Make the most of work experience, volunteering and extra-curricular opportunities to gain skills and experience that will look good on your CV and help you make decisions about what to do next.
To make a decision, you need to know what your options are. Knowing about various jobs and employers will help you choose type of roles you are interested in and those you are not. It’s often easier to decide what it is you don’t want to do, but thinking about the reasons behind this can help you focus in on what you want. Finding out if any further study is required can also help you narrow your choices.
For most jobs, recruiters are more interested in your skills, abilities, and attitude (e.g. analytical skills, team working and being proactive) rather than your specific degree subject. Queen Mary English graduates have gone on to become accountants, geography graduates work in computer programming and graduates from chemistry are working in consultancy. This means that there are a huge number of opportunities open to you.
Keep in mind that there are probably many different career areas that you would enjoy and most people change careers a number of times in their working lives.
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What to consider
What’s your motivation? There are many reasons for deciding to continue your studies. It could be to gain an industry-recognised qualification or to continue studying a subject you are enthusiastic about. A postgraduate course is also a big commitment (financially and time-wise) so take the time to think about your reasons and research into your options to make sure you make the best decision.
What do you plan to do afterwards? Postgraduate study does not guarantee you a job. If you’re taking the course to improve your chances of entering a particular industry, look at current job descriptions for the sort of roles you want to apply for in the future to see if they specify that a postgraduate qualification is required. And if so, is there a particular subject they prefer? Speak to employers at career events or contact them on LinkedIn to hear their perspective and find out which (if any) qualification is most desirable.
If you are not sure what you would like to do after your degree, book an appointment to speak to a Careers Consultant to talk about your options. It’s fine if you don’t know the exact job you would like, but taking a course won’t necessarily help you to work this out. Think carefully if your main reason to study is to delay having to think about choosing a career or finding a job. Remember that in some industries employers may prefer practical experience (where you learn whilst you work on the job) rather than qualifications. It is also possible to study part-time, take distance learning or short courses, or work for a few years before you start further study. These options allow you to combine work and study and can help spread the cost of fees.
Get some work experience related to the area you are applying to, especially if you have not worked in that field before. Not only do you need to make sure that your chosen career is right for you, but you will also gain valuable practical experience that will make you more employable when you graduate. Don’t fall into the trap of being overqualified for junior positions when you have finished your postgraduate course, but not having enough experience to apply for roles which are the next step up.
Know what’s involved. Postgraduate study is much more specialised than an undergraduate degree. The form of examination may be different, there may be fewer lectures or seminars and the cohort of students may be smaller. The academic year is also longer and commonly runs from September to September. Attend open days, speak to lecturers and previous students to understand what to expect before making a decision.
Have you thought about funding? The reality is that securing funding can be very difficult, so many students will take out loans and also work to fund their studies. Part-time study may be worth considering if there is no funding available. It could be a chance to spread the cost and work part-time to cover your living expenses. Thoroughly research the fees and likely living costs. Some universities may offer scholarships and have further details about other sources of funding that previous students have successfully secured. Investigate potential funding options early, as deadlines can be early. The Prospects graduate study website also has a large amount of information on sources of funding.
Choosing a university Think about what’s important to you when choosing where to study, e.g. reputation, facilities and whether the course is accredited/recognised by a professional body. Your choice may be restricted by the location of a particular course or supervisor, but it’s worth considering practical factors like the proximity to archives or specialist libraries, and access to work/networking opportunities. Attend open days to speak to the teaching staff and students who have taken the course.
Applications and interviews Normally you will be required to send an application form or CV outlining your academic record and research interests, along with both academic and employment references. Most will require a personal statement demonstrating your motivation for choosing the course, and previous experiences etc. You will apply to each university directly, rather than through a central system like UCAS. Some courses may have an early deadline if they are particularly popular, so take care to allow yourself enough time. Book a 1-2-1 appointment with a Careers Consultant for feedback on applications, CVs and cover letters, or to attend a mock interview.
Undertaking a PhD can be an incredibly rewarding experience, but it is important to understand the commitment and style of working that is required in order to make a decision about whether it is right for you.
Unlike an undergraduate or even postgraduate course where the aim is to take a certain number of modules, a PhD is about creating a piece of original, highly detailed research that will contribute to your field of expertise. This requires a huge amount of self-discipline, motivation and time management. A PhD usually takes 3-4 years to complete and sometimes longer, so patience and persistence are also important traits to possess. It can be quite a lonely experience working on such an extensive project on your own, so think about whether this fits with your preferred working style. If you value frequent interaction with colleagues, you may want to question whether this is the right option for you after all.
Take time to investigate whether your PhD will improve your chances of getting into the career area you are looking to enter. Look at job adverts and speak to those working in the industry to find out whether a PhD is really valued by employers, so you have realistic expectations about whether or not your PhD will progress your career prospects. Many pursue a PhD with a view to becoming an academic, but the reality is that there are proportionally very few lectureship positions available compared to the number of PhD candidates. Career development is not the only reason for doing a PhD. The academic achievement itself and the opportunity to gain specialist knowledge might be your sources of motivation instead. Either way, there are a huge number of transferable skills that you gain from undertaking a PhD which will be valuable to future employers. These include research skills, analytical and critical thinking skills, problem solving, time management, taking initiative and prioritisation, as well as any technical or subject specific knowledge that you acquire which could be of value in the industry. Make the most of your time by taking part in additional work or projects outside of your research where you can further develop your skills and experience. This is also likely to be a welcome change to your area of research!
Investigate the funding situation. Some PhDs will be funded, but others will require you to pay fees. Talk to the department you are looking to apply to about the funding that previous PhD students have been able to access. You might want to investigate any part time work opportunities either at the institution or somewhere you can commute to, so you can gain additional experience as well as additional income to help with your living costs.
Finding the right supervisor will have a huge impact on your PhD. Find out as much as you can about potential supervisors and their areas of expertise before applying for a PhD. University department websites will have staff profiles that are a useful start. They will also have details about their research areas and the PhD application process. Attending an open day is a valuable way to see the facilities for yourself, talk to current PhD students and supervisors, as well as see if the location