Postgraduate Queries

Should I study international relations? How do I get into social work? And how do I get back into civil engineering?
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Q. I’ve been offered a place on an MA in international relations at Birmingham. I’d like to work as a journalist, and I’ve spent a lot of time gaining experience and having work published, but I think I need to be more globally aware to stand a better chance. Would this course help, and is an MA worth the financial risk?

A. You have to decide for yourself whether any course is worth the investment of money, and time. This course will make you more globally aware but a more direct route into journalism is through a postgraduate diploma: see the National Council for the Training of Journalists ( for details of courses they recognise. They will give you the essential skills required by the industry.

Why not ask any contacts you’ve made during your work experience what they think of your idea to take this course? If they were looking at an application from you, would they see it as an advantage? What else would they be looking for? If you fancy doing some shorthand alongside the MA, there are plenty of training centres across the country. The biggest is probably Pitman (, who have a centre in Birmingham.

If you are still keen on the MA, it will do no harm to find out what jobs past graduates have chosen. Ask Birmingham’s careers service or the department itself – they will be happy to boast about where graduates end up, or put you in touch with alumni whom you can speak to directly.

Varying degrees

Q. I applied to do an MA in social work this year through Ucas, but my second-class degree in biochemistry from abroad is only equal to a third-class in the UK, and I need a 2:2. What should I do? I work part-time in a day-care centre, and have been doing social work for Birmingham council since last September.

A. Social work can be tough to get into if the providers are unconvinced of your qualifications, but there is no doubting your commitment. Entry for graduates such as yourself is usually through a two-year postgraduate diploma or MA, but applicants often need at least two years’ relevant experience.

Your first option is to continue your work for the council and in the day-care centre for another year, and re-apply. Check with the course provider about work experience that you plan to undertake – they should advise you about the type and level they will accept. If you fancy a change of direction you could try volunteering: Community Service Volunteers ( is a good starting point.

For further information about entry to careers in social work, check out links/occupations and click on the relevant section, or visit the General Social Care Council (

Getting back on course

Q. I did the equivalent of an undergraduate degree in civil engineering in Algeria, and am now living in Britain, stuck in a job I don’t like. I’d like to get back into the industry, but am unsure how to. Is a postgraduate degree the best way in?

A postgraduate degree will not necessarily do the job. Your best bet is to gain chartered-engineer status by becoming a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE). This is a badge of honour, and is equivalent to holding an internationally recognised qualification in the subject.

First you’ll need three to five years’ work experience with one of the ICE’s employers, who run accredited training schemes. During your traineeship, you’ll receive on-the-job instruction and supervision, as well as regular visits from an ICE representative. Pending a successful review at the end of your time with the company, you’ll become an approved ICE member, which gives you access to all the institution’s resources and is a passport to further employment. For more information, visit

Thanks to Laura Hooke and Mike Cox, careers consultants at Graduate Prospects, and to Gareth Jones at the Institution of Civil Engineers.

Send your queries to Chris Green at