Many employers value postgraduate qualifications highly. A postgraduate degree doesn’t automatically lead to employment, however, so you’ll still have to prove your worth at interviews and assessment centres.
The type of further study you follow will have a significant impact on your career direction so think carefully – and bear in mind that it may be beneficial to work for a few years before returning to education. You may gain more insight into a potential topic, and your employer might even offer support while you study.
A masters course allows you to specialise in an area of interest. It may also speed up the route to chartered status if you have a BEng degree. The MSc is largely a taught course that lasts for one year (full time) and focuses on a particular subject; sometimes a short dissertation is required. MRes and MPhil degrees are also one-year courses but involve producing a substantial piece of research. Whether taught or research-based, a masters degree will provide you with an in-depth knowledge of a specific subject – as well as transferable skills that can give you the edge over a graduate straight from an engineering degree. An MPhil or MRes will also give you a thorough training in research skills and hence is an excellent foundation for pursuing a doctorate.
There are also a number of part-time masters courses available, though these tend to be taken up by those who have already been working for a while rather than fresh graduates, as some support from an employer is usually required.
Traditional doctorates: PhDs
The PhD is the traditional ‘academic’ research-based doctorate in the UK. A PhD normally takes three years and should involve groundbreaking research. It’s a good option if you want to develop expertise in a particular field of interest and/or wish to become an academic. You will be allocated a supervisor to guide and oversee your research, and you will also benefit from working alongside other PhD students and researchers in the department. It is possible to do a PhD that incorporates an element of industry-related training, taking on a research project that has been defined with dual input from an academic department and an industry partner. On this type of scheme you would spend at least three months based on the premises of the industry sponsor.
Engineering doctorates: EngDs
The four-year engineering doctorate (EngD) was created in 1992. It focuses on commercially relevant research: typically a project (or a series of related projects) that presents a research challenge while simultaneously solving a genuine problem faced by the industrial sponsor. EngD students spend 75 per cent of their time working on the employer site with a supervisor from within the organisation. The remaining time is spent at the university studying specialist technical and professional development subjects to prepare for industry management roles (for example MBA-level management and professional development courses and specialist technical courses related to the area of research.) You can research EngDs opportunities with different universities at the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s website (EPSRC).
How to get funding
The EPSRC provides the majority of funding for engineering postgraduates at PhD in the UK. Money is allocated to individual departments rather than to students, so you will need to apply directly to the institution where you wish to study. You can find full details at the EPSRC website. For masters students, a government-backed loan of up to £10,000 is available for students studying a masters at a university in the UK. Further funding may be available through university scholarships or bursaries and you can access more information, including directories of funding organisations, at your university’s careers service.
Deciding where to study
Staying at your current university could be positive as you will already be familiar with the department staff and perhaps potential supervisors. You might also have access to additional sources of funds, or a reduction in fees. Don’t just choose it as a safe option, though: make sure it offers the courses and/or research activities that interest you. Moving to a new institution could expand your horizons, enlarge your network of contacts and give you access to additional academic expertise. Investigate its resources as well as the research interests, specialisms and publication records of the relevant department staff. Do some basic checks on the department you are considering. For example, investigate the teaching standards on the Quality Assurance Agency website and check their Research Excellence Framework (REF) ratings.