How to select the right postgraduate course

Ask yourself what type of programme you wish to follow: research or taught

Some master’s programmes will facilitate an immediate transfer on to a PhD.

Some master’s programmes will facilitate an immediate transfer on to a PhD.

 

Taught postgraduate courses can be a continuation of your undergraduate studies or in an entirely new area.

How to differentiate between what’s on offer and, more particularly, how to ensure your course has credibility in the labour market, is a major challenge.

But before you decide what you want to study, you should ask yourself about what type of programme you wish to follow: research or taught.

Some master’s programmes will facilitate an immediate transfer on to a PhD. A doctorate takes a minimum of three years

Taught programmes

Taught postgraduate courses can be a continuation of your undergraduate studies or in an entirely new area. The length of a course usually determines its qualification.

A higher certificate is generally a 30-credit programme over six modules. A graduate diploma is generally 60 credits and the master’s degree requires 90 credits. Taught masters often include a research component, possibly during the summer and, in some cases, in an industry setting.

Research programmes

Research masters, including MLitt’s, generally take 15 months to four years, depending on whether it’s full-time or part-time. If you choose a research-based course, explore the courses in your research area and the quality of the support and supervision offered. You can contact potential employers in your research area for views on the programme’s strengths.

Finding out the labour market’s opinion of the quality of support and supervision at this stage will pay dividends when engaging with potential employers near completion of your programme.

Some master’s programmes will facilitate an immediate transfer on to a PhD. A doctorate takes a minimum of three years. The topic is determined by your area of interest and those of your supervisor. Some PhDs are designed for the lone scholar under the direction of a single expert supervisor.

There are also structured PhDs where groups of students come together for transferable skills. Talk to the programme director to get help deciding which structure suits you and your workstyle best.

Research masters, including MLitt’s, generally take 15 months to four years.

Quality and recognition are essential considerations when choosing a programme. Photograph: Getty
Quality and recognition are essential considerations when choosing a programme. Photograph: Getty

Quality and credibility

Quality and recognition are essential considerations when choosing a programme. Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI), an agency of the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science is responsible for the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) and ensures quality and validation of programmes leading to recognised qualifications in Ireland, from literacy programmes at NFQ Level 1 to doctoral awards at NFQ Level 10.

The validation of a programme assures its quality and value and ensures its recognition in the NFQ. The universities, technological universities and institutes of technology have legal authority to develop, deliver and validate their own programmes and make their own awards in line with established quality assurance guidelines. These awards are referenced on the NFQ for both undergraduate and postgraduate programmes and are listed by the higher education institutions on their websites. QQI also makes awards in higher education for programmes offered by private or independent higher education colleges which are validated by QQI.

Unfortunately, there are also some worthless postgrad offerings online from colleges with little or no academic credibility

The new QQI Register of Qualifications lists all providers in Ireland and their programmes leading to qualifications recognised in the NFQ. This register is a definitive listing of all quality-assured courses gathered from all providers and QQI. Additionally the www.qualifax.ie website has information on all post grad opportunities in Ireland, including those not validated by QQI (for example, courses in Northern Ireland that fall outside the remit of QQI).

Qualifax currently lists 2,892 postgraduate programmes at level 9 Masters and level 10 PhD in 85 institutions in Ireland, including Northern Ireland institutions which provide 375 programmes. These range from accounting in UCD, to zoology in NUI Galway. Qualifax also lists some programmes at private colleges and courses leading to qualifications awarded by external awarding bodies such as the universities in the UK.

Aside from programmes included in the Irish Register of Qualifications and Qualifax, reputable postgraduate degrees are offered online by top ranking universities worldwide. Unfortunately, there are also some worthless postgrad offerings online from colleges with little or no academic credibility. So, for those considering programmes not validated by QQI or similar awarding body, caveat emptor or buyer beware.

It can be difficult to find out about recognition of your qualification in another country if you are considering studying or working abroad. The European Network of Information Centres and National Academic Recognition Information Services (ENIC-NARIC Centres) in the relevant country is invaluable if you are considering studying abroad. See enic-naric.net

Researching your options

The Qualifax website is the source for all postgraduate courses in Ireland validated by QQI. You can search for programmes under a range of criteria, location, cost, and key search words relevant to your area of interest.

For courses in NI and the UK, www.ucas.com has a comprehensive postgrad section. There’s a growing number of postgraduate programmes through English in European universities - seeeunicas.ie.

Online, highly reputable postgrads are offered by bodies such as the Open University and prestigious universities internationally.

“We see students selecting one of three types of course - depending on their own goals and motivation,” says Eilis O’Brien, director of communication at UCD.

They fall into one of the following categories: progression students, who wish to become more expert in their bachelor subject; conversion students, who have a degree in one area but want to add skills and knowledge from another; and professional students, who want the qualification that goes with a particular graduate course.

This third group generally have a career path mapped out, so the choice may be more about where and when. The first two groups start to think of postgraduate options around now in the final year of studies.

We are very aware of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic this year. We invested in technology and other resources as well as in creative ways to deliver teaching and assessment so that we could maintain the quality of our education and the status of our qualifications.”

Job-ready courses

The high-quality Stem graduates emerging from universities and ITs have opportunities, but the competition has also increased, so many go on to graduate level to enhance their skill set.

There has been strong interest from our existing and new industry partners despite the current conditions, which shows the need to continue to source young talent

Carla Naltchayan, the programme internship manager for Science at UCD, offers practical advice to final-year students thinking about taking a Master’s or PhD: “Many students want their graduate degrees to open career doors and having an internship is very beneficial on your CV and can lead directly to a job offer from the placement company.” Many colleges offer internships as part of taught master’s, particularly in the Stem subjects.

“Ten of our science master’s degrees have an embedded 12 to 15-week internships in semester three, students are matched with suitable organisations and undertake a specific industry project, which is carefully supervised and assessed. There has been strong interest from our existing and new industry partners despite the current conditions, which shows the need to continue to source young talent in the Technology sector. Our placement opportunities for science and biotechnology students haven’t been affected so much during the pandemic, instead, we have diversified our portfolio to continue to offer meaningful work-based learning opportunities in quality systems, commercialisation, or regulatory affairs”

This type of experience can be invaluable. Science graduates with a background in life sciences or chemistry, and thinking about setting up on their own, may consider a hybrid conversion degree such as an MSc in biotechnology and business, including completing a business plan with a biotechnology company.

As a hub of biotechnology, Ireland is a good place for science graduates and an increasing number of international students are enrolling here. Biotechnology master’s and doctorate programmes with appropriate internships are also offered by DCU, UCC, NUI Galway and the TUD.

With 35-40 per cent of undergrads going on to postgrad, careers offices in colleges are crucial in advising undergraduates of their choices by running events to promote master’s and PhD options to their final-year students and preparing applications for graduate studies.