Postgraduate Queries


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The Independent Online

Q: I graduated with a degree in sociology a little over two years ago, with the intention of becoming a teacher. I have since had a change of heart and would like to know where to get advice on career options?

A: Much depends, as far as any advice I can give is concerned, on what is driving your decision not to pursue teaching. Did you try it and find that you don't feel comfortable in a classroom, because that really is the acid test? Or are you feeling positively pulled in another direction? Or perhaps you are still unsure where your working aptitude might best lie, and are fishing around for inspiration

If it is the last of these scenarios, I suggest you spend some time online, signing up to careers websites and a few individual recruitment organisations. For example, at you can search for careers that might suit your degree subject. Suggestions here are likely to include jobs that require an understanding of how society works and how individuals behave within society and institutions. So, probation work, personnel management or HR and housing-related positions will all be in the mix, and some will best be pursued initially via a tailored Masters course. But do not by any means confine your search to this avenue.

We are in the age when your first degree subject is playing a declining role in eventual career choice. You should follow your instinct and all-round life skills just as much as the words on your degree certificate.

Q: I am currently completing a history degree and would like to pursue a career in investment banking or possibly stock-broking. What are the best postgraduate options?

A: My first observation is that your degree subject is no barrier. Only yesterday I met a graduate of classics making a success in fund management, where the ability to translate ancient Greek is not, in itself, of much use. My second observation, though, is that you are pitching at an employment sector that is also being targeted by large numbers of high-quality graduates from all around the world. Some universities with business education faculties run Masters courses leading in the banking and general finance direction, but stockbroking careers usually start on the shop floor, with graduates employed directly into junior roles.

However, to get a foot in either door, you'll need to prove you have sharp numeracy and analytical skills, and that you have something extra about you that makes you stand out from the crowd.

Q: How much teaching do you actually receive when you're on a Masters course?

A: This is a good question, and picks up on the fact that the Masters market has expanded massively over the past decade or so, with thousands of students every year embarking on courses in subjects that are totally new to them, and hence ones where they need a fair chunk of initial teaching.

However, in nearly all cases, at Masters level you will be expected to display research skills as well, and to use them to produce a unique piece of work that displays a higher level of understanding of an academic or career area than that demanded of an undergraduate. The exact ratio of teaching to individual research time varies from course to course.

A clarification: Last month, I answered a query about postgraduates' chances of getting into a hall of residence, and may have given the impression that overseas students' chances are just as slim as those of home graduates. In fact, most universities do take extra care of international students and some even have dedicated halls.

Send your queries to Steve McCormack at