Postgraduates seek expert advice: Mark Dempsey

Careers clinic: Finding the right career advice can be crucial. We connected prospective postgrad students with career experts to help answer their questions


Mark Dempsey is a freelance graphic designer specialising in web design and digital solutions for business (see He is interested in pursuing a course in interactive design but wants to explore his options.

We connected Mark up with Diarmuid O’Dowd, who works as a guidance counsellor in Moyle Park College in Clondalkin. In 2014 Diarmuid took on the role of project lead for the Trinity Access 21 programme after which the school was awarded two international schools of distinction awards of its implementation. Diarmuid has a MSc in Guidance Counselling from DCU and is a chartered member of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors in Ireland (Contact:

Mark Dempsey: What options are there for funding masters’?

Diarmuid O’Dowd: One of the most important factors influencing those wishing to pursue further postgraduate studies is how to fund it. While some funding opportunities are well signposted on institution websites, you may need to delve deeper into others. offer great advice and tips in navigating institutional websites to gain further information on funding opportunities. is a convenient and user-friendly source of information on financial support for further and higher education as well as information on course fees and details on eligibility requirements for free fees.

Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) also offer support to all types of students, from school leavers to mature students returning to education. To check if you’re eligible, use their eligibility reckoner app on their website.

The Springboard+ upskilling initiative in higher education offers free courses at certificate, degree and master’s level leading to qualifications in areas where there are employment opportunities in the economy. They do not cover all areas and courses are designed to meet current and future skills needs in Ireland. You can use their search courses keyword filter to find courses related to areas of interest.

Finally, students enrolling in postgraduate courses may get financial assistance under the Student Grant Scheme, with the cost of tuition fees for approved postgraduate courses in Ireland and Northern Ireland. See more details.

Mark Dempsey: How available are the master’s – are they generally competitive in terms of gaining entry?

Diarmuid O’Dowd: The availability of masters’ programmes really varies depending on the field of interest. Highly sought after programmes often require you to attend an interview. With this in mind it is important that you are mindful of engaging and participating in activities/events which show that you are passionate and committed to the subject area. In many respects partaking in such activities will also help to clarify whether or not you really want to further your studies in that subject area.

Mark Dempsey: I live in Dublin and don’t want to leave the city, but should I look at online learning options? I feel I need the discipline of a course so would avoid MOOCs or Coursera, but are there ways of staying focused outside the traditional course/ classroom set-up?

Diarmuid O’Dowd: Most institutions offer online (distance) learning courses. While e-learning courses are becoming more popular, not every student is prepared to learn that way. There is sometimes the misperception that online courses are easier than on-site courses but in reality, most online courses require stronger organisational skills and more self-discipline than traditional courses. If you suspect you aren’t quite ready, try easing into e-education by taking a hybrid or “web-assisted” course which uses some online features but also includes classroom meetings.

In terms of staying focused I think you need to question why you have decided to pursue further studies to begin with. Are you are wishing to further your studies for financial reasons such as a job promotion or a career change, or do you simply want to further your knowledge in an area that you are passionate about? Either way, being cognizant of why you’re pursuing further studies will help to keep you focused whether this is online or via the traditional methods of delivery.

Mark Dempsey: Will the NCAD MA in interaction design course be applicable for Springboard, because it’s tech-oriented? Although I have a particular course in mind but should I look at other options?

Diarmuid O’Dowd: Unfortunately the MA in Interaction Design in the NCAD is not listed as the Springboard courses. In saying this you can use their search tool to find similar course which are available such as a Postgraduate Certificate in Creative Thinking, Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Trinity College or Higher Diploma in Digital Media Design in Carlow institute of Technology. I would always advise clients to look at other options.Interaction Design is quite broad and covers areas such as Design, art, computer science, psychology and business. It may be useful to know which areas appeal to you the most, which will then aid you in researching other course of interest. Similar courses to Interaction Design around the Dublin area include Design Innovation in MaynoothUniversity and Design Thinking in Dún Laoghaire Inst of Art Design & Technology, to name but a few.

Mark Dempsey: I have done part of a master’s but had to drop out for personal reasons in 2014. Can I go back and complete it? And if so, will I be eligible for a grant?

Diarmuid O’Dowd: I would advise that you speak directly to the register department of the institution or the possibility of contacting the course director. They may be willing to make some allowances especially considering they are aware of your previous circumstances. In terms of the previously obtained SUSI grant, all previous attendance and attainment at postgraduate level are considered under the SUSI grant scheme regardless of whether a grant was received previously or not.

You can apply again for the SUSI grant when the application progress opens in April. There is a section at the end of the application in which you would explain when you had opted out of the previous course of study. A letter from the institution may be needed to support your application when the assessor looks at it under the exceptional circumstances list.

It may be worthwhile to contact the course director or co-ordinator. They can provide the most up-to-date information regarding scholarships or grants available for their course as well as information regarding access grants which may be available.

These conversations have been edited for space. Postgraduate applications are made through the Postgraduate Applications Centre which can be found at