of which makes me more confident about the future.'
Perhaps Nadine Johnston from Australia puts it best: 'Presenting my research and participating in international conference has enhanced my verbal and interpersonal skills. Writing research proposals, my thesis and manuscripts for publication in scientific journals has developed my writing skills. I have developed computer and analytical skills, and completing the PhD to time requires a great deal of commitment and organisation: all of these are important in many careers.'
Postgraduate education provides professional credibility, specialist experience and a wide range of generic skills. As Silvana Silva says: "if you want to enhance your career, then postgraduate qualifications are the way to do it – and if you want the extra edge, then study abroad."