Future You transcript

Getting to grips with postgraduate study webinar

August, 2021

This is a transcript of the getting to grips with postgraduate study webinar held on Tuesday 20 July as part of the Future You series


Host: Ellie Reynolds


  • Sally Elsmore, head of student recruitment and external affairs, Rose Bruford College
  • Tom Fry, postgraduate marketing manager (UK), University of Hertfordshire

Episode transcript

Ellie: So hi everybody and welcome to today's Future You webinar Getting to grips and postgraduate study. Today I'm joined by Tom and Sally and we'll have 20 minutes to discuss everything postgrad. And then we'll have 10 minutes at the end to answer any of your questions that come in. So please feel free to make use of the Q&A button at the bottom at the Zoom page and we'll try and get through as many of those as possible. And so to kick us off Tom would you be able to introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your job role?

Tom: Sure. I’m the postgraduate marketing manager at the University of Hertfordshire, looking after the UK market. Prior to that I've been a PG student myself. So as I've been at Cardiff University, did strategic marketing there so I know all the fears of postgrad from a student's perspective and also I suppose what to look for as a potential postgraduate student.

Ellie: And Sally would you be able to introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your job role?

Sally: Yeah, morning everybody I'm Sally Ellsmore I'm the head of student recruitment and external affairs for Rose Bruford College, that's a performing arts institution. I've worked at UCL, University of Leicester and De Montfort University. So lots of experience of different kinds of institutions and the kinds of things that postgraduate students need to consider at each of those. So look forward to speaking to you.

Ellie: Brilliant thank you both. So if we just kick off with some questions. Tom, if I put this one to you first, and then Sally, you can jump in after. It's a slightly broad one. But could you tell us the advantages and disadvantages of undertaking postgraduate study?

Tom: Sure. I think the big one is the value of postgraduate study. You've finished an undergraduate degree what's the value it's going to bring of staying on and doing an extra bit of postgraduate study. I'll do the disadvantages first, not many. I suppose it's the more study. You've just done three years study and you've got to stay on for another year which is quite daunting, could have a bit of study fatigue. The positive to that then I suppose staying on for the additional year, getting the additional experience from postgraduate study and specialising in the subject area will make you more prepared for the workplace.

And then the other one I suppose is affordability is the other big issue that comes up with postgraduate study. And there is a way around that there is, you know, it does cost sort of the fees for PG study. But there is a PG loan you can access to help fund your studies and other available funding streams. So they'd be there as the two main ones.

But on the positives there's a lot of people now with undergraduate degrees, it's a competitive marketplace, postgraduate study is a real opportunity to differentiate yourself in the market between potential students and stand out, to get that specialism within your course, you know, sort of your your area of interest and what you're passionate about.

And also postgraduate study, there's the option then to really gain that experience within your area of interest that whether it's going on placements, live briefs, there's a lot of opportunities to network with relevant industries, and really bolster that CV. So actually, when you go in for a job, prior to postgraduate, you've got a lot more sort of meat there to talk about on your CV about your education that you don't necessarily get at undergrad level. So that's the big one. The other bit then was earning potential sort of a big step with sort of postgraduate study with graduate outcomes earning potential is better, I suppose the Masters graduates on average earn five and a half thousand pounds at five years after this years of study, your career options that 18% are in a sort of higher educated role after finishing the PG study. And also the big one I suppose career satisfaction, you know, so we've all got a you know, sort of got to go to work and go to job you want enjoy what you do. And I think so, those postgraduate study of 4% more sort of happy within their role, sort of said, yeah, that's the I think they're the big ones really sort of in terms of what's the value of the PG study can bring, it's to give you those more career options in a better career move forward into the future.

Ellie: And Sally do you have anything you'd like to add to that?

Sally: Just to speak to those that are not continuing from undergraduate study, but mid career professionals, really, postgraduate study can be great if you're looking to upskill and sort of progress through your career. Or if you're looking to change disciplines slightly as a little bit of a sideways step, that is an advantage. The disadvantage, of course, if you're a mid career professional, as opposed to a progression student is the time. So you're either going to have to take a year away from your career, or you're going to have to balance work and study, which needs careful consideration. But postgraduate study is a great opportunity, if you have a clear idea where you want to go find the institution that offer that course. And it will help you get ahead in your career, probably quicker than if you just stayed in the role you're in. But yeah, consider the time.

Ellie: That's brilliant thank you. And then Sally, if we can come to you first for the next question. So thinking about work placement opportunities, job opportunities, and broader than that as well. Can you tell me what you should look for when picking a postgraduate course?

Sally: Yeah, absolutely. So my, my best advice would be think what you want to gain out of this study. Where do you want to get you to? And then look at the courses that will get you to that place. So if you're wanting to change careers, you might want to look at a broader course which will give you more choice after you graduate or if you're looking to progress in a certain field, you might want to look for a course with a really specific course title and a really specific curriculum so that you get really, really niche skills that are going to make your CV stand out against others in the market. A good thing to look for when you’re looking at these courses and attending open days, look at who teaches you, are you being taught by the program director, are you being taught by postdocs, are you being taught by people from other faculties? Because it really matters, and it will affect what you learn and all of those people are great teachers, and they'll teach you great things but it's important to understand if a programmes advertised with a programme director, but the teaching is done by somebody else, their specialism is likely to be slightly different. And so really take time to look at that and understand who's going to be teaching you. And then the second thing to examine is how will you be able to apply what you've learned in the workplace? So is there a placement opportunity? Do people from industry come in and brief you? Try to understand that because that's the thing that employers really want to learn about in your interview for jobs, they'll want to know what you learn that's going to help them in their business.

Ellie: And Tom

Tom: Totally agree with that, it's sort of looking at your career path and where you see yourself going. The course might be enough for your career interests, you might need an accreditation so see if that's available. Look at the course content versus a job advert sort of does that marry up with the latest industry trends? And is there stuff when you get to an interview that you can talk about? Is there opportunity to work on live briefs, is there an opportunity to work with local employers, actually, that you can really showcase your skills when looking for a job. Those are some of the big ones.

The student support available as well. So actually that during and after your course is there career support afterwards to help you sort of progress on the ladder? Is there the academic support while you do the course, if you need help and support that that's there at the school to help facilitate that.

And I suppose location as well really if you're looking to relocate to another area, what is the jobs market like in the local area? So is the university well connected there with local industry connections? Just so when you come out and finish your degree you can really get the value and see that you know that the postgraduate study actually helps you to land the job that you want to get.

Ellie: Thank you. And then if we come to you again, Tom, and then back to Sally. If somebody was considering undertaking a Masters, what could they expect from that course? In terms of is it dissertation, is it exams, the structure, does it differ from Masters to Masters? Would you be able to give us some information on that?

Tom: Yeah, definitely. It does vary per course. And it's, again, it's dependent if you wanted to do a one time full-time course, which is similar to undergrad where you'd have three semesters - usually September, January, and then April. With modules throughout the year, finished on either an exam or a piece of coursework then finishing with a large project sort of a dissertation, then that would be a one year full time. If you're in employment already, you can space that out with more flexible study over two to three years to help manage that and create that flexibility around work and study. I suppose that one of the big fears of postgraduate study the students think what's the level they can, you know, they need to know the year of study. But actually comparing undergrad and postgraduate study I didn't find it any more challenging and probably more enjoyable because it was more specialist in an area I really enjoyed and really loved. Yeah I wouldn’t worry about the level of postgraduate study. Another thing as well is class sizes are usually a lot smaller, sort of workshops and seminars, which is great again, I found it really beneficial where you can really challenge and question academics and have a closer relationship then to really sort of get an understanding of the subject area.

And lastly I found there's a bit more opportunity to network and to meet employers, that postgraduate study level, and then working on live briefs as well. So there might be for marketing, for example, I had a live agency briefs that we worked on as part of the course, which was getting some valuable input into talking to you level.

Ellie: And Sally, would you like to add anything to that one?

Sally: Yeah, and just briefly to sort of flag up that you should expect a research element in your study. That depends what you’re studying obviously, if you're an engineer, it'll be very different to if you're studying law, but it could take the form of a literature review and be a large written piece, or it could be a practical study. Look closely at that, because lots of universities will give you a list of the subjects where they have researchers in the area, and you kind of have to fit in with the researchers they've got for obvious reasons. So just make sure that if you do have a very specific thing that you want to explore and the research is quite often the most enjoyable bit of the course that they have the corresponding expert that you want to study or that if you don't have any idea what you want to do, that there's the choice there that you'll be able to choose from when it comes time to do that project. That U would say, the research project is probably the area that most postgrads sort of don't think about and then when it comes time to choosing a project they wish they would have looked into it more in the early stages. So that's something to look out for.

Ellie: Perfect thank you and we have one of these questions to answer but it's also come in to the Q&A as well. It's what can applicants expect from the interview process? Tom if we can start with you and then move to Sally?

Tom: Yeah. I'd say simply they’ll want you to expand on your personal statement. It's a great thing they're interested in you, your applications gone well, they want to know more about you as a person. So they'll be looking at your motivations with postgraduate study, why do you want to study, why do you want to study at the university? I suppose a good bit of research beforehand will really help the interview process so looking back at the sort of the industry you want to work in and current trends, looking at the academics that’ll be interviewing you so looking at their research in some of their areas of expertise to be able to question. Yeah, just and also I suppose then just the university itself there. So again, really sort of having questions ready for the interviewer to really show your interest in postgraduate study and the university.

Ellie: And Sally, do you have anything you'd like to add?

Sally: All of the above definitely. But someone said in the chat box is it the same as a job interview? It's a slightly different process but I would still recommend researching it as if it was. Still dress you know, professionally smart/casual, and do your research find out about the people that you're going to be working with. And you should expect if it's a practical subject potentially a workshop type environment where you’ll work with other applicants. So don't be surprised if that crops up and that's quite often you know, if you're applying to be a performing artist, they want to see you in performance mode, so don't be alarmed if that's part of the process and just try to enjoy it. And enthusiasm I think is the big thing, academics always say to me, you know that applicant was so enthusiastic, that applicant really was interested in my subject. And that stands out. So apply for things you want to do.

Ellie: Brilliant, and Tom would you like to add anything?

Tom: All good for me.

Ellie: Perfect, not a problem. So Sally we'll kick off this question with you first. Could you just give a little bit of guidance on funding? Maybe in terms of like websites they might be able to find information how to go about doing that? Would you just be able to shed some light on the funding side?

Sally: Yeah, certainly. So postgraduate courses vary in price quite a lot across the sector. So if you're considering more than one programme at more than one institution, do compare the prices and have a look how those differentiate and try to understand potentially why the prices might be different. You can access a government loan to support you with your postgraduate study, you could consider doing a part-time course so that you could work alongside. And you can also access bursaries and scholarships, and the best place I would recommend start with that would be the institution if you've narrowed it down to an institution, check their website for bursaries and scholarships, but also that I know the Prospects website has loads of information and loads of signposts. It is quite an admin heavy process to find out how you're going to self fund if you're employed, or obviously, some people are looking at their employer will pay for it. But if you're self funding, do take the time to look around at your options. Because although it can seem quite laborious, you could end up finding out that you're you know, you're eligible for this bursary, it's gonna save you 10 grand, it's really worth putting the time in.

Ellie: And, Tom, do you have anything you'd like to add?

Tom: Yeah, I'd say similarly a lot of people aren't aware of the postgraduate loan. It launched about five years ago, it's up to £11,500 that you can claim for the study. The other bit is if you're an undergraduate at a current university, some offer like alumni discounts of, you know, at Hertfordshire we offer 20% to postgraduates. Similarly bursaries and scholarships, yeah, they can be this multiple places, it'd be great if they were all in one place. But one of the good ones is, turn to us. ac.org, which is a charitable, which offers grants to students there, it could be able to access funding that way. But again, speak to your employer as well, if you're, you know, currently, with an employer, they are happy to fund your study. If you can prove that value of what that's going to bring to the business in the long term, that's a great avenue to potentially to help with the course. They'd be the main ones for me.

Ellie: A slightly broad question. But Sally, can we start with you. Can you tell us what qualities make a good postgraduate student? So if somebody is looking to study postgraduate, what would they really need in abundance to make it an enjoyable experience as well for them?

Sally: That's a great question, I think, across the board dedication is, is one of the things because postgraduate study is going to be challenging. The subject matter is going to be more demanding and you're likely to be undertaking the study while trying to balance other things. So you need to be dedicated to the course that you've chosen. And the other thing that I think comes more into play, perhaps than at undergraduate level is teamwork. And particularly if you're undertaking a practical research project or across other modules of study, you may be working with people from other courses or PhD students or sometimes even undergrad, so you need to be prepared to sort of share and collaborate to get the most out of your study.

Ellie: And Tom?

Tom: The big one is passion for the subject from undergrad to PG level. Being curious, not afraid to question academics and sort of getting the theory and how that applies in practice. Going into the workplace, then you're armed from a practical perspective about how that works out within the workplace. Classically, good time management, you know, sort of balancing your commitments, you know, sort of making sure that you hit your deadlines. The other bit is don't be afraid to ask for help, there will be certain modules and subject that’ll be your strong suit but like me as a marketer, I love the creative and consumer behavior, but sort of the stats and numbers was a little bit more challenging, but actually sort of reaching out, that help you can support you through your journey. So it's asking for help and support. For example stats them came up as one of my top marks. So don't be afraid to ask for help and support as well, the university want you to succeed, they want you to do well. They give you the tools, whether that’s sort of networking events, or industry connections or briefs you know the help is there but it's not going to be given to you on a plate you need to be driven and dedicated. You come out and you've got this great new qualification at the end of it but also the time with the university, you've also got to be proactive, making those connections, getting the experience to really add some weight there so when you come out you land the job that you want.

Ellie: That's brilliant advice. Thanks for answering those questions guys. It's really, really informative. And we've just hit our 20 minute mark so if we move into the Q&A. I've been keeping an eye on them and there seems to be lots of similar style questions. I think there'll be a broad audience that finds these answers really interesting. So I'll just read the question out, and then whoever wants to jump on and answer it, feel free. So if we start with and put these two together. Is it possible and if so, are you able to go from. I’ll reword that I've done it terribly. Are you able to go from an undergrad to postgrad that are two very different subjects? And if so, what advice would you give to somebody doing that? For example, if someone was doing French at undergraduate, they went on to do postgrad politics would that be possible?

Sally: Yeah, it usually is an option. But what I would say is you need to open up a discussion with the programme team, to articulate to them why you want to make such a drastic change. And they may come back to you and say you will struggle with the curriculum, you need to go off and do this prior reading, or you need to go and spend a year in industry to get an understanding of the subject. It really depends what you're going from and to. But I would say if you're really passionate, and you want to do that, speak to the programme team, they'll tell you clearly whether you'll be ready for postgraduate study in a different subject. What do you think, Tom?

Tom: Yeah, definitely. I think that's it's very much subject dependent, isn't it? I agree, speak to the academics and they'll help forge the path on what's right. There are conversion courses that you can do in some areas. Some things at undergraduate might be more generalists that you can track easily enough where there's over a bit of crossover from undergraduate level to postgrad. But yeah definitely speak to the people at the university really but there are options available there that you can transition from subjects because, you know, appreciate that undergrad level going into this, you know, sort of that you're not necessarily know what you want to do further down the line.

Ellie: Brilliant. There's been three very similar questions that have just come through and it's about managing time and the time commitments of postgraduate study. So if you're a mature student who was balancing child care, work and studies or somebody who wanted to think about extra curriculum activities, how would they go about managing their time? Does it differ greatly to undergrad courses? Is there a lot more time spent or is it slightly less? Could you just go into a bit of detail about that? If anyone wants to jump on that one.

Tom: Yeah I think it does depend on the course. Find more of a business, or engineering or law, a bit more time intensive with face to face lecture time, compared to say humanities or arts. But what again, you can vary the length of the course, you know, so that you can have an intensive one year or over a couple of years to space out. Childcare options that the student support we're here to support academically with it with childcare with that, actually, postgrad study is achievable, that, you know, we've all got lives, you're trying to, you know, sort of busy work schedules, that postgraduate study is definitely achievable, and that is flexible around your life and supports it. And so yeah, it would depend on the course but yeah there’s definitely flexible learning options to help facilitate and get the qualification you're looking for.

Sally: I just wanted to add to that as well. In my experience, if you're unsure whether to do say, a part time, or modular flexible err for the side where it's less intensive, because a lot of students tend to start off thinking, you know, I can dedicate myself to this, I can make it work around the kids and the job. But you will put yourself under an incredible amount of pressure. And to get the most from your study, it would be better to take it over a long period, in my opinion, and really be able to sort of focus on it and get the best out of each module rather than feeling like oh, you know, I've got this essay to do, I've got all this other stuff. And the stress that students put on themselves is quite intense. So I'd say if you're unsure between which type of study err for the side, that's less intense. And always consider online study as well, which tends to be a lot more asynchronous, which means you learn at the time of day that suits you. And that can be a really, really good option for people who are who are returning to study as well.

Ellie: That's brilliant thank you. We did touch on this question earlier, but maybe just to go into a touch more detail for Alice. When thinking about postgraduate study, maybe more in terms of how much weight should you put on university reputation and ranking compared to specific modules, location, for example, when deciding on a course?

Tom: To be honest, from a student experience, you know, the two big for me was in a sort of stigma of Russell Group in the past, but actually, I suppose looking back now it's not important, that was what really was important, I said, was the content within the within the course and your work experience that I could, sort of we can actually say to employer sort of found at the end, but it was a lot of fear. Actually, what I needed was, you know, can I talk about a live brief, could I use the equipment or the facility, industry, that really, the language of employers where they understand this was course content was really important. And also look, were like sort of the peer group. So alumni is a key one. So actually, reputation for me would be almost where were pre graduates going on to work for have they gone kind of sort of the big brands such as Google, Apple. A good indicator as to whether the course is respected within industry. And also getting better peers, you know, sort of your friends and family, coaches, academics are great ways to understand what the course.

Ellie: Would you like to add anything to that question Sally?

Sally: I think that's a great tip from Tom look at where the graduates are working that'll tell you how well respected the course is. I think I beg to differ a little bit about reputation because if you look at the league tables, and you've got an institution that's higher up, compared to an institution that's lower down, there's a fair chance that institution will have more budget to spend on your course. So the facilities might be better, the teaching might be better, the research outputs might be better, it totally depends what subject area you're looking at. So I would consider league tables it's not something that I would write off, but it's not probably the most important. Very sitting on the fence, isn't it? But there we go.

Ellie: No, that's really I think that's great advice. We're coming up to full time now. So I'd just like to say thank you so much to Tom and Sally, your input and advice I'm sure has been absolutely brilliant to all of our attendees. And thank you for answering all the questions. I'm really sorry to everybody who didn't get an opportunity to answer your question. There is loads of postgraduate information on the Prospects website so if we didn't get a chance to answer your question, please just pop onto there and have a look through there you might find the answer to your question on there.

Transcript ends.

Note on transcripts

These transcripts are produced using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. The audio version is definitive and should be checked before quoting.

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