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

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