Updating Results

Is further study for me?

Millie Douglas

Sr. Career Consultant at Victoria University of Wellington
Millie Douglas, Senior Career Consultant from Victoria University of Wellington offers a wealth of knowledge on the world of further study.

What made you want to become a career advisor?

It was my own, meandering experience of trying to navigate transitions from college to university and then from university to the world of work, that eventually led me to discovering career counselling as a career.  Lacking any career awareness, guidance or resources, it took me a while to discover what I wanted to do. I studied Art History and English Literature at the University of Leeds in the UK. My study choices were based purely on the fact that I liked Art History and English at school rather than any consideration of career opportunities or the labour market. Leeds was an intentional choice as they have one of the best libraries in the country, but it didn’t occur to me to look at any of the other degree subjects available there. 

My first experiences of work during the three years following graduation were exploratory ones. I had foolishly turned down the offer of a place to do a Master’s in publishing as I didn’t want to re-locate, and instead decided to test out two careers that I knew something about, teaching and social work. My sister was a teacher and my father, a social worker. The first role was unpaid and part-time and I worked in a school providing classroom support to a Maths Teacher. The school was low decile, and I worked with students in years 5,6 and 7, eventually teaching small classes of 10-12 students on my own.  I enjoyed teaching, however, I was more interested in the individual students and their experience of learning and the learning environment. I was concerned that most students struggled with the subject and didn’t connect maths with their day to day lives or how they might earn a living in the future. The second role I had was paid and full-time, working as a Residential Social Worker, with children and young adults who, for a variety of reasons, were in the care of the Social Services. For several, the future was unknown and in-secure and their present lives controlled by people like me. 

How did these experiences connect with becoming a Career Counsellor? I was beginning to analyse what I liked and didn’t like in the context of work and what I might like to do more of and get better at. I was becoming my own career-coach, albeit unskilled.   I was realising that understanding who you are and what you want to accomplish in your life is powerful and motivating. Education, Psychology, and some aspects of government policy were interesting to me but was there a way to connect them and how could I find out? I was rescued from this dilemma by career happenstance. I saw the advert for two Trainee Career Advisors with Leeds City Council. I realised that it was potentially a good fit, applied, went through their selection day and was offered one of the positions. I completed the two-year postgraduate programme which required a year of full-time study (9.00 am to 4.00 pm, five days a week) and two work placements followed by a year of professional supervision as a Trainee Careers Advisor. At that stage, I was able to become a member of The Institute of Careers Guidance.

How did you get to your current position and how long have you occupied it? 

I have been in my current position as a Career Consultant at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand for 20 years. I think that I was offered it because I had a professional qualification and interesting experience. I had worked for over twelve years for the Local Council in the UK and gained an unusually broad experience. I had worked in high schools (years 9-13), tertiary colleges (post 16), and with apprentices, unemployed school leavers, and the long term unemployed. For a short time, I also worked with university graduates and professionals making career transitions. My role also involved working directly with schools to help them integrate careers education into the curriculum and with employers to negotiate work and training opportunities for clients. As a Senior Careers Advisor, I also supervised students on placement from Career Counselling programmes as well as new Trainee Careers Advisors recruited by our service. This broad background has been extremely helpful in my current role.

What does your work involve day-to-day? 

I see enrolled students, undergraduate and postgraduate during personal appointments and help desk sessions. I also connect with hundreds of students each year during in-curriculum seminars and workshops, and career and employability workshops on topics such as CVs, cover letters, LinkedIn, interviews, networking, internships, psychometric testing and job search review.

In individual appointments with a student, my role is often to help them explore their aspirations, grow their occupational knowledge, and begin to create a career plan. It can be a complex balancing act to identify career options that meet interests, talents and aspirations, but that are also informed by awareness of how the economy and labour market impacts on work opportunities. In helping students explore options and make decisions, I must be mindful that as well as being a ‘student’ they may also be juggling the roles of sibling, significant other, parent, employee and volunteer, and these different roles and responsibilities will have an impact on how confidently and quickly choices and decisions can be made. 

Many students’ first engagement with a Career Consultant will be to discuss concerns about their academic progress or motivation, or to discuss subject choices and their relation to future career opportunities.  I can help them review their career thinking and planning and alert them to risks and opportunities. These conversations may also cover extra-curricular activities such as joining clubs, completing employability programmes and work experience.  Joining a club or society helps develop networks and taking on an executive role will add workplace-relevant skills and experience. Many students sign up for the very rewarding leadership, employability, and mentoring programmes, that most universities now offer. Most students will seek part-time or summer employment during their degree and can get help with job applications and interviews. Paid work and volunteering (on and off-campus) will significantly increase employability as will attending campus career expos and recruitment events.  Graduates can continue to make use of all our career services for up to three years after they have graduated. 

Another core part of my role is working with course co-ordinators, schools and faculties to run workshops on careers topics for their students.  

I am also a professional member of the Career Development Association of NZ (CDANZ). It expected that I keep up to date with the national and international research that provides the rigour and integrity behind career practice but also maintain my knowledge of career pathways, the labour market in NZ and overseas and career-related tools and resources.  

Advice for students and graduates

Could you give us just a brief summary of what further study is and the sorts of things it can entail?

A university degree sits at level 7 on the New Zealand Qualifications Framework. If you are considering further study, there are hundreds of different qualifications to choose from. There are many at levels 5 and 6, that are ‘vocational’, intended to produce work-ready individuals and while these may be relevant, the focus here will be ‘further study’ at level 7 or above. Most graduates choose to complete further study on a full-time basis but many qualifications can be done part-time. 

Qualifications at level 7 and above are: 

  • Graduate Diplomas and Certificates at level 7 (one year);
  • Honours Degrees and Postgraduate Diplomas and Certificates at level 8 (one year). These are qualifications in their own right, but are also the first year of a two-year, Master’s Degree;  
  • Research Master’s Degrees at level 9 (two years); 
  • Professional Master’s Degrees at level 9 (3 trimesters);
  • PhDs at level 10 (3 years); the prerequisite is usually a Master’s degree. 

Graduate Diplomas and Certificates (level 7) require using a degree qualification as evidence that you can take on a new subject area at degree level. The intention may be to pursue a new study direction out of interest, or more commonly, to meet the prerequisites for a specific academic or professional pathway. For example, with the agreement of the relevant academic department, a graduate diploma may serve as a bridge to a postgraduate qualification in a new subject. Why would this be useful? 

Consider this scenario. Thalia has graduated with a degree in Marketing and Management with strong grades. After meeting with a Career Consultant and further investigation, she decides that she wants to become a Psychologist. The challenge is to gain the psychology background required to get into a master’s programme in Psychology that meets the requirements of the New Zealand Psychologists’ Board.   Thalia negotiates with the School of Psychology to complete a Graduate Diploma in which she will complete the key psychology papers they require. The Graduate Diploma will serve as a ‘bridge’ to a two-year Master’s degree in Psychology. Thalia would be on her way to becoming a Psychologist.

Honours Degrees, Postgraduate Diplomas and Certificates (level 8) and Research Master’s Degrees (level 8) build on the specific subject knowledge and skills acquired during an undergraduate degree. Entry requirements will always include a ‘relevant’ undergraduate degree. Consider this scenario. Tapu is close to completing an undergraduate degree in Art History and Cultural Anthropology and has decided that she wants to become an Art Historian. Reading more about this highly competitive work sector, she discovers that a minimum of a Master’s degree is required and that most Art Historians also have a PhD. Tapu decides that she is passionate enough about this career to pursue it. She enrols for Research Master’s degree in Art History which will take two years. At the end of part one of the Master’s degree, she has the option of exiting with an Honours Degree. If she completes part two she will have achieved her Master’s.  

Professional Master’s Degrees (level 9) are significantly shorter than academic master’s degrees as the independent academic research component, which is a key feature of a research master’s degree, is largely absent. Programmes may include work simulations, industry-relevant projects and internships. When is a vocational master’s programme a good option? 

Consider this scenario.  Josh completed a degree in Philosophy last year and found a job working in government administration. He has been complemented by his boss on how well he deals with the book-keeping aspects of his role, how quickly he learned to use MS Excel and his clear and succinct report writing.  Josh really enjoys his work and realises that he would like to grow in this area. Talking to senior colleagues he learns that an accounting qualification would be useful and so enrols for a Master’s degree in professional accounting which meets the academic requirements for registration as a Chartered Accountant with the major professional accounting bodies. This degree takes three or four trimesters full-time but Josh opts to begin on a part-time basis so that he can continue to work and his employer has indicated a willingness to pay the study fees.

If you are considering further study, begin making your enquiries in September as closing dates vary and can be earlier than closing dates for undergraduate study. Some programmes may begin mid-year or allow studies to commence mid-year, especially if studies will be part-time. Time-frames mentioned so far have been for full-time study, but universities are increasingly designing programmes to be studied on a part-time basis or to suit people in the workforce.

What are some of the key professional benefits of further study?

For most undergraduate degrees, the intention is to provide a broad foundation of knowledge and skills rather than to produce workplace-ready graduates. To fully tap into the professional benefits of further study, consider carefully what you want to do with your life, particularly your working life. What do you want from work? What are your strengths? What has motiva