Friday, October 3, 2014

A Postgraduate: To Be, or Not To Be?

A postgraduate: to be, or not to be?by , Career Camel:

Ibtisam is an MA Public Policy student from Bangladesh. Sees a lot wrong with the world and tries to contribute to their solutions. Or at least rants about them. Writes a lot, but not very well. 

With many of my friends plunging straight into the job market after completing their undergraduate degrees, I find myself among that endangered breed of students - the postgraduate.

Currently slogging my way through a Masters dissertation, I thought I should jot down why a postgraduate degree has quite a few oft-ignored benefits:

1. The stepping stone

The first reason is utilising the postgraduate as a stepping stone. I am using my MA to get into a PhD programme. If academia is what you are seriously considering, remember that most PhD courses will not accept anyone who does not have a Masters degree, or significant experience in the field already. The latter can take years to chalk up; the former usually takes just one.

2. Specialisation

Despite being just one year compared to three or four for undergraduate degrees, Masters give you an in-depth understanding of specific areas of study. A PhD, needless to say, gives you an even greater level of appreciation for the subject. Regardless of whether this is for professional purposes or not, if you want to really immerse yourself in a subject, a postgraduate degree is the way to go.

3. Experience

NGOs and the civil service tend to favour postgraduates for jobs, and undergraduates for internships or volunteer positions. This is not a hard-and-fast rule of course; your CV and application are what really matters. But having an additional degree is a good way to spruce up your experience within a short period of time.

4. The developing world

This might be an oversimplification but if you are seriously thinking of finding a job in a part of the developing world, a postgrad degree will work wonders. I don’t mean multi-nationals, which usually have a more pragmatic approach to employment, but any corporation or organisation that is based purely in the so-called “third world” still pay a lot of attention to nominal qualifications. Masters and PhDs are automatically considered more appropriate for the job.

That being said, there are some very good reasons not to do a postgraduate, including ones that universities do not like to publicise:

1. Uncertainty

If you are not sure what to do for the future, it is better to take a gap year and get some work experience than it is to do a postgraduate degree. For all its benefits, it is still expensive and the focus of the programme gives you very little space to explore other possibilities.

2. The second chance

Similarly, if you did not like a subject in your undergraduate, it is unlikely a postgraduate in the same field will win you over. Unless you are really jumping up the university ladder in terms of quality, using a postgraduate degree as a way to give your field of study a second chance is not a good idea.

3. Difficulty

While a postgraduate degree is a great way to improve your CV, it is not a walk in the park. If you are not willing to put in the hard work and commitment for it, it is better to bolster your credentials elsewhere.

Hopefully, I haven’t scared any of you away. For all my whinging, I find my course extremely rewarding and I am looking forward to getting on to a PhD programme. Just remember that postgraduate programmes comes with both pros and cons, and you should know what you are getting into.

What do you think about postgraduate degrees? Let us know in the comments below.
Photo: DaveBleasdale / Flickr

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