Study: How to find the right course

More than half of all undergraduates now go on to postgraduate study and there are plenty of courses to choose from


Exploring what’s available
It can be difficult for students to navigate the array of courses on offer at graduate level. Dr Tara McMorrow and Dr David O’Connell, lecturers at UCD’s school of biomolecular and biomedical science, direct the MSc in biotechnology and the MSc in business and biotechnology jointly with the Smurfit Business School. Both courses are popular and are always oversubscribed.

McMorrow offers some tips for choosing a taught graduate course. “Many final year science students are now planning their careers with a view to pursuing graduate studies,” she says.

“We set up these courses at UCD in consultation with industry to broaden graduates’ knowledge and understanding of the current technologies and processes in the pharmabiotech industry and to prepare them for a career in industry or business. The overall aim of the programmes is to significantly increase the employability of science graduates in the expanding biotechnology industry worldwide.

“I would recommend students investigate the sectors they want to work in and the types of skills employers are looking for. The IDA Ireland website, for example, gives a great overview of the pharmaceutical, pharmabiotech and medical technologies companies in Ireland, and the job websites detail the types of qualifications and experience companies are looking for.

“Graduate taught courses that enhance your skill set and employability are key. In our master’s courses students gain first-hand experience of some of the practical and business aspects of bioprocessing technology, regulatory affairs and the design and management of clinical trials. These are topics they may not have covered in their undergraduate degrees.”

It can be difficult for a science graduate to get a foot on the ladder because of the competition for jobs in certain areas, she says.

“I advise our final-year students to look for graduate courses that include an internship or some experience working in a business environment. For example, the MSc in biotechnology includes a four-month internship where some students spend time working for biotechnology companies such as Pfizer and Genzyme, as well as regulatory authorities such as the Food Safety Authority.”

For graduates considering setting up on their own, the business and biotechnology MSc students complete a business plan with a biotechnology company.

Graduates of both courses work in pharmabiotech companies such as Kerry Group, Medtronic, Pfizer, Genzyme, Mylan, DuPont and Quintiles, and venture capital companies such as Seroba Kernel.

“The roles are varied from research scientists and investment analysts, to pharmacovigilance and regulatory affairs specialists. Our graduates have commented that their experiences of both the biotechnology and the biotechnology and business MSc programmes have enabled them to acquire additional facets of the science and business of biomedical research, making them very employable in the expanding pharmabiotech industry in Ireland and worldwide.”

More information on these courses is at

How do you go about selecting which course to apply to?
The first question you have to address is the type of programme you wish to follow: research or taught. You might also look at the many conversion courses on offer through the Government springboard programme or directly by the 92 colleges around Ireland offering postgraduate courses.

Taught programmes
Taught postgraduate courses can be a continuation of your undergraduate studies or in an entirely new area. For example, arts or science graduates may choose a postgraduate business course or vice-versa. Taught courses usually result in a certificate, diploma or master’s. Certificate courses are normally shorter than diploma and master’s courses.

Research-based programmes
Almost all master’s and doctorate programmes are research-based. Typically they last for between one and two years full-time. If you decide to choose a research-based course, you should explore the courses within your research area and the quality of the support and supervision on offer. You should also contact potential employers of your proposed research area to elicit their views on the strengths of programmes on offer.

Finding out the labour market’s opinion of the quality of support and supervision on offer at this stage will pay dividends when it comes to engaging with potential employers as you come close to the completion of your programme.

Some master’s programmes will facilitate an immediate transfer onto a PhD programme. A doctorate takes a minimum of three years. The topic to be studied is determined by your own area of interest and those of your supervisor.

Conversion programmes
Conversion courses are increasing in popularity and are also available through specific Government initiatives such as the ICT and Software Development Skills Programmes.

These are typically one-year taught courses that allow graduates to convert to a new subject area. By their nature, conversion courses are typically vocational, providing the first step into specific professional career areas. Some build on a primary degree by adding vocational skills, for example, a biology student choosing an IT conversion course to facilitate entry to bio-informatics.

While a broad range of subject areas are available, the highest concentration is in business, law, arts and computing/IT.

UCD offers an MSc (conversion) in computer sciences, an intensive programme designed for non computer-science graduates to give a thorough foundation in the practical aspects of the development and management of modern information systems. To “convert” to science or engineering, a graduate usually needs a primary degree in a related discipline.

Support within your current institution
Within colleges, careers offices have come to realise the growing importance of advising undergraduates of their postgraduate options, running specific events to promote master’s and PhD options to their final-year students.

At UCD, for example, the Career Development Centre team hosts skills workshops every Wednesday for students preparing applications for graduate studies. One of the crucial elements of these workshops is writing a personal statement, which must often accompany applications and academic qualifications.

Discuss your options with a career guidance professional. Contact your college careers service or one of the guidance counsellors in private practice (see for a full list).

The careers services within our colleges have traditionally provided an interface between the undergraduate and the world of employment. Given that more than 50 per cent of undergraduates are taking postgraduate programmes, this situation has changed for the better. Many colleges support students in clarifying their occupational aspirations and help them to identify the most appropriate postgraduate options available.

Millions of new jobs in Europe
According to the European Commission, 80 million jobs will be created in Europe over the next 10 years and 7 million of those will be in new technologies. How our third-level sector responds to the economic and individual needs of undergraduates, who are looking for additional skills to access these jobs, shows an awareness of the need to be ahead of the curve in developing Ireland’s postgraduate sector.

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