4 ways postgraduate study can help boost your career

It’s a question that many artists and creatives ask themselves at some point in their lives, whether they are approaching the end of their undergraduate degree or have been working in industry for some time. Should I do a postgraduate degree – and what real, tangible benefits can it offer me?

Find out more at our Postgrad open days (online) during April and May 2020 .
Rochelle Saunders, MA Arts and Cultural Enterprise © Alys Tomlinson
There are many reasons why creatives decide on the postgrad route, but in an increasingly competitive job market, for many students the focus needs to be practical. Boosting employability prospects and technical skills, building creative networks and fast-tracking your career path are all key aspects when considering a postgraduate course.
Ranked number two in the world for Art and Design in the QS World University Rankings 2020, University of the Arts London (UAL) is home to more than 2,400 postgraduate students working across the fields of art, design, screen, communication, fashion, media and performing arts. With six colleges located across London, UAL forms a diverse community of creators, encouraging its students to challenge established thinking and play a key part in the UK and global creative industries.
For Rochelle and Zula, two postgraduate students from UAL, choosing a course that would fit into their busy lives, but that would also provide clear direction and support for their careers, was essential. Here they talk about some of the highlights of their postgraduate degree, and explain the ways in which postgraduate study has helped them forge their creative careers.
Zula Rabikowska, MA Photojournalism and Documentary Photography © Nuno Guerreiro de Sousa

1. Build amazing networks

Life as a postgraduate student is about so much more than work and study. At UAL, you’re constantly surrounded by industry experts, tutors who are leaders in their fields, and a wealth of other creatives.
For Zula, who studied MA Photojournalism and Documentary Photography, this helped to inspire her and spark new ideas. “An aspect of my degree that I really appreciated was that most UAL staff have their own creative practice. Whatever you are doing, you are constantly surrounded by like-minded people, which is a perfect environment to bounce ideas around and develop.”

She also advises anyone thinking about postgraduate study to really do their research. “Find out what kind of art practice your tutors have, and where their specific interests lie. This really helped me make the decision to study at UAL.”

Rochelle, who’s currently studying on a part-time, distance learning MA in Arts and Cultural Enterprise, has found the links to industry that her course provides invaluable. “The highlight for me has been feeling like you are part of the future of the cultural and creative industries.” But it’s also about the communities you find yourself in and the friends you make. “As a distance learner, it’s great to have some days where you can come into university to immerse yourself in the experience and spend time with your colleagues. It's a nice way to feel connected to this side of your life!”
Photography by Zula Rabikowska, MA Photojournalism and Documentary Photography

2. Move your career in a totally new direction

While postgraduate study can be a great way to deepen your specialism in a particular area, it can also provide the perfect opportunity to make the career shift you’ve been dreaming of.

“I studied English and French for my BA, which later led me to complete an MA in Postcolonial Caribbean literature. I then ended up moving to Martinique for a year, teaching English as a foreign language.” Zula then went on to gain experience in a variety of areas: “I even worked in finance as an analyst, and later for a wide range of different creative start-ups.”

So what led her to return to university in order to study within a completely new field? “I’ve always done photography on the side, and a few years before doing my MA I started taking it more seriously. I started off by doing evening photography classes to improve my skills and to test my commitment to the field.”

Eventually, she felt ready to make the leap. “In 2018, decided to leave my full-time job behind to enrol on the MA in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at London College of Communication. I was keen to learn more about the industry and to ultimately make the career transition to working as photographer.” Zula now works as a freelance photographer and photojournalist for SOPA Images in Hong Kong. “I think the MA was exactly what I needed in life to help transition from one career path to another. I learnt not just how to contribute to documentary photography, but how to challenge the field.”

3. Develop specialist skills in your chosen area

While your undergraduate degree often lays the groundwork in terms of developing your interests and ideas, creatives can still find themselves needing to further develop specialist knowledge and skills. For Rochelle, postgraduate study was all about developing business expertise to help develop her theoretical knowledge.
“Before joining UAL in 2017, I had professional experience spanning across the arts in cultural production, education and social justice work. My first degree was in politics, during which I developed a particular academic interest in political philosophy and comparative politics.”

Postgraduate study offered her something very specific. “I decided to take the MA Arts and Cultural Enterprise at Central Saint Martins because I was keen to explore an entrepreneurial endeavor that could weave my interests for the arts and activism together. I wanted to learn more about best practices, the industry as a whole, and learn from an extended network of peers – all experts in their own fields!”
Most importantly, her MA has given Rochelle the skills and confidence to continue pushing forward in her career path. “The course has been invaluable in shaping what I want to do for my future career. It has offered me the structure to shape new ideas, always drawing on viability and calculated risk.”
Photography by Zula Rabikowska, MA Photojournalism and Documentary Photography

4. Gain access to a wealth of resources and opportunities

For many postgraduate students, knowing they’ll be able to access world-class facilities and CV-boosting development opportunities is vital. Having made the transition into a new field of study, the technical resources on offer during her course were essential to Zula. “I absolutely loved having the wide range of facilities on hand. Not just photographic studios and darkrooms, which I used constantly whilst at UAL, but also the workshops that were on offer. I learnt how to make and bind books alongside developing screen printing and linography techniques, to name just a few.”

Yet financial support goes a long way too. For Rochelle, a successful application to a key project fund made a huge difference. “During my course I was the recipient of a UAL SEED fund and I’ve used this to kick-start a social project called Other Narratives, which seeks to connect artists, activists and communities through an online platform.”

Zula also appreciated the project support and development workshops available during her course. “UAL have a wide range of internal bursaries, grants and competitions that are open to both current students and alumni, which is another platform to help you get started and get your work seen by industry professionals. There are also a lot of additional talks available throughout the year, such as how to run your own business, which will equip you with the right skills after you graduate and find yourself needing to file those dreaded tax returns!”

There’s no denying it: choosing to embark on a postgraduate degree is a huge decision, and it’s vital that you take the time to do careful research and find the right fit. You can explore all of UAL’s postgraduate courses on the UAL website, along with information on fees and funding, scholarships, portfolios and the UAL Post-Grad Community.

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