Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Is a postgraduate degree necessary to get a job? via @TimesHigherEd #340

Many undergraduate students ask me about continuing their studies after they graduate - a Masters is sometimes looked upon as a ticket to a getting a good job. It can be an expensive year or two, but can definitely improve a student's prospects (though I'd love to see hard evidence of this). 

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Victoria Halman, writing for Tines Higher Education, asks the question: "Is a postgraduate degree necessary to get a job?". In her article, Halman quotes research that "confirms that having a postgraduate degree will enhance earnings over time". A postgraduate qualification is becoming an "unspoken requirement" for many positions, and it is "becoming the norm".

For some positions, a postgraduate degree is a mandatory requirement - try getting a job as a Lecturer in a university without a PhD! In my own career I am certain that my PhD played a significant role in being hired by CBT Systems in 1989 and NCI in 2002. If I lived my life again I certainly would do the PhD again. 

I'd like to think that students would embark on postgraduate study because they really want to study/research in a particular area - in other words they are passionate about their studies. I'd hate to think that they think it is the ticket they need for a job. I have met many students with Masters degrees who find it difficult or near impossible to get a job, but most seem to get on the job ladder. 

It is also an opportunity to prolong student life - this was certainly a factor for me in making the decision to continue as a postgraduate student in the Department of Zoology in Trinity in 1983. The late Professor JNR Grainger encouraged me to do so - I remember well him commenting on my final (4th) year project that I "had a talent for research" and should use it. I did, and added nearly four more years to student life.

My own opinion, for what it's worth, is that students should get some work experience after graduating, and then come back for a Masters after 2-3 years. I also think that students should definitely go to a different College for their postgraduate studies for different experiences in a different academic environment. Postgraduate study is very rewarding and worth doing - but only for the right reasons.

My first business card.
One final note - does it guarantee a job? As I said above, I feel it was a benefit when I was hired by CBT Systems. However, when I was getting my first business card I was not allowed to add either "Dr" as a title, or "PhD" after my name. This decision was of course made by people who did not have a post graduate qualification, but was made in case I looked over-qualified and in case it intimidated others. How things have changed!

Euegen O'Loughlin, M.A., Ph.D. (Dubl.)

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