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Is a Masters Right for me? Assessing Your Options for Postgraduate Study

Joe O'Brien1 July 2020

Read time: 3 minutes

Written by Nicole Estwick, Careers Consultant at UCL Careers.

Dissertation complete. Exams over and Graduation is approaching. What’s next? For some, heading straight into full time employment may be the obvious choice but for a growing number of students, further study is becoming an increasingly popular option, particularly this year where according to careers platform Prospects* there has been a 40% increase in postgraduate course searches during Spring 2020- the period in which the Covid 19 outbreak reached its peak in the UK.

But how do you decide whether or not continuing onto postgraduate study is right for you, especially as someone who may be graduating this year? In this post we’ll cover some of the key points you may want consider in your decision making process.

  1. Should I do a Masters straight after my undergraduate degree?

Continuing on to complete a Masters straight after your undergraduate degree is a popular option for those who do not wish to disrupt the familiarity of studying at university or want to continue to develop a deeper understanding of their subject, however it is not the only option. Many individuals who study at postgraduate level are in fact mature students with 61% aged 25 or older coming back to study after a period of work experience. In some cases, employers may even sponsor students to complete a Masters part time alongside their professional role.

In the current climate where parts of the job market remain unclear for graduates, continuing onto complete a Masters this year may help you to build up your skills and expertise in a particular area to increase your chances of success for when the job market returns to normal so it’s worth considering if this could be an option for you. Alternatively you may want to assess if it would be better to take on postgraduate study after or alongside gaining work experience and once you have a clearer sense of your career goals.

  1. Is a Masters essential for my chosen career path?

A Postgraduate level qualification is an essential requirement to enter some professions, but not all, therefore it’s important to assess the value of a Masters qualification in relation to your career goals.

Take the time to research this by looking at job descriptions to see if a Masters is listed as essential (required) or desirable (not required) and gather insights from individuals working in the field you’re interested in through networking platforms such as LinkedIn or the UCL Alumni Online Community. Finally, seeking out whether the companies you are interested in are hiring at present and what value they  place against work experience vs. academic qualifications is also very useful – this will vary from sector by sector but the insights gathered may help you to move forward in making a decision on whether to continue your studies.

  1. How will I fund further study?

Another big consideration to make in terms of pursuing further study is the financial investment required. Postgraduate study in the UK differs to your undergraduate degree in that course fees vary across subjects and can be higher in some cases than your original degree meaning that you may need to . Although there are financial bursaries and scholarships available, these vary between each university and can be competitive. Before making a decision, it is worth assessing if pursuing a postgraduate degree would be a good investment and if you have the tools in place to support yourself financially for an extended period of study along with general living costs. The website findamasters.com has some useful advice on this.

  1. Have I considered alternative options?

Finally, postgraduate study is not solely limited to Masters Programmes and some professions such as accountancy and HR require separate qualifications that must be completed as industry standard. These can be Postgraduate Certificate or Postgraduate Diploma courses. Another alternative are online courses available on platforms such as Futurelearn, Coursera and more which offer a chance to gain a in a broad range of academic and vocational subjects. Although these may not go into the same level of detail as a traditional Masters course and accreditation may vary, they offer a more flexible and often cheaper way to gain a qualification that you can make use of in your future career. It’s worth considering if this form of further study is recognised by employers in the area you’re interested in and if this could work for you as an alternative to a traditional Master’s qualification.

Thinking through your ideas for further study with the points above in mind may help you in your decision making process on whether or not to continue your studies as applications come to a close over the summer months.

For those requiring further support in assessing their options you can book into speak to a careers consultant in a 1:1 short guidance appointment or check out our ‘Should I do a Masters?’ CareersLab video.

Should I do a PhD | CareersLab

skye.aitken27 November 2019

In this video podcast, Raj talks with two UCL academics about what doing a PhD means, the advantages, the disadvantages, and what things to consider before deciding. See timecodes for specific topics discussed, in the description box below the video on YouTube.

We’re posting a new CareersLab video every week on the UCL Careers YouTube channel and right here on the UCL Careers blog.

If you’re a UCL student or recent graduate and you have a question you’d like Raj to answer in a future CareersLab video then please email us at careers.marketing@ucl.ac.uk.

Don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel and the UCL Careers Newsletter so you never miss an episode.

UCL Careers Researchers Programme – Summer 2019

UCL Careers18 March 2019


Find your future: UCL Careers Researchers EventsUCL Careers are delighted to confirm their programme of workshops and events for the summer term 2019, specifically designed for UCL’s Researcher’s community.

The programme includes workshops led by UCL Careers Consultants, for careers both in academia and beyond, to help researchers identify and develop core competencies, which are vital for competing in the job market, as well as a mix of Employer Forums and Employer Workshops that give the opportunity to hear from professionals in a range of sectors outside of academia, to ask questions, understand the job market and build business networks.

Researchers won’t want to miss the big event of the summer term – the annual full-day ‘Professional Careers Beyond Academia’ Conference. Presented by UCL Populations & Lifelong Health Domain Early Career Network & UCL Careers, supported by UCL Organisational Development, this conference will be held at the Institute of Child Health on 6th June, focusing on the field of life & health sciences and its related areas, such as UK and Global Public Health, Science Communications, Research & Development, Consultancy, Government Policy and more.

Booking on all events is now open.

For the full programme of events/workshops coming up for researchers this summer and book your place/s, please view the ‘Events Calendar’ on our Researchers page.

 

Any queries, please contact careers.researchers@ucl.ac.uk

UCL Careers Essentials – New for 2016/17

UCL Careers3 November 2016

Screen Shot 2016-11-03 at 13.29.24 A series of lunchtime talks and experiential workshops providing insight, advice and interactive opportunities to engage with all aspects of careers management and navigating selection processes no matter where you are in your careers thinking.

From understanding the graduate job market to career decision-making; mock aptitude tests to interview success; finding and funding a PHD to getting to grips with Linkedin and social media – the programme aims to equip you with the essential know-how to begin to move forward and engage more confidently with ‘Finding your Future’.

Talks and workshops titles will be repeated on a regular basis in the Autumn, Spring and post-exam season. Please register to attend using the links below. For more information and to register to attend – http://www.ucl.ac.uk/careers/events/essentials

Essentials Programme


Improve your CV
7th November 1-2pm,
repeated 21st November 1-2pm

Did you know that the average employer can spend less than 30 seconds assessing a CV? Is it true that some employers ignore personal profiles? Should a CV be more than just a life history of everything you’ve ever done?

Find out how to market yourself effectively in a UK CV in this interactive session. We’ll simulate a CV sifting exercise allowing you to ‘sit in the recruiter’s shoes’ and assess multiple CVs under time pressure. Understand how to create a strong first impression, keep the reader’s interest and make your evidence ‘relevant’.
Book Now


Application forms, cover letters and supporting statements
10th November 1-2pm,
repeated 22nd November 1-2pm

Do companies use ‘killer questions’ to sift out weaker candidates in application forms? Does a recruiter pay more attention to a CV or cover letter? What’s the difference between a ‘functional’ and a ‘narrative’ personal statement?

In this interactive session, we’ll review motivation and competency-based application answers, assess sample cover letters and personal statements and get an insider’s view on what recruiters are really looking for.
Book Now


Succeeding at interviews
17th November 1-2pm

Did you know that most interview questions are predictable or that what you say can be less important than how you say it?

If you’ve been invited to an interview, you’ve already impressed but for most, interviewing is a daunting experience – so how can you navigate interviews successfully?

Find out how to prepare ahead for the types of questions you can expect, create a strong first impression and learn answering strategies for motivational, competency and strength-based questions. We’ll critique videos of graduate-level interviews and get inside the recruiter’s head to understand what they’re really looking for.
Book Now


To register and find out about future Careers Essential events – http://www.ucl.ac.uk/careers/events/essentials UCL Careers

Chris Penny’s Communications Internship at Portland Press

Weronika Z Benning5 May 2016

Internships, placements, work shadowing….when it comes to selecting a career they’re all great ways to ‘try before you buy’. Some UCL PhD programmes contain a mandatory placement period, a few months where students must do something unrelated to their research. These prove invaluable to the students involved, so in this series of posts we hope to spread the career knowledge by speaking to three PhDs about their placement experiences.

Communication-1024x1024

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interview by Shadae Samuels, Placements and Vacancies Officer, UCL Careers.

Image taken from Chris Garcia.

Chris Penny is a current PhD student with the London Interdisciplinary Doctoral Training Programme.  He is based in Sandip Patel’s lab and his PhD project is studying the molecular physiology and signalling functions of an intracellular ion channel. Through Chris’ project he was able to experience writing papers and reviews, which piqued his interest in potentially pursuing a career in publishing. This made publishing the perfect option for his PIPS placement to provide him with the opportunity to gain new skills and find out as much as possible about the industry. Chris secured a 12 week placement with Portland Press, a leading provider of high-quality publishing and knowledge dissemination solutions. He was supervised by the Executive Editor, Clare Curtis.

How did Chris secure his PIPS with Portland Press?

Chris initially researched a large number of publishing houses, he speculatively sent his CV and cover letter; he would then follow up his application with a phone call to the organisation. He found this approach was quite time-consuming and did not yield a high response, so Chris reached out to his own network for contacts in the publishing industry. Luckily Chris had a friend who previously worked at Portland Press Ltd and they put him in touch with a member of the editorial team. Chris organised an interview, and he was offered an internship starting a few months later. Chris would advise anyone applying for internships to utilise their contacts and be persistent in following up with the organisation. Having a contact in the organisation really helps with getting your application noticed!

What did the company look for in a placement student?

Portland Press wanted someone who was enthusiastic, willing to learn, and able to ‘have a go’ at a variety of tasks, some of which were mundane and others that would be more challenging. It was good to have someone who had little or no experience in the publishing industry so that they did not arrive with any preconceived ideas. The only requirement they had was for the intern to have scientific knowledge.

What did Chris do on his placement?

Portland Press is the wholly owned publishing subsidiary of the Biochemical Society, and produces the Biochemical Journal and Clinical Science, among other titles. It is a really exciting time to work there, with both the Society and the Press going through a number of changes to their look, systems and processes. Chris’ role mainly consisted of qualitative and quantitative data analysis, building upon his lab skills in the context of publishing. This included carrying out extensive citation analysis, looking at which research is high profile and which areas could be improved. Helping with the peer review submitted articles, Chris was able to generate strategies for expanding the research that is published by Portland Press, and he helped with commissioning experts to write the hot topics of the week.

What did Chris gain from the experience?

The placement was an opportunity for Chris to experience the other side of academic publishing. From the placement Chris gained commercial awareness, which he found particularly useful as this experience is very difficult to come by during a PhD. He improved on his analytical skills, market research skills by soliciting reviews, launching new content and searching for peer reviewers. Chris broadened his scientific interests as he was exposed to research in areas he was almost completely unaware of previously.

How did the placement contribute to Portland Press?

Portland Press is going through a period of significant change both in organisational structure and in processes. The work Chris undertook provided some foundations for future development of the department, and helped the creation of an overall strategy. The Biochemical Society is committed to the advancement of science for academics and students. Part of its ethos is to foster education and student opportunities. Therefore being part of the BBSRC PhD placement programme was the perfect way to meet this for Portland Press.

Has the placement influenced Chris’s career direction?

Since the start of his PhD Chris always wanted to go into post-doctoral work, however he enjoyed the editorial and strategic aspects of his placement.  Therefore Chris would certainly consider joining an editorial board while in academia if possible, but would also consider working in publishing outside of academia. Chris has a better understanding of the publishing industry and hopes the experience will come in handy for articles he will publish in the future.

If you’re a UCL PhD or researcher wondering how to secure work experience or a more permanent post, book an appointment to speak with one of our advisers. And for advertised opportunities check out UCL Talent Bank and JobOnline.

Alice Lui’s Festival Experience at Science Museum

Weronika Z Benning30 April 2016

Internships, placements, work shadowing….when it comes to selecting a career they’re all great ways to ‘try before you buy’. Some UCL PhD programmes contain a mandatory placement period, a few months where students must do something unrelated to their research. These prove invaluable to the students involved, so in this UCL Careers Researchers series of posts we hope to spread the career knowledge by speaking to three PhDs about their placement experiences.

Science-Museum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interview by Shadae Samuels, Placements and Vacancies Officer, UCL Careers.

Image taken from Allan Watt.

Alice Lui is a current PhD student with the London Interdisciplinary Doctoral Training Programme; based in Saul Purton’s lab her PhD project is studying the synthesis of fungible biofuels in cyanobacteria. Alice initially wanted to gain experience in science communications to reach the wider public beyond academia. The placement team brokered a relationship with the Science Museum who offered exclusive roles to PIPS students, one of which was the chance to work at one of their upcoming festivals. This was the perfect opportunity for Alice to gain experience in science communication to a wider audience, she applied and was offered the position after having an interview. She was supervised by the Assistant Content Developer, Pippa Hough.

How did Alice secure her placement with Science Museum?

The placements team was aware that Science Museum were interested in taking on UCL students as interns so we got in touch and informed them of BBSRC/LIDo programme. They were keen to host such students on a placement and offered two exclusive PIPS opportunities, Alice sent her CV and cover letter to Science Museum, and she was then invited to an interview and then offered the position to begin shortly after.

What was The Science Museum looking for in their placement student?

The Science Museum wanted a student who would be able to work to tight deadlines, has excellent research skills, and would be able to handle a lot of changes! Alice’s expertise in synthetic biology and bio-sciences in general really stood out in her application/interview as this would be helpful in translating complicated research papers.

What did Alice do on her placement?

The main focus of Alice’s placement was to research and develop the scientific content for the ‘You Have Been Upgraded’ festival on the topic of human enhancement technologies. Her time was spent mostly on researching the area of human enhancement and synthetic biology. She contacted academics, artists and individuals involved in this area of research and interviewed them about their work and whether they would be interested in being involved in the festival. Alice also researched possible demonstrations that could be shown during the festival.  During the week leading up to the festival, Alice helped with setting up the festival space. During the festival Alice supported the scientists and interacted with the public, she was also responsible for researching possible objects that could feature in the museum.

What did Alice gain from the experience?

The main thing Alice gained from her placement was the confidence to communicate! She improved on her communication skills as she was communicating with people outside the industry and therefore had to learn how to engage a lay audience. This was extremely valuable to her especially if she decides to embark on a career outside of academia. Alice learned the importance of being organised which improved her time management skills.

How did the placement contribute to The Science Museum?

Alice’s ability to think fast on her feet and problem solve on the go really helped the festival run as smoothly as it did. Alice also did general research around contemporary science topics that fed into events and small exhibitions the department produces. Her work on finding an object to represent a case on Ebola was particularly helpful! Overall she proved how valuable it is to have an intern which is something the team has not done before and there are excited to have their next LIDo intern.

Did the placement influence Alice’s career plans?

Although Alice is still uncertain about her future job prospects the placement has made Alice realise how important job satisfaction and your wellbeing is. She is therefore considering different types of opportunities. Alice may consider a role in Science Communication following her PhD as she gained a lot of confidence in communicating with a wider audience.

If you’re a UCL PhD or researcher wondering how to secure work experience or a more permanent post, book an appointment to speak with one of our advisers. And for advertised opportunities check out UCL Talent Bank and JobOnline.

 

Want to know more about the PhD application process? Attend ‘Applying for a PhD’ on 7th Dec

uczjvwa23 November 2015

Are you an undergraduate or master’s degree student who would like to know more about the PhD application process and what studying a PhD is like? Then sign up to attend ‘Applying for a PhD’! The event will take place on 7th December from 13:00 to 14:00 and will give you the chance to hear 3 UCL PhD students answer questions about how they applied for a PhD and what life as a PhD student is like. The PhD students will be sitting on a panel and will answer a variety of questions on topics such as PhD funding, finding a supervisor as well as how they found the transition from an undergraduate/masters degree to PhD.

Book now using your My UCL Careers account

Panel of speakers:

Marion Brooks-Barlett – PhD graduate in Material Physics

Marion Brooks-Bartlett is a recent PhD graduate in Material Physics who conducted research into phases and phase transitions of novel magnetic materials, which have potential use in spintronics. Whilst her PhD was highly technical, she undertook a largely experimental Master’s degree in Chemistry, obtaining a first class with honours. Both degrees she obtained from UCL with a joint funded PhD studentship from Uppsala Universitet, Sweden. Besides research, Marion has a strong interest for diversity in science. She is an appointed member of the first Inclusion and Diversity committee for the Royal Society of Chemistry and was a member of the Athena Swan committee, during her PhD, helping the department work towards a Silver Award.

Michael Flower – 2nd year PhD student in Clinical Neurosciences

I am a Clinical Research Fellow and Honorary Neurology Registrar at the UCL Institute of Neurology and the National Hospital for Neurology. I’m currently in the second year of a 4 year PhD in Clinical Neurosciences researching the genetics of neurodegenerative diseases.  I take a genomic, transcriptomic and cell biology approach.

Before this I worked on the pathogenic mechanisms underlying multiple sclerosis, next-generation sequencing in spinocerebellar ataxias, paroxysmal disorders and hereditary neuropathies, and RNA metabolism and axonal transport in motor neurone disease at Bristol University.

I graduated in medicine and neuroscience from Cambridge University, where I was awarded the Jimm Knott prize. I enjoy teaching and am a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. At Bristol University I was an Honorary Clinical Lecturer and gained a Postgraduate Certificate in Medical Education.

Heather Scott – 4th year PhD student in English Language and Literature

Heather Scott is currently completing the final year of her PhD at UCL in the Department of English Language and Literature. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in English at the University of Regina, Canada, and then undertook a Master of Letters in Victorian Literature at the University of Glasgow. Her PhD thesis examines the rise of the Garden Cemetery in London.

Kirsty Wood – 4th year PhD student in Structural Biology

Kirsty is in her 4th year of a CASE Studentship PhD in Structural Biology, in partnership with The Binding Site. She graduated from the University of Bristol in Pharmacology, afterwards working for 4 years as a Scientific Officer at the Chelsea site of the Institute of Cancer Research. She then completed an MRes in Molecular Neuroscience at St. George’s/Royal Holloway, University of London, with a brief stint at the University of Cambridge for a collaboration, before commencing her PhD at UCL. Her current work focuses on elucidating protein structures of antibody fragments to investigate mechanisms of amyloid fibril formation.

 

PhD Student: Inspire Me

UCL Careers13 November 2014

As part of our #UCLInspireMe series, Claire Mawditt, PhD student at the department of Epidemiology and Public Health, UCL talks to us about how she decided to undertake a PhD and shares some tips for UCL students who may be considering further study.

How did you get into your role?

I trained as a mental health nurse initially and worked within a range of mental health settings for 7 years. I enjoyed the work but became frustrated at seeing the same problems occurring again and again (for example people struggling with money, family, stress, drug and alcohol use). I decided that I wanted to make a difference at a higher level and felt research was the way to do this. I started a Masters at University College London in Social Epidemiology and worked part-time as a research nurse in the NHS in order to fund my studies. I really enjoyed this time (2 years) and was excited by the prospect of changing people’s lives through research. That is when I decided to apply to undertake a PhD at UCL.

What are the best things about working in your role? ucl-logo

The best thing about my role is that I am in complete control of my research project and have the freedom to work when and where I want. The work I do is very interesting and I am learning new things every day. It is very rewarding and exciting to think that my research can influence health policy and change people’s lives.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?

The biggest challenge is staying motivated, because I do not have anyone looking over my shoulder every day and telling me what to do. This means I have to manage my time well and cannot rely on anyone else to do my work for me. It is also difficult to choose a research topic when there are so many interesting subjects to choose from.

What top tips would you pass on to a student interested in this type of work?

My top tip is to make sure that you are doing a PhD for the right reasons such as making a contribution to a certain field of research, your passion in the subject and wanting to learn more. A PhD is a big commitment and can be difficult at times. Therefore it should not be something you decide to do because you have no other ideas or because you want to be called a doctor at the end of it.

I would also advise anyone who is considering doing a PhD to talk to PhD students within their department whilst they are at university and to their lecturers who would have done a PhD in order to teach at university. You can also access a lot of help and guidance on considering and applying for a PhD through your University career services.

To talk to a Careers Consultant for further information on applying for a PhD, visit: www.ucl.ac.uk/careers

Life Science and Health Sector: Employer Fair and one-to-one sessions for PhDs and Researchers

UCL Careers28 May 2014

The aim of this event is to help PhD and other research students with their career planning by providing an opportunity to meet employers from the Life Science and Health sector.

Monday 9th June – 11:00am to 1:00pm for fair, 2:00pm to 4:00pm for one-to-one sessions

Venue: North Cloisters for fair, Wilkins Haldane Room for one-to-one sessions

The event will begin with an intimate fair which will have a few select organisations. Many of the employers present will be PhD holders themselves. The fair will be followed by one-to-one sessions that will allow you to discuss any questions you might have in further detail with a specific employer on a one on one basis.

In order to allow you to get as much as possible out of this event, please research the organisations thoroughly. Please see the Graduate School website for further information about the organisations and representatives who have PhDs as well as how you can book a one on one appointment with an employer: http://courses.grad.ucl.ac.uk/course-details.pht?course_ID=2234

PhD students can book a place via the following link :

http://courses.grad.ucl.ac.uk/course-details.pht?course_ID=2234

Research Staff can book a place via the following link : https://www.ucl.ac.uk/careers/events/signupform/

 

The Education Sector’s Many Possibilities: Employer Forum for PhDs and Researchers

UCL Careers19 May 2014

The aim of this event is to help PhD and other research students with their career planning by providing an opportunity to question, to hear from and network with employers that come from a variety of roles within the Education sector, who are PhD holders themselves.

When: Thursday 29th May 5:30 – 7:30pm

Where: JZ Young Lecture Theatre

The panel of speakers will give tips on how research students can use their qualifications and experiences to enter this field as well as information about their sector.

Panel of speakers will be:

  • Steve Cross – Head of Public Engagement, Public Engagement Unit, UCL
  • Satnam Sagoo – Head of Education and Training Unit, Public Health England
  • Marek Kukula –  Public Astronomer, Royal Observatory Greenwich
  • Vicki Symington – Education Coordinator for South East England, Royal Society of Chemistry
  • Chris Wilson – Regional Director for London and the South East, The Brilliant Club
  • Hilary Leevers – Head of Education and Learning, Wellcome Trust

To find out more and to read the speakers’ biographies please go to: http://courses.grad.ucl.ac.uk/course-details.pht?course_ID=2462

PhD students can book a place via the following link :

http://courses.grad.ucl.ac.uk/course-details.pht?course_ID=2462

Research Staff can book a place via the following link : https://www.ucl.ac.uk/careers/events/signupform/