Should I start working as a lab technician? Can a philosophy graduate take a fine art MA?

I have a 2.1 degree in biology and want to start an MSc or graduate diploma. Unfortunately I cannot fund myself on a full-time course for two years at a cost of £6,000. I have written and e-mailed every funding authority I can find but have not heard back. It is now two years since I graduated and I feel like I am stuck in a rut in my full-time catering job. I know the only way to regain a sense of worth is to further my qualifications but with no financial backing - and a graduate diploma in audiology application gathering dust because I no longer have contacts at the university to give me references - I am bewildered. Should I apply for basic lab technician jobs, because they are science-related but not what I want from life, or persevere and get help?

If you can answer the question "what do you want from life?" the way forward may become clearer. What skills do you have, what interests or excites you? Is it money you want, or is it autonomy, potential for promotion, travel? Don't assume you can't get a decent job without an MSc, or that getting further qualifications is the only way to regain a sense of self worth.

While you are dismissive of the post of lab technician, it may be more attractive than you think. Take a look at, key in the words "biology" and "technician" and you'll find an array of jobs (many requiring a degree and paying around £20,000) as well as research positions. A year or two of work experience could increase your chances of getting onto a popular MSc.

Although you graduated two years ago, there must still be contacts at your university to provide references - lecturers, a course organiser, a project supervisor. There will also be records of your exam results, projects and essays - which the audiology course organiser will want to know.

The reason you haven't heard from funding bodies is because you have to apply for the course you want to do first. Research councils make awards to university departments or research institutes, not directly to students. Check the research council websites to see which departments will get funding each year. For biology based courses see or For audiology courses there is an NHS Clinical Scientist Scheme which awards funding.

And although you expect to pay £6,000 for a two year MSc, in fact most are just one year long with fees of around £3,000 (£1,500 a year part-time).

A stronger foundation

I want to study fine art at postgraduate level. However, I have a BA in English and philosophy and only O-level art, no art history or foundation course. I hope to skip a foundation course, as I know my interest is purely fine art. Is it possible for me to get onto a postgraduate course with this background?

The answer is probably no. To get on to an MA in fine art you really need an art degree, or at least a foundation year, because you need to show you have the skills and knowledge for an MA, usually gained through an appropriate degree.

While your philosophy background could be useful, many fine art MAs are practice based. Ask admissions tutors - for example at Chelsea and at Central St Martins colleges of art and design - what they are looking for and the answer is a strong portfolio. And unless you've been practising as an artist for several years you are unlikely to have a portfolio that's good enough.

You might have a slightly better chance getting onto a PGDip. You'll find students on this course without an art degree, although their qualifications do tend to be design related. But again, you will need a strong portfolio.

If you took the foundation route, this would give you the chance to develop skills and techniques, while building up the sort of work needed for an MA.

Advisers: Deborah Fowlis and Mike Cox, Graduate Prospects

Send your queries to Caitlin Davies at The Independent, Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or e-mail to