Grace McCann: Answering your postgrad queries

Should my son and I take another degree each to get our careers on track?

I am in my late forties and hold a degree and two postgraduate degrees; a PGDip in law being the latest. After my first two degrees I married and had a family. I began working as an unqualified legal executive when my son was five, leaving my job five years later when my husband relocated to Scotland. While living there I could not get work for four years. I returned to London and finding any legal work proved impossible. So I took the PGDip in law in order to qualify as a lawyer, only to realise later that I was too mature for the liking of barristers' chambers or offices of solicitors: my applications to them failed miserably. I am not prepared to invest any more time and money on a legal practice or bar course. Two years have passed and getting any kind of job seems an even harder task now that I hold a recent degree.

Too late for the Law

I am in my late forties and hold a degree and two postgraduate degrees; a PGDip in law being the latest. After my first two degrees I married and had a family. I began working as an unqualified legal executive when my son was five, leaving my job five years later when my husband relocated to Scotland. While living there I could not get work for four years. I returned to London and finding any legal work proved impossible. So I took the PGDip in law in order to qualify as a lawyer, only to realise later that I was too mature for the liking of barristers' chambers or offices of solicitors: my applications to them failed miserably. I am not prepared to invest any more time and money on a legal practice or bar course. Two years have passed and getting any kind of job seems an even harder task now that I hold a recent degree.

Meanwhile, my 24-year-old son Alex, who has a MSc in astrophysics from University College London, has been working as a labourer for the past two years. What would be the quickest way to convert his degree to an engineering degree/PhD? We are both looking for another degree to provide us with a career.
Soraya Harding, London

Be careful! It is unwise to think there is a magical course out there that will land you the job of your dreams. You already hold two postgraduate degrees and neither has led to a career. Qualifications are only one aspect of what employers want.

As you have found, law is a fiercely competitive field and age is a factor. Solicitors' firms tend to reject people aged about 35 or older and barristers' chambers are not keen on applicants in their early forties or older.

But before giving up on using your law degree, how about considering careers in less competitive fields related to law? These include advisory jobs in areas such as housing and welfare rights; roles which involve practical application of the law, such as probation officer; regulatory work in fields such as tax inspection and trading standards, and financial occupations including insurance broking.

The graduate careers advisers at Prospects (prospects.ac.uk) and the Law Careers Advice Network (lcan.org.uk) have put extensive "alternative careers" sections for law graduates on their websites. If none of their ideas appeals to you I would still advise looking into other job possibilities before signing up for another course because your cv is lacking work experience rather than qualifications. The Prospects website has a useful interactive tool, the Prospects Planner, for graduates who are stumped for what to do with their qualifications. It may be that you decide on a field that will demand further postgraduate study, but I would suggest that this would be best undertaken part-time alongside employment. Ideally this will be paid work related to the field you wish to enter but the main thing is to get back into the workplace. Please let me know how you get on.

I am sorry to hear that your astrophysicist son has been doing unskilled labour. But, again, I am not sure that another postgraduate qualification is the answer, and your suggestion of a PhD rang warning bells. A research degree requires massive commitments of time, energy and money, which might not pay dividends in the jobs market. Alex should decide which field of engineering he is most interested in and investigate what skills potential employers are looking for. The Careers and Jobs section of the Engineering Council's website ( www.engc.org.uk) is a good place to start.

Thanks to Naeema Khan, careers consultant, Graduate Prospects

Send your queries to Grace McCann to reach her by Monday, 20 December at The Independent, Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or e-mail to g.mccann@ independent.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
A bartender serves beers
news
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig and Rory Kinnear film Spectre in London
film
Life and Style
The finale at Dolce and Gabbana autumn/winter 2015
fashion
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Recruitment Genius: Graduate / Trainee Sales Executive

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate/Trainee Sales Executive is re...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Graphic Designer - Peterborough - £18,000

£22000 - £23000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Graphic Designer...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Developer - Cambridgeshire - £23,000

£22000 - £23000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Front-End Develo...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Application Support Analyst

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor