Postgraduate Experience Part 1: Pining for work experience opportunities at postgraduate level

After studying Human Biology for three years, graduation day was intended to be a celebration that would mark the beginning of my career. That was nearly one and a half years ago and as soon as I finish this gruelling dissertation, it will be graduation day round two and hopefully, the beginning of my career for real this time. I hadn’t always anticipated to study at postgraduate level. Perhaps I wasn’t ready to leave the bubble of student-life or academia seemed easier to face than the harsh-reality of the job market, either way, postgraduate study began to look like a much more attractive option.

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I thoroughly enjoyed studying Human Biology at undergraduate level and found it covered some of the most mind-blowing concepts of Science. Although a popular option among my friends, I wasn’t too keen on getting involved with life science research at postgraduate level and instead opted to do a Master’s in Public Health- a decision I don’t regret! The Master’s has been a perfect way for me to channel my love for Biology into a profession that is always working to protect health and well being, prevent ill-health and prolong life amongst the masses.

In the beginning however, the transition from under- to postgraduate wasn’t a smooth one. A very last-minute decision to study the Master’s course meant I was in desperate need of some experience in Public Health, especially if I was going to have any prospects of finding a job. Having exhausted the usual work experience hunt/job search strategy, it took a light bulb moment for me to realise the wealth of opportunities staring me in the face.

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I quickly found that lecturers were an extremely valuable intermediary to connect me to a myriad of contacts that subsequently gave me work experience in research positions, on a voluntary basis. Lecturers were however, only the starting point. Most often, the school seminars (e-mails for which we tend to ignore) are a gold mine for anyone looking to execute the art of networking. With reputable speakers from the University’s departments to lead researchers  and even employers from well-known organisations,  the who’s who of most disciplines are often visiting us at the University. These were my first and most important connections to placements in health promotion and protection, which I undertook with professionals working at the heart of the health service.

The opportunities also extend across the student body i.e. your colleagues. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by a fantastic group, with many working in well established positions within public health. It took a little persuasion and a lot of enthusiasm but within a few months some of my colleagues kindly set up one-off work shadowing opportunities that gave me a unique insight into the practicalities of public health work involved with the obesity epidemic and smoking cessation.

I know we’re all sick of hearing that the ratio of applicants to the number of jobs is now higher than ever-we all know the competition is tough! But to be in with a fighting chance, it’s crucial for students like us to stand out from the crowd. The best way to do this is by presenting ourselves as well-rounded candidates, with incredible skills set, academic capabilities and a substantial work experience history. The fact that I had very little experience in Public Health (which wasn’t the ideal way for me to start my job search), was exactly the reason why I decided to undertake the Master’s as a part-time student. This made it miles easier for me to divide my time between the course itself any long term work experience opportunities I had sourced or needed to source.   blog 1 image 3

Postgraduate study has certainly revolutionised student life, offering students a chance to gain both the academic and practical work experience employers are looking for. Speaking to other postgraduate students I’ve found that they’ve also grasped the art of modern day multi-tasking, dividing much of their time between academic pursuits and a job or work experience opportunity. And with a bit of innovative thinking and networking, you could soon be doing the same! Quite often, the opportunities we’ve been looking for are right in front of us, but because they don’t always fit into the usual job hunting strategy, we may be at risk of overlooking them. To ensure that doesn’t happen to you, branch outside the conventional job searching methods and strive on your initiative. Take full advantage of the opportunities postgraduate study is offering you.

Ani, Master of Public Health student, College of Medicine and Dentistry

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About careersbham

Student Engagement Officer for Careers Network University of Birmingham

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