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

Sport
world cup 2014A history of the third-place play-offs
News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
The Mexico chief finally lets rip as his emotions get the better of him
world cup 2014
PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Sport
Yaya Touré has defended his posturing over his future at Manchester City
News
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
news
Life and Style
beauty
Sport
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

First Class Graduate (Computer Science, Economics, Finance)

£23000 per annum: Harrington Starr: First Class Graduate (Computer Science, Ec...

Drama Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Liverpool: We are looking for someone who can t...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice