Postgraduate queries


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The Independent Online

Q: I think I've probably missed the boat to get on a postgraduate course this academic year, but can't really face waiting one more whole year to continue my studies. What are the options outside the traditional October to June academic tramlines?

A: A decade ago I'd have said your options were a little thin, but I'm happy to say that now there's a wide range for you to choose from. The majority of universities now routinely offer a January/February start for full or part-time postgraduate courses, while many others, particularly for part-time courses, stretching over two or three years, allow for a large degree of flexibility on timetables. And then, should you choose the distance learning route, the concept of a fixed start and finish milestone in the calendar year is vague in the extreme. So there's ample scope for you to let your personal urge to study dictate when and how you do it.

Q: I'm attracted to planning as a postgraduate subject but would like to specialise in the area of transport planning rather than buildings and the like. Can this be done?

A: Yes. Planning departments within public bodies - chiefly councils and private consultancies - increasingly need staff to acquire specialisms that collectively match the complexities of modern planning applications, and most of these specialisms are reflected on the postgraduate landscape. You won't be short of choice - Leeds University's Institute for Transport Studies and University of the West of England's Centre for Transport and Society are just two of many with concentrated pools of knowledge. The subject area is also so large that you'll soon be asked to opt for specialisms within transport planning, which might match your intended career path. Transport safety, traffic management and global transport will be among the choices, and that current buzz word, sustainability, will also be a ubiquitous presence hovering in the background.

Q: I'd like to indulge my passion for creative writing. Is it better to do this within the framework of a postgraduate course leading to an academic qualification, or should I look for something that doesn't have the award of a piece of paper at the end?

A: My view, having spoken to several people who've done creative writing courses, is that the enjoyment of participating in the course far outweighs any satisfaction gained by acquiring a couple of initials to put after a surname. And since the writing industry (journalism, copy-writing within advertising, book-writing etc) pays scant regard to formal qualifications, the linking of career progression to the acquisition of a Masters is highly debatable. So my advice in seeking a course would be to concentrate exclusively on the content of the programme and the mode of study. What will you be writing, who else will be on the course, and how will your writing be assessed? Are you looking, largely, for a solitary experience, with occasional input from an accomplished writer? Or do you see yourself becoming member for a year of a collaborative writing community, on a collective white-water ride of new writing challenges? Go for what attracts you, and treat any rolled up parchment that comes on completion as a bonus.

Send your queries to Steve McCormack at