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Pursuing further study as a graduate? Here’s what you need to know

28 Sep 2020

It can be hard to know what to look for when you’re considering postgraduate programmes. All Campus CEO Joe Diamond has some advice to get you started.

Click here to view the Graduates Month series.

Many people choose to pursue further study after they finish their undergraduate degree, whether it’s a professional diploma, a master’s or a PhD. If that sounds like you, Joe Diamond has some advice.

Diamond is CEO of All Campus, a platform he founded in 2012 to help higher-education institutes expand their digital presence and online enrolment. He has more than 20 years of experience in higher-education consulting and database marketing.

Here, he shares his insights on the skills graduates should be prioritising in today’s market and what to watch out for if you’re thinking about continuing your education journey.

What are the skills worth investing in right now for graduates?

There are really two types of skills: general (interpersonal and business tools, like Microsoft Office) and industry-specific. For the latter, I’d encourage the individual to think about the next desired rung or two in their career. Speak to the people within their industry that they admire and do their own research.

There are a lot of resources, such as Cyberseek or Payscale, that provide information on recommended skills or certifications – such as upskilling and credentialing programmes – that are job-specific. If this is mapped out, it should be fairly simple to pinpoint specific areas they’d need to round out what they’ve learned in their undergrad.

For more general skills, I actually recommend Toastmasters to many of our new employees, even the more outgoing ones, to help bolster their confidence and build presentation abilities.

Other baseline skills that can be highly valuable, depending on a student’s career track, are simple Microsoft Office (particularly Excel) or Google Suite skills. We’d hope that many students in STEM are learning these, but you’d be surprised at how many do not or only have a surface-level understanding.

Experience with some task management tools – Asana, Trello, Jira – can also be helpful. Depending on the industry, having basic programming skills can also be beneficial; just enough to work with various datasets and extract useful information.

Do you have any tips for graduates navigating further study in the newly virtual world?

I think most undergraduate students in this day and age have more experience with virtual tools – certainly many are developing them now as a part of the impact of the pandemic – than Gen X and even millennials, and may find that their transition into virtual learning will be smooth.

For those that didn’t take any online coursework during their undergraduate, a fully online programme can be a challenge in self-motivation and time management, especially when a student is also working full time and managing day-to-day responsibilities. With this in mind, here are several tips our advisers recommend to online students to guide them.

Integrate your school’s schedule with your calendar. Block off time to study and mark due dates for assignments. Log into the online platform daily, no matter what the requirements are, to make sure you don’t miss announcements from your instructor

Familiarise yourself with the writing and citation guidelines of your institution and don’t be afraid to engage with your faculty member or adviser if you need help.

Communicate with your classmates. You’re on this journey together and just because you’re not in a physical classroom doesn’t mean you can’t create relationships virtually or even form virtual study groups.

Identify the skills you want to learn and do your research. Virtual learning breaks down location boundaries and opens up an extremely large pool of options for not only graduate degree programmes, but also certificates, bootcamps, short courses etc. By determining the skills that you need for success and by researching various types of programmes and learning outcomes, you can more effectively achieve your goals.

If you’re employed, keep informed and ask questions about professional development opportunities at your company. Employers have a vested interest in keeping employees fulfilled and upskilled and there may be opportunity to receive a stipend or reimbursement for professional development, especially when it comes to skills directly applicable to your current role.

What should people be looking out for in postgraduate courses?

Graduates looking for postgrad programmes need to think about what their end goal is by asking themselves what they want to have happen as an outcome of their degree. Is it going into a PhD? Is it changing their career? Advancing in a particular field? The answer to this will help guide them into a degree programme that has a PhD track or not, a broader master’s degree programme such as an MBA that will allow them to pivot, or a specialised master’s degree like in cybersecurity analytics.

Potential grad students should also ask themselves what level of networking is beneficial to the field under study and how does the programme meet these needs. If networking is an essential part of the field, where are the alumni based? Are they working at companies, industries or locations of interest to the graduate?

An additional consideration is the type of experiential learning opportunities provided through the degree to meet the needs of the student. Potential grad students looking to progress in a specific field should also see if a certification, or preparation for one, is offered through the programme.

‘Graduates looking for postgrad programmes need to think about what their end goal is’

Graduates should also do some research around teaching styles. In business programmes, this could be case study versus lecture. However, in engineering, this could look like lab versus lecture. With online programmes, the on-campus styles still apply but then you can get the added benefits of synchronous versus asynchronous-based learning style and convenience needs.

Another tip to keep in mind is maintaining relationships with your undergrad faculty and professional relationships. Some graduate programmes require at least one letter of recommendation from a former professor and you may also need references for jobs moving forward.

What can a graduate do if they choose a postgrad course and then realise it’s not for them?

Well, let’s hope that this doesn’t happen. But if it does, there are some options. For example, go on a leave of absence. Many programmes allow for this and some allow for a student to take up to five years or more to complete their master’s degree.

Maybe there’s something in the student’s life that has impacted their ability to pursue their degree now, but they can start again once their circumstances change. If it’s life and not their degree of choice that’s the issue, this could be a good option.

If the student finds themselves in a situation where they realise the curriculum, instructional quality etc isn’t for them, withdraw as soon as possible. Many graduate courses will not accept more than a certain number of credit hours transferred in from another school.

But don’t give up! Many schools are very supportive of their student population, particularly in a virtual environment. Our advisers encourage everyone in this instance to reach out to a faculty member or adviser for advice on their own situation.

Some programmes may allow students to take additional courses or pursue self-study as part of their graduate programme, which can help students if they feel like there is a specific topic missing from a programme of study they would like to explore.

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

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