Postgrad Queries: 'Will I be allowed to go to university after doing time in prison?'

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The Independent Online

From porridge to postgraduate

Q. I completed an undergraduate degree some time ago, and I'm now interested in undertaking some form of postgraduate study. However, I have recently finished serving a short prison sentence. Will I still be allowed to attend university and find a job afterwards?

A. This is a tricky area, as whether or not you will have to declare your conviction depends on how long ago you completed your sentence. Under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, you are obliged to admit your conviction to any university for around three years after leaving prison, although the exact time depends on how long the original sentence was, and how old you were at the time.

After the time is up, your conviction becomes "spent" and you are no longer under any obligation to inform a potential university or employer about it. In some professions – such as those that involve working with children or the law – past convictions are never spent, and you will have to declare your history in full. However, generally speaking, your conviction will not automatically bar you from entry.

If your conviction was for a minor crime, you are more likely to succeed than if you have served a longer jail term for a more serious offence. It's worth considering getting a bit of work experience under your belt before you apply for a postgraduate course, to prove that you are serious about studying.

The crime prevention charity Nacro (www.nacro.org.uk) has a good website aimed at supporting those who have recently left prison, with more details about the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and advice on gaining employment.

I want to be a tour manager...

Q. Several years ago, I graduated from university with a joint honours degree in French and Italian. I have since travelled extensively in both of those countries and would like to become a tour manager. Is it worth getting a postgraduate qualification in this area before taking the plunge?

A. One of the main advantages you would gain from a postgraduate degree would be the opportunity to make contacts in the industry, which could prove invaluable when combined with the travelling you've done. If you haven't already worked for a tour company, it would definitely be a good idea to do so, as the sector has always valued practical experience.

While at university, you could get involved in organising student travel, or work for a potential employer as part of your research for a dissertation. However, for someone in your position, further study is certainly not mandatory, and it would be perfectly feasible to enter the tourism industry with your existing CV.

If you do this, you may have to put up with more menial jobs as you work your way up to tour manager. As well as fluency in a language, you'll need to be a good communicator and have an endless supply of patience. You should also be aware that much of the work will be seasonal.

A visit to the website of the International Association of Tour Managers (www.iatm.co.uk) will give you further information about what the job involves. It's a good resource for finding employment, as many companies advertise vacancies here as well as in the national and trade press. Have a look, too, at Travel Trades Gazette, Travel Weekly and also www.ontheroad. co.uk. As with most popular jobs though, many will be snapped up by word of mouth before even being advertised publicly: this is where a postgraduate course could prove invaluable.

Seriously heavy metal

Q. I am approaching the end of a chemistry degree and have developed an interest in metallurgy. Are there many postgraduate courses in this area, and what would they involve?

A. Sheffield University offers a Masters and a shorter postgraduate diploma or certificate in advanced metallurgy, as well as a PhD in the subject. The universities of Birmingham, Cambridge, Ulster and Leeds are among several others offering PhDs, MPhils or engineering doctorates in related areas. Check out the searchable postgraduate database at www. prospects.ac.uk/pg for more details.

Careerwise, membership of the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (www.iom3.org) might be beneficial. It's tricky, though: you'll need an accredited Masters degree in a related field, and at least four years of experience before you can qualify. IOM3 membership means you can register with the Engineering Council as a chartered engineer, or with the Science Council as a chartered scientist. Either way, it would be an excellent career move.

Thanks to Liz Hagger, Gill Sharp and Deborah Millan, careers consultants for Domino Careers (www.dominocareers. co.uk. Send your queries to Chris Green at c.green@independent.co.uk

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