Job / Career

Choosing a Degree For You – TUB-Thump 012

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Are you thinking about what subject to study at university? Are you already at uni and worried that your degree may not have enough “direct job prospects”?

Whatever your situation, there are always questions over the choices you make.

Should you study a subject with good job prospects right now, or should you focus on what you like doing already?

If you’re like most people, you don’t have all your plans laid out perfectly. It’s rare to have no questions and no doubts.

That’s why Episode 012 of TUB-Thump is here to reassure you that the most important thing is to find your own context. Unless you’re studying Medicine or something with a well-worn and required path, a lot of the situation boils down to making the most of what makes you tick.

You’re worth more than the subject you study. There are lots of stories you can tell about yourself. Today’s episode is a brief reminder of that, to help you start thinking about getting the most out of what you’re doing, no matter what you’re studying.


Here are the show notes for the 6-min episode:

  • 00:35 – Get a degree with best job prospects, or study a subject you already enjoy? The first thing to do is to look at what is behind that question.
  • 01:30 – The act of undertaking a degree, as well as everything else associated with your experience, makes more difference than the course itself. Some vocations need a specific route, but the majority aren’t that set in stone.
  • 02:10 – Jobs change. It may not matter what you study now for the roles that don’t yet exist. Education isn’t simply a route to a job anyway.
  • 03:10 – What does “direct job prospects” mean?
  • 04:20 – Your achievements and stories from outside of your degree work are also important. Employers increasingly look to the wider story of who you are. The more you can use this, the more chance you have of distinguishing yourself.
  • 04:55 – The question of job prospects versus a subject you enjoy is a bit of a straw-man. It needs more context of you as an individual to be able to answer properly. Look at your own attitude, your own wants, and your own strengths.

Music for TUB-Thump is Life, by Tobu, which is released under a Creative Commons license. Check out more of Tobu’s great sounds on Soundcloud, YouTube, and his official site.

TUB-Thump is part of the Learning Always Network.

Keep being awesome!

Why Your Careers Service is Just as Great When You DON’T Know What You Want To Do In the Future

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“Planning for the future can simply be about a toe in the water, not commitment.”
– Sarah Longwell, Careers Adviser (Keele University)

Student data suggests that many who would benefit from their university careers service tend not to use it.

Similar findings are in this year’s Unite Students Insight Report, which echoes previous years of the student survey. While most students are aware of the benefits of their careers service, they don’t always take action and visit.

Also, students without solid future plans in mind are less likely to use their careers service. It’s worrying that one of the best places for further research and thinking about future possibilities could be overlooked.

This year’s Unite Students report states:

“Students have most commonly gone to their parents and the internet for advice about choosing a career and applying for jobs; it is less common that they have used career services at their university for advice.”

I asked Sarah Longwell, Careers Adviser at Keele University, about what students can do when they’re not sure what they want to do when they graduate.


TUB: “How can students plan for the future when uncertain about their future plans?”

Sarah: “Planning for the future can simply be about a toe in the water, not commitment.

“The best place to start is for students to think about themselves – what do they enjoy, what motivates them, what matters to them and what are their strengths.

“Consider what activities they have gained the greatest satisfaction from, what aspects of their degree they enjoy, how others would describe them… Students can then consider opportunities that tie in with all the above. It’s all about starting points!”

TUB: “What’s one simple, yet effective, action someone can make right now to start their career journey?”

Sarah: “The simplest action a student can take is to go and see a careers adviser early in their degree. A careers adviser can help them to reflect upon what they might be seeking in a career and make suggestions based upon this. These will only be suggestions, as no one else can tell a student what would definitely suit them, but careers advisers have the expertise to advise and guide on the basis of an in depth discussion.”

TUB: “Why should Freshers start thinking about their future plans in their first year, even though graduation seems so far away? And why is it important they visit their careers centre sooner rather than later?

Sarah: “If students start early, they have plenty of time to research ideas, reject or further research them and then attend events with employers and arrange work experience with the option to change career ideas or direction at any stage.

“Panic career decision making is rarely effective!”


The bottom line is this:

If you’re not sure what your future plans will look like when you graduate, it’s well worth checking out your careers service at university and chatting with a careers adviser.

At worst, you’ll feel none the wiser for a quick visit.

At best (and far more likely), you’ll have some food for thought and you’ll be one step closer to finding something that’s right up your street.

High Fliers Research [in The Graduate Market in 2016] found that:

“Almost all the leading graduate recruiters are working with local university careers services this year and there has been a marked increase in employers taking part in university recruitment events”.

According to the report, 94% of employers used careers services, with over a quarter of them doing more in that direction than the previous year.

Most employers also used campus presentations and careers fairs, so there’s plenty happening on campus.

Even if you think it’s too early to check out what your university has on offer, take a look while you can do it casually.

Is Your Degree Really Worth Less Now? You Can Make Sure It’s Not By Being Distinctive.

Is Your Degree Really Worth Less Now

I’m sure you’ve heard people saying that a degree is worth less than it used to be. Maybe you believe that yourself.

I don’t think that’s quite right.

There are different types of value you can put on a degree:

  • How much your life is changed as a result;
  • How the extra experiences push you in different directions and/or challenge your attitudes;
  • Securing better earnings based on your higher qualification;
  • The amount potential employers respect the qualification.

You’ll have other values to add.

For now, let’s look at views on your qualification, graduate premium, commuter students, and employer attitudes.

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More About the Qualification than the Challenge?

In recent years, there have been more stories of academics under pressure to go easier on students.

Students are prone to feel unhappy if their grades suffer, especially when they’re encouraged to challenge themselves. Instead of working to improve, some students want top grades right from the start.

Some of this is anecdotal and some is based on average grades creeping up over time.

The academic side of university life is just one aspect of the experience. You’re almost certain to be challenged to some extent, and you’re bound to find other surprises along the way outside of the lecture theatre.

With more people graduating, the challenges can help you develop and achieve unexpected things.

Ultimately, the main person to rely on if you want to grow is yourself.

New experiences are what you need to bring greater depth to who you are and who you want to become. More and more people are graduating, so it’s crucial to focus on more than just the qualification.

Sometimes, getting top grades from the outset means you’re not being challenged enough.

If you’re going to demand anything, don’t make the demand an easy ride. If you do that, you can’t find so many ways to distinguish yourself. And the whole point is to be distinctive. More on that below…

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Value For Money & Graduate Premium

You can’t work out for sure how your future earnings will differ had you not gone to university. Unless you end up working in a role where your degree is an absolute requirement, you can only use guesswork to reach a conclusion.

An IFS study has found that, despite growing numbers of students over recent decades, relative wages have remained pretty steady. Graduates can still expect a premium compared to school-leavers without a degree.

At the moment, that is. The study doesn’t predict this good fortune can last and has found school-leavers catching up a fraction.

For now, it’s only a small change. The IFS concludes that it’s possible for some new changes to come to light that will keep the graduate premium rolling along, albeit for different reasons. On the other hand, the gap may continue to close. That’s a long time in the future, however, so you have no need to panic about that today.

Whatever the case, looking at trends over a period of time across the board isn’t the same as your personal story. It’s totally different to look back at a year, ten years, fifty years later, and make a personal value statement.

Who knows what a different life could have looked like? If the sole focus of going to university is on making more money, there are other ways to make far more money without setting foot on campus.

Many students go to university in hope of improving their future life prospects. A big chunk of that means looking for a better salary. There’s no escaping that.

Future prospects improve when you can be distinctive. More on that below…

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What About the Off-Campus Experience?

More people are commuting from home to get to university. Many won’t hang around campus so much or be so involved in the social and extra-curricular activities.

Traditional routes into higher education used to mean living on or around campus. So how can commuter students manage without missing out or feeling overwhelmed?

A piece on ChangeSU recognises that commuting students haven’t been considered differently to other students, even though many will have different needs:

“An unfortunately high number of commuter students felt isolated, either because of their age, or because of being a commuter; deeming most people to have become good friends from their time spent in halls; making it difficult for commuter students’ to make new friends.”

This is a problem. It’s not easy to replicate the campus experience when you’re commuting, so alternatives should be arranged and other social events planned to suit longer-distance students.

Students’ unions are making headway into these issues. But the work may take a while and is unlikely to suit all those who commute, given such varied circumstances.

To gain the most value without the same extra-curricular activities, one of the most effective situations would be to take on a degree that’s based on your current employment and career trajectory. When the degree really is the missing piece for getting from A to B, the other aspects of university experience won’t be quite so important anyway. Still a shame, but not with the same potential change in value.

When you still want (or need) the full experience package as a commuting student, find as many ways as possible to get a taste of as much as you can:

  • Ruthlessly schedule: Limit less important activities and only give them space if they don’t get in the way of university activities.
  • Seek out alternatives: Speak to your students’ union and find out what they have to offer by way of support and activities to suit your specific circumstances.
  • Create your own alternatives: If nothing else is on offer and your location is more of a problem than time is, create your own movement. Find out if other commuting students are looking for more. If your idea gains traction, it may be the success you need to differentiate yourself and stand out from the crowd after you graduate.

There’s value in showing commitment to getting the most out of your wider university experience despite having to commute. Make it part of your story once you graduate if you can. Highlighting your ability to triumph over struggle is a great way to make yourself distinctive as a graduate. More on that below…

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Employers Respecting Your Qualification

When employers judge your suitability for a job, what if they also judge your qualification?

Every now and then, stories pop up in the media that express surprise at how hard it is to find jobs. They mention Oxford and Cambridge graduates who can’t find work, despite applying for many jobs. Some don’t even get to interview stage.

So what’s going on?

All drama to one side, one thing has definitely changed.

Employers can no longer just filter candidates based on whether or not they’ve got a degree. In the past, fewer people went to university, so employers could easily limit the number of people for selection by looking for graduates only.

Today, with roughly half of school leavers going on to university, it is no longer possible to filter in this way. It’s easy to be inundated with candidates who all hold an undergraduate degree.

I’m sure you know how important it is to stand out in other ways. But how much of a lowdown have you got on how to do this?

You might think that everyone will become practically impossible to impress. The more people achieve, the more you have to do to stand out.

But that’s not true. It’s a mistake to think that you have to impress employers more than ever. You’re not superhuman.

So how do you make your play?

Instead of thinking more, think:

  • Specialist;
  • Niche;
  • Unique;
  • Narrative;
  • Individual.

In other words: You must be distinctive.

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Getting From Graduate to Distinctive

Standing out means being noticeable. When you’re memorable, you’ve got distinctive qualities right there. It’s got nothing to do about ticking every single box. It’s got everything to do with ticking a box that nobody else has. Find your unique.

Here are a few thoughts:

  • Show how you went the extra mile to achieve something;
  • Explain how you solved a problem and improved a situation;
  • Demonstrate what you have done in your subject (or in your chosen field of work) to set yourself apart. It could be a blog, a presentation, a talk, specialist volunteering, fundraising for something they’re invested in;
  • Describe how you accomplished a special feat despite your demanding situation. Show how you overcame those personal struggles.

Your job is to tell relevant, memorable stories. The focus isn’t on the qualifications or the institution you attended. The focus is on you and what you’ve done.

You can do all sorts at university. You’re probably already exploring what’s possible. While there’s still time, push yourself even further.

 

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What Does “Value” Mean Anyway?

You may be thinking by now that half of this isn’t related to your degree anyway. So where’s the direct value in that? Why should it count as part of the overall experience?

That’s where the confusion comes in. The more you think about tuition fees, the more danger there is in forgetting to look outside of the academic work.

Treat the fee as part of the whole experience, otherwise you’ll go mad working out how expensive every seminar is.

I’m not trying to justify how you feel about the money side of things. But it’s important to separate finances from your thoughts about the future. They both matter; they just don’t always gel together. When you try to link them up, it gets messy.

In other words, trying to work out the true return on investment of a degree is practically impossible. That’s why your job is to make the most of your time at university in as many ways possible.

Which areas are specifically paid for through your tuition fee?

It doesn’t matter.

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At university you’ve got access to so much at your fingertips. It’s there for the taking, so make use of the resources. Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking that high tuition fees mean you must use all your time to ensure you graduate with a First Class Honours. University is an experience of experiences.

The more you embrace what’s on offer, the more you can excel when it’s time to show off your distinctive qualities.

Your degree has not lost value.

You just need to extract value differently to the way it was done in the past.

Look forward, not back.

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Becoming A Masterful Graduate: Class, Strategy and Playing ‘The Game’

Becoming A Masterful Graduate: Class, Strategy and Playing 'The Game'

“They have nobody to blame but themselves.”
“If they don’t put in the work, they don’t deserve to get anywhere.”

Comments like these assume that people have a great strategy worked out and simply choose not to bother using it.

These comments also assume that mistakes were made on a level playing field. The only possible reason for underachievement must be laziness and lack of trying. Fault is made to look totally one-sided.

It’s true that you should take responsibility for your actions. But life doesn’t operate on a constant, level playing field. Comparisons are rarely helpful.

Taking personal responsibility isn’t the one difference between success and lack of it. Matters out of your current field of vision and understanding can limit your mindset, even when you are (unknowingly) capable.

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When something is out of your current field of vision, it’s time to get strategic.

At school, I jumped through hoops without understanding why. It was only when I realised I could be acting more fruitfully, MUCH more fruitfully, that I crafted a different path. I had made my initial UCAS application for all the wrong reasons and had focused in areas that would not have suited me.

In fact, at that time, university of any kind wouldn’t have suited me. I needed to make a leap. And it took a whole new set of experiences to show me the way.

I’m so thankful that so much changed in the incredible year between leaving Sixth Form and going to university. That in-between year still involved a lot of Sixth Form and university. But I managed, luckily, to change the game.

‘The game’ is all about strategy. Ciaran Burke’s new book, Culture, Capitals and Graduate Futures: Degrees of Class, explores the problematic relationships between social class and graduate achievement.

Through a series of graduate interviews, Burke found that future career strategies are heavily impacted by early social and class experiences. He explains that individuals tend to feel in control of their destiny, yet appear to follow certain patterns depending on their class grouping.

Burke states:

“A common theme within much social policy, pertaining to social mobility, is individual responsibility…Social mobility policy needs to approach the issue more holistically, considering inequalities between groups rather than seeing it as a working-class problem; as Payne (2012) comments, low social mobility should not be understood solely as the working class failing to enter the middle class but the middle class, effectively, keeping them out.”

These issues, Burke argues, are not properly addressed in policy, which has led to “contradictions and limitations within policy narratives“. His work describes the need for widening participation and social mobility to be discussed with a more sociological approach. He suggests that some documents, such as Alan Milburn’s Unleashing Aspiration, come close, but “do not make the leap”.

Jo Johnson’s recent speech as minister for universities and science included the commitment to double the entry rate of those from disadvantaged backgrounds by 2020, compared to 2009 levels. However, greater access to university is just the start. Johnson also explained that UCAS will publish data and analysis regarding protected and disadvantaged groups. While this information will be useful in assessing applications, Burke’s findings appear to suggest that widening participation does not turn into social mobility and a guarantee of increased success off the back of securing a degree. Other strategies that must be uncovered to help these students, once they graduate, to understand not only what is within their grasp, but also how to firmly grasp it.

In a Times Higher Education review of Burke’s book, Huw Morris concludes:

What Burke’s book reveals to this reviewer is, first, the need to help young people and their families gain a better understanding of “the game” of graduate social mobility, and, second, the part that employers could play in rewriting the rules of a process that is becoming more costly and less like a game.

Better understanding of ‘the game’ is needed in order to improve the “field of the possibles” because Burke states that there is a “cap limiting what the working-class respondents understand themselves to be capable of achieving“.

Blinkered to the 'field of the possibles' can limit capability.

Being blinkered to the ‘field of the possibles’ can limit capability.

To overcome artificial limits, therefore, greater emphasis is needed on improving strategy.

For instance, Burke states that working-class students believe that an institution’s reputation “will increase their chances of securing graduate employment“. But middle-class students are playing the game differently: “The middle-class graduates understand the situation and read for their degree based on the merits of the individual course; they appreciate it is that course that will increase their ability to find a graduate job, not the presumed institutional capital.

I believe strategy goes far beyond the merits of a course too. University isn’t about a course, it’s not about grades, it’s not about social life, it’s not about engaging in seminars, it’s not about joining societies, it’s not about making friends, it’s not about writing essays, and it’s not about learning to be independent.

University is about all these things.

And so much more than that.

I see three big-picture terms within the strategy:

  1. Mastery – Move beyond learning the minimum. Basic expectations are there to be surpassed, not followed on the dot.
  2. Narrative – Explaining what you’ve done, what you’re doing, and where you’re going. Describing how you’ve mastered pertinent skills and why it matters. Signalling your achievements so they make sense to those who need to know.
  3. Self-imposed limits – Not self-imposed beliefs, but a conscious decision to focus on a small number of concentrated areas. It’s a cycle, because these self-imposed limits help you to achieve mastery and to form a narrative that’s exciting and makes sense.

As you develop your strategy, it becomes easier to take action. And once you take action, bit by bit, you discover more. You learn new things that you thought would remain a mystery your entire life. Discoveries that go way beyond your degree.

It could be how to play the instrument that you always wanted to enjoy. Or how to organise your life without breaking into a sweat…How to network like a champion…How to start a movement…How to work with others.

Social mobility goes beyond getting a degree. Access to university is one piece of a much bigger puzzle.

Even if access to higher education never was an issue, it doesn’t help to simply feel entitled, as Burke explains in his book. To be the student you deserve to be, assumptions–both humble and grand–only serve to get in the way. As with coursework, there are no marks for assuming without putting in the research and experimentation.

The playing field isn’t level. That’s why strategy is so important. When I realised this, it changed my perception. Not only did more seem possible, but the work involved also felt less of an uphill struggle.

You’ve probably heard people say that because they were able to achieve a certain goal, it follows that anyone could achieve it. “If *I* can do it, anyone can!”

While there may be some truth in that, it’s too simplistic to see that as sufficient proof and motivation to guarantee success. More work must be done on developing strategic mindsets. More people need to be aware that they’re playing the game. When that’s apparent, people will also have a more conscious choice over how they wish to play it.

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