The Careers Adviser: Should I do a degree in philosophy? And how can I get a job researching the medicinal benefits of plants?

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The Independent Online

DO EMPLOYERS WANT A THINKER

Q. I am considering a degree in philosophy but am concerned about how it will be seen by employers. Can you help?

A. To enjoy three years studying this subject you should really make sure you have a desire to find things out, to want answers to odd but human questions, rather than simply acquiring skills that might be transferred to another job or vocation. You need to love the subject and want to study it. Philosophy departments are keen to prove their subject has relevance today, and it might reassure you to look at www.prs.heac ademy.ac.uk/publications/emp_guide_for_web.pdf, the Higher Education Academy's guide to employability for graduates in this subject.

It makes the point that they should be highly employable because they are taught how to think for themselves, and analyse and communicate ideas in a rational and well thought out way. And in today's fast-changing world, the ability to think critically as situations develop is vital.

Employment figures are roughly in line with those in other humanities subjects like history and English, where it can take a while to settle into the right career. Areas of work employing large numbers of philosophy graduates according to Graduate Prospects are business and finance (12 per cent); the commercial, industrial and the public sectors (11 per cent); and marketing, sales and advertising (7 per cent).

Demand for the type of skills honed in three years of studying philosophical tradition is growing – in the NHS, for instance, medical ethics committees and training courses for staff are on the increase.

The Higher Education Careers Services Unit (Hecsu) has said that more philosophy graduates are being produced, and they are much less likely to be unemployed than a few years ago. Many students in this subject also go on to postgraduate study – just under a quarter – and one in 12 goes on to combine work and further study, taking professional qualifications or part-time degrees.

PUTTING DOWN NEW ROOTS

Q. I have a degree in agriculture gained in India in 1971 and worked for 35 years outside the UK. I am looking for a job in horticulture – my main area of interest is research into the medicinal benefits of plants.

A. You have a great interest in plants but your experience so far is mostly administrative, so you might need to do some research on the courses available before you can persuade someone to give you a job in the field. Contacting your nearest botanic garden or horticultural college would be a start – there is a Botanic Garden at the University of Leicester near you, and you could start by asking them if they have any interest in medicinal plants. There is no shortage of courses on herbal medicine, but it can be difficult to work out which one is reputable or offers good value for money. The website of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists ( www.nimh.org.uk) gives links to university courses it accredits for training, and taking one of these courses would give you the opportunity to work as a medical herbalist practitioner, or manufacturing or growing herbs.

Another possibility would be to write to one of the number of well-established UK growers of herbs or manufacturers of herbal medicines, with a CV stating your interest, to see if there are any training or posts available. The organisation Plantlife ( www.plantlife.org.uk) has been working on conservation initiatives with groups in East Africa and the Himalayas but doesn't have opportunities here at present, though it says it may have some for suitably experienced people in future. You could also look up www.naturalhealers.com/qa/herbal.html; and www.naturopathy-uk.com/resources/ -careers.

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 email chaydon@blueyonder.co.uk

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