Postgrad Queries: The way ahead for biologists, journalists and engineers

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The Independent Online

Flying high in conservation

Q. I graduated in biology a couple of years ago, and since then have spent a year in Mauritius researching endangered birds, and am now working on a voluntary project in Britain monitoring the population of blue tits. Is there a postgraduate route you could recommend that would help me get a job in an animal conservation or habitat field?

A. It's worth asking the major conservation charities whether they sponsor PhD students, what sort of people they generally recruit for their conservation roles, and with what qualifications. The World Wildlife Fund (www.wwf.org.uk) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (www.rspb.org.uk) are obvious places to start.

There are numerous Masters courses centred on conservation. Lancaster and Roehampton Universities, for example, run programmes covering what is now called conservation science, while the University of Aberystwyth has a more specialised MSc, in habitat restoration and conservation. And Bournemouth University has its own school of conservation sciences. Ring up a few of these departments and ask where recent students have gone on to get jobs.

The careers related to conservation range from laboratory or land-based research to environmental consultancy, local authority work in managing their green spaces, and roles with the national parks.

What's the postgrad scoop?

Q. I want to do a postgraduate journalism course, because I've been told that's the best (if not, only) way of getting a job in journalism. There appear to be a lot of courses. How can I narrow my search down?

A. Although postgraduate study is probably the main way into journalism, it's not the only one. There are graduate training programmes with national and regional newspapers or with magazines (notably via the Periodical Publishers Association scheme), and some journals still take on cub reporters, with or without a degree.

If you do choose the postgrad route, first decide which branch of journalism interests you. Most courses specialise in one or other niche, such as newspaper, magazine, broadcast or investigative journalism. A handful of places, among them City and Cardiff universities, have built up a reputation as market leaders in the field, with fees to match. But there are plenty of other departments of high quality.

Key factors to research include: what links exist between the department and the industry? What are the lecturers' backgrounds? What have recent alumni gone on to do? An absolute must is that the course includes a substantial work placement element with a real news organisation. Finally, competition for places is tough, so you'll need to have some published work to show off, and be ready to complete exercises as part of the selection procedure.

Engineering the best future

Q. My daughter is about to finish her second year of a three-year civil engineering degree. She likes what she's been doing and wants to work in this field. But she's uncertain whether she should be thinking about postgraduate courses or looking at the job market straightaway. What should she do?

A. She needs to ensure that she sets off in a direction that aims for accreditation as a Chartered Engineer (CEng). In the long term, that status will ensure that she retains international recognition of her qualifications and experience. Achieving chartered status takes around five years from the point of graduation and is coordinated by the relevant professional engineering body, in her case the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE, www.ice.org.uk). If she's not already a student member of the ICE, she should join, since it's free.

Progress towards becoming chartered can take place either if your daughter stays on in education, or if she goes straight into a civil engineering job. Staying on, she could extend her current degree into a fourth year of study and come out with an MEng, or by doing a separate Masters, perhaps at a different university in a specialist field. If she starts work, she'll need to ensure her employers can help her top up her professional qualifications. ICE will always advise her on this.

Thanks to Liz Hagger and Gill Sharp, careers consultants for Domino Careers (www.dominocareers.co.uk). Send your queries to Steve at stevemccormack@blueyonder.co.uk

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