Postgraduate Queries: 'Will a Masters in a specialist subject help me to get a museum job? And how do I get into forensic science?'

How do I become a curator?

Q. I'm interested in a job as a museum curator, and would like to specialise in the Middle East. I have plenty of work experience, but I can't decide on a postgraduate course. Should I do an MA in museum studies – if so, where? – or continue with something more academic?

According to the Museums Association, you're better off with a postgraduate qualification in your subject than a general Masters in museum studies. The more specific you can be, the better, so the association also suggests that you contact the Department of the Middle East at the British Museum or the Ashmolean in Oxford to ask which course would best suit you.

To break in to the major museums, you'll need more than just a good knowledge of your subject. Curators have to manage budgets, raise funds, oversee educational activitie and market exhibitions. This is where a Masters in museum studies would give you the edge: visit their website, www.museumsassociation.org, for a list of degrees. An alternative route is to get plenty of work experience, which you're already doing.

Experience in forensics

Q. I'm in the middle of a first degree in chemistry, and I'm pretty sure I want to become a forensic scientist, but I don't know where to start in terms of getting qualified or gaining experience. Any ideas?

Real-life work experience in this field is difficult to come by, given the confidential nature of most cases, but working in a laboratory will definitely stand you in good stead and give you an idea about the sort of things you could be doing. You must have good powers of concentration, because even the tiniest error could be enough to sway a jury in the wrong direction.

The UK's Forensic Science Service (FSS) is generally accepted as a world leader, and its website ( ww.forensic.gov.uk) gives specialisms that might be of interest. They include fingerprinting, drug and poison identification, and fire investigation. A first degree of a 2.2 or above in science is required, and lab experience is recommended. Because the FSS has its own on-the-job training, it doesn't recommend any specific postgraduate courses, but it could be worth doing one anyway. As always, the more work experience you have, the better.

Is volunteering a substitute for a Masters?

Q. I'm thinking about taking a taught Masters in the social anthropology of development or similar, after doing philosophy and politics at undergraduate. I've had an offer from Sussex and have an interview next week at SOAS. I enjoy academia, but I've already done some volunteering: is there another route I could take to avoid the hefty fees?

Pure volunteering isn't an alternative to education: probably the best thing is to keep doing it on the side as you study. Volunteering England offers similar advice: you should see academia and volunteering as complementary, rather than mutually exclusive, routes to employment. And obviously you should focus your work experience in the area you're most likely to work in after you finish. See www.volunteering.org.uk.

Postgraduate study can be expensive, but before you give up it's worth contacting Sussex and SOAS to ask about bursaries, scholarships or other sources of funding. At the same time, ask about the jobs that former students have gone in to, and work out if you could reach the same level in a similar timeframe without having to do a course. Sussex has a good careers section on international development on its website ( www.sussex.ac.uk), which has links to the relevant organisations.

Finally, contact a couple of international development organisations yourself to ask whether you need to focus on qualifications or experience at this stage.

Thanks to Volunteering England, Rebecca Jacobs of the Museums Association, Laura Mackin of the Forensic Science Service and careers consultant Liz Hagger.

Send your queries to Chris Green at c.green@independent.co.uk

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