What I learned: How a postgrad helped my career

The range of postgraduate options has never been broader. We asked a number of postgrads how they fared

A postgraduate qualification can accelerate your career and your earnings. It’s also an opportunity to specialise in an area that really interests you and to build a professional network.

The range of postgraduate options has never been broader, and the rise of microcredentials allows learners to take on a specific module to develop a particular skill, potentially building those modules over time to form a full postgraduate qualification.

We spoke to some postgraduate students about what they learned and how the course has furthered their career.

“I always loved the sea,” says María Pérez Tadeo, a postdoctoral researcher who completed her PhD at ATU in 2022.


“So, for my undergraduate, I studied marine science at the University of Vigo in Spain. When I finished, the economic climate wasn’t great, and I wanted to gain different experiences and improve my English. I was motivated by experiencing different places, meeting diverse people and gaining more skills and experience.”

Peréz Tadeo went to Ghent in Belgium, where she began an MSc in marine biodiversity and conservation.

“In the second year, I came to ATU’s Galway campus and completed my master’s thesis. I found that the programme aligned with my passion for marine science and conservation and started to open doors for me – especially as my English improved.”

Having already done an undergraduate degree in marine science, was she not tempted to try her hand at a completely different postgraduate course?

“The undergraduate was long and broad, with many different sciences and specialisms including physical sonography alongside geology and chemistry, for instance. The master's degree in marine science and conservation, however, allowed me to focus more on animal behaviour, with a particular focus on marine mammals and species conservation, and I discovered how interesting it was to me.”

Pérez Tadeo completed her master’s long before Covid – and before many courses moved, and stayed, online.

“Back then, most people chose to do in-person courses, and I would not have chosen online if it was offered,” she says. “I liked that I could travel and move between different countries as part of my study, including a research station in Sweden. Today, online learning and meetings are much more common, so I think I was lucky.

“I really enjoyed the master’s. The modules included statistical analysis, underwater acoustic monitoring, geographic information systems and animal behaviour. These were all focused on gaining transferable skills that you could apply to real jobs, such as in research or environmental consultancies.”

Building on the skills she gained in her master’s, Pérez Tadeo decided to tackle a PhD on the factors affecting local abundance and behaviour of grey and harbour seals at two sites on the west coast of Ireland, looking at implications for management and conservation.

One of these sites was around the Blasket islands, where she investigated the impact of tourism on the grey seals.

“It was great to spend so much time with the seals, and to be able to produce something positive that could help with conserving them,” she says. “We recorded seal behaviour in the presence of tourists on the beach, where they rest and breed, and wrote up recommendations about how vessels and tourists could keep a distance. It wasn’t about saying no to tourism, but about being respectful.”

Pérez Tadeo is now working as a postdoctoral researcher at ATU on the Straits project, where 10 research partners across Europe and Canada address biodiversity management gaps by tracking animals across four seas.

Her postgraduate studies have been vital for her career progress.

“What I work on is really rewarding,” she says. “It’s not just a job: I get to go to work and do something I love.”

Owen Doody is one of a growing number of learners taking a pragmatic approach to their career development.

A qualified intellectual disability nurse and an academic and senior lecturer at the University of Limerick, he wanted to learn more about including people with intellectual disabilities in further and higher education.

He had already completed several layers of education, including an MSc in nursing at the University of Manchester, where he wrote a research thesis on family views about resettlement for people with an intellectual disability and a PhD in nursing at Ulster University in 2012.

This made him somewhat reluctant to complete another major postgraduate programme – but he didn’t need to. An online, part-time eight-week course at UCC, focused on including people with intellectual disabilities in further and higher education, provided him with the continuous professional development necessary.

“When I started my career, I went from being a student to working with children and families, and then I moved into management,” he says.

“At UL, I want to put in place the structures and practices to allow modules on intellectual disability nursing to include more intellectually disabled people as learners and experts by experience. So there could be a module on developing yourself, and teaching students about your own experiences in life. I would love to see more people with intellectual disabilities taking on modules, and perhaps working as a special-needs assistant, classroom assistant or other employment.”

I learned that you need high-level university support and buy-in, as a lone ranger will fall flat on their face

—  Owen Doody

The UCC module provided Doody with the skills and knowledge to develop these ideas and become more inclusive and supportive of more people in education.

The course was entirely online and most of the participants were academics. Although remote learning suited participants, Doody says that at least one initial in-person meet and greet would help students to learn more about, and from, their classmates. That said, there was a good deal of peer learning.

“We had key readings and prompt questions, and we shared our own experience of programmes and modules through a discussion forum,” he says. “It allowed us to bring in our own practical experience.”

What did he take away from the experience?

“It consolidated for me that I was indeed on the right path, and that I had identified the right potential potholes,” he says. “I learned that you need high-level university support and buy-in, as a lone ranger will fall flat on their face.”

Claudia Bailey had two major interests, and she wanted to find a career path that would embrace them both.

“I did an undergraduate bachelor of arts in public relations and strategic communication from American University in Washington DC,” she says. “This included a minor in environmental science.

“I am very interested in sustainability, and really wanted to focus on it. I had spent my entire education in the US, and wanted to experience a totally new environment.”

So she packed her bags and headed for the MSc in smart and sustainable cities at Trinity College Dublin.

Taking on a postgraduate degree in a different area allowed her to develop new skills and expertise that would complement her undergraduate course and open new doors to her.

“During my undergrad, my professor said: okay, you know how to communicate effectively, but what are you going to communicate about?

“After my undergrad, I worked for a year managing a bakery, and in digital media for a financial literacy non-profit. I knew that I wanted to continue my education.”

The course at Trinity College appealed to her for a number of reasons.

“It was the first year of the programme, and I didn’t mind being a guinea pig for new ideas,” she says. “I was excited to be a part of the learning experience, and I knew I could allocate one year for this opportunity.”

The course had an international mix, with Irish students studying alongside German, Chinese, Spanish, Belgian, American and Puerto Rican students, among others.

“This brought a great mix of diverse perspectives to the classroom,” says Bailey. “We all had different lived experiences, and we all learned from each other.

“It was an interdisciplinary programme that included engineering, environment and emerging technology. The course content was neat, with machine learning, biodiversity, urban sustainability and climate change among the topics covered.”

Bailey says that the course gave her a wide knowledge, and that the interdisciplinary approach has served her well in her current role, where she is technology and engagement manager at Smart Docklands, a smart city district collaboration between Dublin City Council and the Connect research centre at Trinity College.

Her role includes developing learning content on smart city technology and digital rights for local authority staffers, as well as representing Dublin on the co-ordination team for the Cities Coalition for Digital Rights.

“I knew I wanted to stay after completing the master’s, and I love meeting and being connected to other people, as well as seeing – and shaping – how the city works.”

Justyna Bodnar lives in Koszalin, northern Poland, and has worked remotely with Irish-based accounting firm Aperio for the last two years.

The move to online delivery from the traditional classroom approach to learning accelerated during the Covid-19 pandemic, and learners now have a range of learning options to choose from depending on what approach best suits their circumstances.

Justyna recently completed the Accounting Technicians Ireland diploma, a course which can be studied full-time, part-time and online.

“After the birth of my third child, I explored remote working options because I needed to be at home more,” said Bodnar.

“The framework of the course suited because I was able to watch lectures and study after work and combine learning with employment and being a mother.

“My first thoughts were whether I could manage my time, along with concerns that English is not my first language.

“But the lecturers were easy to understand and of great help to me. After a year I was very comfortable with the programme and anxious to do well.”

The diploma is open to school and college leavers, mature students and people working in business, industry or small practice but who, as yet, have no formal training.

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