Postgraduate queries


Q: Half way through a computer science degree, I've realised I'm more interested in following a business-oriented career path. I am considering a Masters in management after graduation. But would I be better off working for a few years and then getting an MBA?

A: First, don't assume that the content of your computer-science course will be of no use in business. Your background knowledge of the electronic and digital systems that all businesses rely on will always help you make management decisions when there's a hardware of software component that needs factoring in.

The choice between doing an immediate Masters in management, or waiting until you have some business experience under your belt and then doing an MBA, is a tricky one, because there's no easy answer. But these are the factors. Continuing as a student will cost you money and delay your entry to the job market, but when you get there, you'll be better equipped to land that first job. Starting work straight away, however, will help your short-term financial situation and, after a few years, put you in a good position to accelerate your career via an MBA.

However, with the employment situation still difficult, and with no immediate sign of an improvement, many would say that if you can get a job now that promises real management experience, then that would tip the balance in favour of putting your studies on hold for a while.

Q: How much research is involved in Masters courses? If a course is referred to as a taught Masters, does that mean there's no research at all?

A: Although most, but not all, Masters courses at British universities are these days referred to as "taught," it'd be wrong to infer that there's no element of research at all in the programme. The ability to conduct independent research, and marshal evidence into a concluding argument, is one that schools now try to introduce to teenagers, so it is hardly likely to be a technique that's abandoned by postgraduates of any description. However, the degree to which you, on any particular Masters course, will be left to your own devices, to dig around and discover your own material, varies enormously from course to course. So your question highlights the importance of looking in detail into the content of any course.

This means finding out what you'll be taught, how you'll be taught, and how you'll be assessed. If the assessment is largely a matter of learning and regurgitating in exams material picked up in lectures and from course textbooks, then the research element will be minimal. But if your grade depends on a number of open-ended assignments and/or a chunky dissertation taking up most of the summer term, then you can bank on spending much of your time alone in research mode. So do your homework before making a final decision.

Q: I'm interested in doing a public health Masters, but want to concentrate on health issues of modern, first world countries like the UK, rather than the Third World. Is this possible?

A: The short answer is "yes." The study of public health issues is as relevant in the Western world as it is in developing countries. It's the issues that differ. Even though, at a casual glance, there are more life and death issues in the Third World, there are plenty of urgent and serious public health matters causing great concern in Western countries, such as diabetes, obesity, mental health and many more. All this is made very clear in the introductory material to all public health postgraduate courses. So finding the right one for you should be relatively simple.

Send your queries to Steve McCormack at