Careers

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.

Put Your Subject Before Your Grades (and How to Do It the Right Way)

When Clearing got underway for another year, the Telegraph reported that rising tuition fees had caused a sharp increase in demand for ‘jobs-based’ degrees.

This kind of story is becoming more commonplace. Students taking up vocational degrees and job-related learning rather than studying more ‘traditional’ subjects.

Vocation (photo by Ninth Raven)

Photo by Ninth Raven – CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The key passage comes at the end of the article:

“But Prof Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said the shift in applications may be ‘short-sighted’.

“‘Fees are causing students to think a lot more seriously about the part that going to university is going to play in their future lives and whether they will get a good return for their investment,’ he said.

“‘But it is a little bit short-sighted to simply concentrate on a career above all else at the age of 18. Studying a subject you love, such as the humanities or English literature, will enhance your life and could throw up future employment opportunities that you’re not yet aware of.'”

If fees and the future are making such an impact, how much does subject matter in the long run? Students risk moving away from a subject they enjoy just because it doesn’t visibly link up with a certain career.

Interests and Passions

Research from YouthSight suggests that students still pick subjects based on their interests. However, I wonder how those interests are defined now. What compromise is made when choosing a subject?

The YouthSight data also suggests that business students are far less likely to be studying due to a love for the subject. This is a concern. Why would you choose to study something you weren’t that keen on learning about?

Perhaps it’s expected of you. Perhaps you like the salary prospects. Perhaps your friends are doing it.

These aren’t reasons for choosing a degree or a subsequent career. Same for following a passion. You need to put in work that you’re not so keen on to allow the passion to come to fruition. And passion is overrated anyway. The situation is far more compicated. Don’t take my word for it, check out Cal Newport’s extensive back catalogue of posts on the subject. Here’s a selection to get you started:

Regardless of where you stand on passion, and whether or not you claim to have found yours, now could be the worst time to shy away from a course you want to do.

Fees force a rethink, but that doesn’t always mean you end up seeing things differently. Imagine having to put in some unenjoyable work for a subject you really like. Annoying, but usually manageable. Now imagine doing the unenjoyable work for a subject you were never that keen on in the first place. Double whammy. There’s no motivation to get you motivated.

And the reward in the distant future is still based on that vocational subject you’re already not that keen on. If that’s not being set up for a fall, I don’t know what is.

Do you make the choice or is the choice made for you?

A recent study of humanities graduates at Oxford between 1960 and 1989 found that degree subject was not a barrier to most careers. This study only covers Oxford (one university is hardly indicative of the entire HE sector) and doesn’t take into account almost a quarter of a century of growing student numbers since 1989. Nevertheless, the report provides a hint that what you study doesn’t need to be linked to a direct career path. Choosing History doesn’t penalise you from a wide range of jobs, for instance.

Does a more ‘traditional’ course hold less weight than it used to? Are we stuck with making a choice between a degree that will get you a job and a degree that will get you enthused?

I doubt it. Learning and discovery comes more naturally when you appreciate your course. You have room to find out what makes you tick. Studying won’t feel so forced.

In other words, you gear yourself up for a fall when you’re only on a course for what takes place after you graduate.

Your attitude matters. Although it sounds wrong, the course is more important than the grade. It sounds wrong because we generally focus on what an employer wants to see. In reality, you need to focus more on yourself. Who is this mythical employer in your mind?

Study a subject you respect and enjoy. I know that’s far too simplistic, but so is slogging through a course in the hope that it’ll be worth it for the massive wodge of cash or better prospects at the end. It’s a false trail, because you’re concentrating more on the content than your own ability.

So when I say the course is more important than the grade, it’s based on your choice and focus on developing your abilities. From my perspective, that’s all the more reason to choose a degree that you want to spend three or more years of your life poring over.

In my next post, I’ll look at ways you can focus on your career no matter what you’re studying.

Why proving what you can do is better than improving your qualifications

Scott Young is taking a 4-year MIT course in Computer Science. But he’s taking it in just one year. And for less than $2000.

Scott says the future of learning will be personal, rather than steeped in official qualifications. The Internet already provides learning for everyone, which is exactly how Scott is taking the MIT course himself, at his own (faster) pace.

Many top universities provide lectures and course content free online. And now startups like Udacity, Coursera, and Khan Academy have come along to provide even more academic classes for free. You can learn at no cost in the comfort of your own home, room, library, garden…whatever!

Scott won’t receive a formal degree award from MIT when he completes his class, but he doesn’t mind:

“Our society incorrectly equates knowledge with accreditation. Getting a piece of paper is great, and for many lines of work, it’s completely necessary. But the equation is made so strongly that people forget the two things are different.
“I have nothing against college. University was an amazing and worthwhile experience for me, and it could be for you as well. All I hope is that by showing an alternative, people who feel the current system doesn’t work for them can find another path.”

You have a chance to find your own route, whatever your current situation is.

Once you take this route, the key is to prove your worth in ways that don’t rely solely on the degree you’ve been awarded. Traditional methods of bettering yourself for career and job purposes rely heavily on improving your qualifications.

But that’s because many people are used to those methods. It’s ‘normal’. It’s ‘what everyone does’.

And, of course, it doesn’t have to be that way. Taking your own route can be so valuable. For a start, you automatically stand out. Hopefully for all the right reasons!

Formal routes are sometimes necessary for legal purposes or compliance reasons. Not everything can be bypassed without another thought. And that’s fine. Make it part of your route and do your own thing where you can.

Like Scott, I also have a lot of time for university. I’m sure you guessed that. The name of this blog is a clue… And if you need further proof, I’m called @universityboy on Twitter. I’m not about to give up on the wonders of university.

With all this in mind, what is more valuable: experience or a degree?

This question was asked over at The Student Room. My take is that both experience and degree are useful for different reasons and in different circumstances. A direct comparison is unhelpful.

One person gave a good explanation to the comparison problem:

“…it’s like saying which is more valuable, lungs or a stomach.”

Think of your experience and your degree as a set of situations about YOU. Translate these situations into what you’ve managed to get out of them. Sell yourself, not your grades. Talk about a range of experiences with purpose, so you can include what happened at university alongside everything else.

When you take this view, remember these two things:

  1. Tailor your approach each time you reach out to others – Why? Because perspective changes. Both yours and theirs. Consider things like this: Why are you reaching out to them? What are they looking for? How can you help them? What are the variables in this situation?
  2. Embrace failure – Why? Because no matter how much you prove what you can do, the context is taken out of your hands every time you interact with someone else. There are numerous stories of now famous authors who struggled to find a publisher. They had to submit their first book to many different publishers before one of them said ‘yes’. Imagine if all those authors had given up after the first try.

Jane Artess is director of research for the Higher Education Careers Services Unit. Speaking in the Guardian, she said:

“…one student’s stretch is another student’s yawn; one employer’s view of what constitutes talent may be written off as simply average by another.”

Put simply, no specific route is guaranteed. That’s why your own route is valid and why you must be careful before comparing things that don’t need a comparison.

Your route should include a mixture of traditional methods and unique ones. Find what works for you and not what seemed to work for someone else. Do take their advice and find clues, but don’t bother emulating the same successes, because it’s already been done.

You may or may not have aced a whole bunch of exams and studied to within an inch of your life. What does it truly make you? Shape your qualifications around your own narrative and unlock the story of you.

It’s not the grades that stand out, it’s the individual.

photo by HikingArtist.com

photo by HikingArtist.com