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Why studying for a Post Graduate qualification will help you climb up the corporate ladder Quicker than your colleagues?

Why studying for a Post Graduate qualification will help you climb up the corporate ladder Quicker than your colleagues?

Article published by: Professor Sioux McKenna

Kissing your social or after-hours TV life goodbye requires absolute commitment

I can think of a few good reasons for registering for a postgraduate degree — and quite a few reasons not to. Not least among them is because it’s hard work, takes a long time and successful completion relies primarily on your own efforts.

Some people undertake postgraduate studies because their desired professions require it for accreditation purposes. Others do so because they are passionate about an issue and postgraduate research provides the structured, supportive environment in which to follow that passion in a productive way.

Some, though, register for a master’s or PhD because they cannot get a job, cannot find a position in which to undertake the necessary articles or internship required for accreditation, or cannot face the idea of leaving university for the nine-to-five world of work. If you register for one of these “negative reasons” — because of a lack of alternative options or an unwillingness to consider such options — you will need to draw on even greater resources to overcome the rigours of independent study.

You will need to think about what you will bring to the postgraduate experience and how you can ensure that you are marketable when you’re done. It is a twee cliché that you only get out of an experience what you put into it, but where the educational structure is as loose as it is in most postgraduate programmes, this little homily bears consideration.

I work with many academic colleagues from across the higher-education sector who are undertaking further qualifications in order to keep their jobs, as the doctorate becomes the entry-level requirement for an academic career. I firmly believe that undertaking research at the highest level makes for a stronger sense of disciplinary identity, a clearer comprehension of a field’s processes and generally enhances all realms of academic life.

But there are no doctoral candidates so recalcitrant and obstructive to their own progress as those who are undertaking their studies simply because management told them to. If you’re among the thousands of South African academics undertaking doctoral study against the sound of a clock set ticking by the human resources department and under the threat of unemployment, you’d be well off to block that from your mind and search for a motivation that speaks to your interests and your sense of who you are and who you want to become.
Postgraduate study is at least in part an identity journey. You are taking on the norms and values of a discipline and seeking to be recognised as a competent member of a field of study. The book “Paperheads”: Living Doctoral Study, Developing Doctoral Identity by Liz Harrison suggests that a stumbling block for many postgraduate students is a lack of clarity as to how to demonstrate disciplinary membership or an uncertainty of their right to claim such membership.

Higher education at all levels should prepare students as both critical citizens in an emerging democracy and as people who can contribute to economic growth. But it is at postgraduate level that students take on the identity of fully fledged knowledge producers. And this requires students to think of themselves in these terms, and it requires that universities treat their postgraduate scholars as fellow disciplinary experts.

But I still caution people to think long and hard before registering. The National Qualifications Framework indicates that a master’s degree takes 1 800 notional hours and a doctoral qualification takes 3 600 notional hours. You need to consider what this will mean for your family and social life and, if you intend studying part-time, what this will mean for your work demands.

I always recommend that postgraduate scholars have a conversation with their family and colleagues before they begin. And are you willing to give up a few hours of television every night and make other adjustments to your daily routine to fit this lengthy endeavour into your -schedule? Part-time scholars often have a particularly difficult time of this and dream of sabbaticals and retreats from reality when they will finally settle down and get on with it. But if you can’t make your studies part of your everyday routine, you’d be better off not starting out on the journey. Once you decide that you do, indeed, want to undertake postgraduate study, you will need to consider what kind of qualification to register for. At master’s level, you face a choice between a coursework master’s or a full-thesis master’s. If you have a very clear research topic in mind, are already highly literate in the discipline and have a great deal of self-discipline, then a full-thesis option is a good one. If you are unsure of a precise topic and would benefit from a more structured induction into the knowledge-production process of the discipline, then coursework would be better.

Generally speaking, you should make sure that at least 50% of the credits in a coursework master’s programme comprise a research thesis, otherwise it will hold little credibility as a research qualification. There are some professional master’s degrees for which the 50% rule does not hold sway, though, and for which industry recognition of the programme is what counts. In this case, you should chat to recruiters in your (prospective) industry, find out which programmes are most valued and attempt to get into one of these.

At doctoral level, coursework and fieldwork can form aspects of the programme, but are not awarded credit. It all comes down to the final tome sent out to experts in the field to examine. The qualification is awarded on the successful completion of a research project at the most advanced level, which makes a significant and original academic contribution at the frontiers of the discipline or field.

There is a new qualification on the horizon, though. With the revised higher education subsection of the National Qualifications Framework, as of January 2013, universities are able to offer professional doctorates for which the research project will comprise at least 60% of the qualification and work-integrated learning and coursework will make up the rest. This new qualification will no doubt be offered through discussion with particular industries and in response to their particular needs.

Having selected the qualification type, you have the difficult task of deciding where to register. There are numerous factors at play here but, by and large, I’d take the advice given to me: choose your supervisor, not your institution.

This is particularly true for full- thesis studies in disciplines where you’ll be working on your own in conversation with a supervisor. I had the benefit of meeting someone who was very encouraging of my work long before I considered doing a PhD. When I felt I was ready to undertake this mammoth task, I knew that she was the person I wanted as my supervisor because of her cutting-edge work and her supportive manner.

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