Learn on the Job: Earn a Postgrad Qualification while you work

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A fresh challenge: How a return to study can benefit your career and your outlook on life.

The pressures of developing and sustaining a professional career can be significant, but the benefits of taking a step back and seeing where you could improve your skills, and how that could boost your own career, are equally significant. Choosing a postgraduate course to augment your current skills, or indeed transform the direction of your career, is a choice that shouldn’t be taken lightly. It is, however, one that can help you reap sizeable rewards. So, let’s take a look at the supports that are out there to help you make a return to study and the factors that you should take into account.

Choose wisely

Postgraduate study represents a serious commitment of time, finances and personal resources. It’s vital that you choose the right course for the right reason, with tangible goals in mind as to what you want to achieve as a result. Talk to those who have walked this road already. What challenges did they face in terms of balancing their work with a return to study? This in itself can be a shock to the system. Also, consider the needs and responsibilities you have yourself and how you will fit them in around what is sure to be a demanding time schedule.

Get your boss on board

If you’re currently working and want to use your postgrad to boost your career within the sector in which you’re currently employed, then talk to your employer. A considerate manager or management team, who think strategically about what the benefits of further study will be for both you and the company. They will support you in terms of time and, possibly, financial resources – so it is definitely a conversation worth having. Then, map out what you want to achieve from your postgrad and use the results to help you in choosing the right course and what institution is the best place to help you deliver the best results.

Consider your options

Whatever field you’re interested in pursuing for your postgrad, there are likely to be different established modes of study available to you:

  • Full time-study: Are you in a position to take a career break and commit to your postgraduate study on a full-time basis? This is a far less popular choice for working professionals but is far more popular for research-based roles normally awarding Masters (NFQ: level 9) or PhD (NFQ: level 10) qualifications than for taught courses, which normally award a postgraduate diploma on completion. However, a significant amount of training providers also offers Masters qualifications, both of which are level 9 on the National Framework of Qualifications.
  • Part-time study: This is how most working professionals pursue their postgrad, with three or four hour learning blocks delivered over a single or several evenings on a weekly basis. This allows you to continue your work and other daily commitments, and benefit from a structured learning environment, but it can place a considerable drain on personal time and other commitments.
  • Distance learning: Due to the quantum leaps in technology, distance-learning offers massive opportunities for students in terms of timing their studies and also choosing their courses. With lectures and supports delivered online, and some lecture room/assessment time on many courses, distance-learning rewards self-discipline but can be challenging for those who would benefit from a more structured environment.

Financial supports

  • SUSI: this stands for Student Universal Support Ireland and is the national authority for all higher and further education grants. Of course, not everyone is eligible for funding, but many people who are presume that they’re not! So, head over to www.susi.ie and check their eligibility reckoner (like a calculator). This will give you an estimate as to whether you’re entitled to funding at some level. This isn’t an assessment, just a reckoning, so you will still need to obviously go through the application process, read the steps carefully and keep a very close eye on the closing deadlines.
  • Springboard: The Springboard programme is designed for the provision of funding support for courses in particular areas of employment opportunity. Today, approximately 8000 places are funded through Springboard across roughly 250 courses, throughout a wide range of disciplines. Visit www.springboardcourses.ie to find out more. Like SUSI, you could be surprised by what you’re eligibile for, but you could also be disappointed so make sure you read all the terms and conditions and give plenty of time for the application.
  • Grants: If you’re interested in research-based postgraduate study, the Irish Research Council have employment-based, and individually based, financial support models. Again, the funding is significant but so are the criteria to qualify. Visit www.research.ie and find out more.

And finally…

Enjoy it! After many years of working hard, you’re taking the time to learn something new and give your mind the time to adapt to a new challenge. The rewards can be many, so talk to colleagues, friends, family and take the time to research the course you want to study and the institute where you want to pursue your postgrad. Then organise your time and make sure you can take the best enjoyment, and benefit, possible from the experience.


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