To do, or not to do: that is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of the undergraduate job market
Or to take arms against the jeer and mock of disparaging employers
And, by PhD, master them
We all know by now that postgraduate degrees and the plethora of graduate and post-experience diplomas in the tertiary education space, provide no guarantee of success in today’s job-market. So what’s the story?
Contrary to popular belief, a postgraduate qualification has never guaranteed employment. Maybe because for most who pursue this, employment has been a secondary driver, the prime one being the pursuit of specialised knowledge and expertise and to contribute to their field. Employment was almost a bi-product of this process and was often within the academic community. Certainly in the past when relatively few chose the postgraduate path, a Masters or Doctoral degree was likely to lead to positions with comparatively high status and working conditions (and frequently a salary) that reflected this.
Postgraduate qualifications are now common with a vast range of offerings – academic, vocational and post-experience. Their rarity value is diminished and there is clear evidence of ‘credential inflation’ (employers filling positions with postgraduates when previously they would have accepted undergraduates), and ‘under-employment’ (a consequence of the latter where student are employed in roles for which they could be considered ‘over-qualified’).
Today, the majority of those now completing postgraduate study do so with the expectation that they will have a better chance in the job market or because they have a specific employment outcome that requires a PG qualification.
The job market – is just that – a market. As in any market, a desirable, ‘prime’ product can attract a premium price but a product that is perceived as having little market value, is likely to end up in the discount basket. Thinking of your degree as a commodity can help you identify eight essential questions to ask yourself and others, the answers to which, may help you make an informed decision about postgraduate study.
- Am I expecting my research to enhance my employability and if so how?
- What is the current and future job market demand for the degree I am considering and occupations I am interested in?
- Will the number of graduates likely to be in the market with a similar qualification and targeting similar roles, present a problem. What action can I take to ensure that I am a strong candidate within this group?
- If there is a research component to the degree, who will be the target audience for my thesis and how do I intend my research to help them or influence them?
- Can I engage with my research audience (or future employers) during the research process to introduce myself and promote my research to them?
- Can I structure my research to develop a professional network within my field and can I manage this network using LinkedIn or a discipline relevant association or institute?
- What will be the tangible and intangible investment costs of postgraduate study: fees and other study costs, living costs, impact on family and social life and so on and will the professional and employment returns make it worthwhile?
- Is now the optimum time to study? What would be the risks (or benefits) or delay?