What is postgraduate study?

Every year, students decide to stay on in education after their degree in order to take postgraduate studies. Sam Pope looks at the options available
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The Independent Online

You are coming to the end of three or four years as an undergraduate and many of your friends are applying for jobs left, right and centre. However, the world of work doesn't seem right for you yet. So, what can you do? One of your options is postgraduate study and here are some reasons why.

For love

It's fantastic that you are so engaged with your degree subject that you just don't want to stop studying it. That's how many people get into a career in academia: they just never really stopped loving it. Postgraduate study will normally involve you specialising in a particular area of interest, so you need to think what it is that pushes your buttons the most. You also need to think about how doing a further one or three years of studying will benefit your career in the long run; all further study gives transferable skills, but some will be more helpful to you than others.

For money

A postgraduate qualification may give you that extra edge in the job market and the right to demand a higher salary to boot. However, it does depend on your area of interest. Before signing up for a Masters or PhD, look at relevant job adverts to see if further study really is necessary or desirable; some industries prefer relevant experience over qualifications.

For progression

Many careers, in areas such as law, science, teaching, psychology and academia, do require candidates to possess certain postgraduate qualifications, especially if they are converting from a non-related field.

For lack of anything better to do?

Generally, not a wise move. Some graduates think they should stay on the study bandwagon because they just don't know what else to do, but future employers can smell indecision from a mile off. If you really cannot think of a better reason to do further study, you might be better off getting temporary work instead, rather than falling further into student debt.

When chosen for the right reasons, postgraduate study can bring great rewards. It can develop your skills base (think time management, communication skills and analytical abilities), increase your knowledge in your chosen field and improve your career prospects. Postgraduates often go into higher-level jobs and command bigger salaries, and those meatier pay cheques come in handy when you are paying off a student loan!

In other career areas, a postgraduate degree can show that you are academically better qualified than other applicants, though that doesn't necessarily mean you will land you the job.

There are normally two options open: a one- or two-year Masters course or a three-year PhD, or even both! The following pages are a guide to what you can expect, the opportunities available and your future prospects.

FINDING FUNDING

If you have accrued student debts from your undergraduate days, don't forget that you'll probably incur more as a graduate. It's important that you look into finances before you accept a Masters or PhD, particularly if you are interested in arts courses, where competition is fierce and funding scarce.

The UK's seven research councils are the most common source of funding:

* Arts & Humanities Research Council www.ahrc.ac.uk

* Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council www.bbsrc.ac.uk

* Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council www.epsrc.ac.uk

* Economic & Social Research Council www.esrc.ac.uk

* Natural Environment Research Council www.nerc.ac.uk

* Medical Research Council www.mrc.ac.uk

* Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council www.pparc.ac.uk

WEB WATCH

* Directgov nformation on financing your studies www.direct.gov.uk/en/EducationAndLearning/index.htm

* Hero All aspects of postgraduate study www.hero.ac.uk/uk/home/index.cfm

* Hobsons Postgrad Search for courses and institutions www.postgrad.hobsons.com

* Prospects Career prospects and funding opportunities www.prospects.ac.uk

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