The Careers Adviser

Is my passion for maths the right solution? Should my son drop a course he doesn't like?
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The Independent Online

Make it count

Q. After leaving school with five O-levels, I have spent most of my working life with a mining firm. I began studying maths, passing A-level, and because I have a passion for it, I took the first year of an OU course. But I have failed in an interview for a job in another area of the company. Should I take a redundancy package and go to university full-time, studying maths? Or stay in the job market and study part-time? I am concerned about finishing full-time studies at 38 and competing with 23-year-olds.

A. One thing that stands out from your career summary is your passion for maths, and the fact that you have pursued your studies throughout your career. A redundancy package now provides you with a wonderful chance to fulfil what sounds like a lifetime's ambition. You are running out of options in the company you are in, and while you are used to studying while working, it is going to be harder doing the same thing while coping with a new job. Also, you have been with this company a long time.

Studying full-time will give you a new base from which to network, and more options. Mature students who are committed do well at university. You could even approach organisations for help in researching a study project that you could present to them later, creating a bridge between university and work.

Job prospects for maths graduates are good, and that should hold even further down the line if the wider job market falters. If this is something you really want to do, and circumstances allow, it would be a shame to let concern over job prospects hold you up now.

A degree of concern

Q. My son, who's striving to finish his degree, is not enjoying the course. But he is determined to get a degree and wants to continue. I would like him to be assessed by a careers psychologist so he can pick a career that suits him.

A. I am sorry your son is not enjoying his degree. If he is still struggling at the end of the first year, it might be a good idea to talk to him about changing course. If he is further along and intent on finishing, he should certainly think about why he isn't enjoying it, as this could give him important clues about what to include or avoid in his next step.

Most people find it hard to identify where they would fit, and starting with something he is experiencing now is a good jumping-off point. He should, of course, start talking to his university careers team. If he has done so and not been satisfied, encourage him to be persistent in getting what he needs - if he has found one adviser unhelpful, he should at least go and see another.

If you do feel you need to supplement what the university offers, look at company websites for the package that best suits your son, as face-to-face advice can be expensive. Make sure he does his own research, too. If he looks up, he will find advice on which career options go with his subject; professions where it is essential; those where it is useful; and those open to graduates of all disciplines. The website also has a career planner he can use. A combination of his own research and outside advice is likely to be the way forward here.

Careers advisers: Anne-Marie Martin, director of The Careers Group, University of London; Siobhan Hamilton-Phillips, chief executive of Career Psychology; Jo Bond, managing director, Right Coutts.

Send your queries to Caroline Haydon at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or e-mail