Is a postgraduate degree right for you?
Although going back to school is a major investment of time and money, it can have big payoffs in terms of career advancement, new opportunities and self-fulfilment. It’s a decision that requires significant self-reflection as you consider your goals and your professional and personal responsibilities, and as you assess the trends within your industry and how your current skills and knowledge match up. Here are some questions to consider if you’re thinking about a professional postgraduate degree:
Is it time to go back to school?
The first step is to consider your professional development and where you’d like to be in five or 10 years.
- What are your professional goals? Can you reach these goals on your current career trajectory? Or do you need to expand your knowledge base and expertise to get there?
- Would the credential of a master’s degree enable you to apply for a wider range of positions or give you greater legitimacy within your field?
- What’s happening in your industry? Do you have the skills and expertise to meet evolving challenges and trends?
We’ve developed a series of articles about why some professionals have chosen the MEL and MHLP degrees. The reasons include gaining experience in a related industry, accelerating career progression and taking on new responsibilities, making an impact on society and in the world, and wanting to live in a new city, province or country. Do any of these apply?
Which degree is right for you?
There are a wide range of graduate degrees in many different fields, from the narrowly specialized to the more broadly based. Figuring out which degree is best for you requires thinking honestly about your strengths, interests and desired career path.
- Do you gain satisfaction from working on complex technical challenges? Are you wanting to go deeper into your area of specialty – be it engineering or health care – to become an expert in your field?
- Do you have the broad multidisciplinary perspective needed to tackle your industry’s most pressing issues?
- Are you interested in gaining the business and leadership skills to contribute at a higher level and take part in your organization’s strategy development and implementation?
Your answers to these questions might lead you towards either a master’s degree in an applied science program (like engineering or nursing) or a degree in business. But what if you’re interested in doing both? The MEL and MHLP offer a uniquely hybrid experience, combining graduate-level engineering education with executive leadership development. Students gain cutting-edge technical skills and knowledge, enabling them to innovate in their industry, while also acquiring the business fundamentals for strategic decision making and confident leadership through courses taught by UBC Sauder’s Robert H. Lee Graduate School.
This unique combination is what makes the MEL and MHLP degrees attractive option for professionals who do not want to limit themselves to a purely technical or purely business degree. Students and alumni repeatedly mention the career-enhancing advantages that come from being able to make significant contributions to both technical and business decisions.
How much time can you spend away from work?
Postgraduate degrees range in length, usually from a minimum length of 12 months and up to 24 months or more, and some are offered as part-time options.
- What is a realistic amount of time you can leave your career to go to school?
- Would a part-time option make it easier to balance your professional and personal responsibilities?
The MEL and MHLP are 12-month full-time degrees, starting in January and ending in December. For the January 2021 intake, part-time options are currently available in the MEL in Integrated Water Management and MEL in Urban Systems programs.
What will you be learning?
Take a close look at the course content for the degrees you are considering. You want to ensure that the courses you’ll be taking and the structure of the learning environment is a good match with your interests, learning style and educational and professional goals.
- What’s covered in the coursework? Does it align with your knowledge gaps, interests and the developing trends in your industry?
- How are the classes delivered? Do they offer a flipped classroom, with opportunities for active engagement and deep learning?
- Will you be working on capstone projects or other projects directly connected to industry needs?
- What are the learning outcomes, and are they relevant to the skills you want to develop?
- Are there opportunities for you to develop your strengths and confidence in communication, leadership and project management?
All MEL and MHLP programs were developed in close consultation with industry partners to meet the needs of today’s forward-thinking organizations and professionals. As such, the programs are truly cross-disciplinary, enabling students to update their sector-specific knowledge while gaining the foundational business skills needed to lead teams and guide change. You can read about our MEL and MHLP alumni and how they’re using their more cohesive, integrated and diverse skill sets to take on new challenges.
What about outside of the classroom?
As a graduate student, so much personal growth happens beyond the classroom – in collaborative group work, discussions with peers, connections with industry leaders at networking events and opportunities within the university.
- What opportunities are offered by the program and university you are considering, such as professional development events and extracurricular opportunities?
- What career services and counselling support is offered by the university or program?
- Who will your fellow students be? (Checking out the alumni association of the programs you are interested in or searching for graduates of the programs in LinkedIn will give you a sense of the diversity of your cohort.)
The MEL and MHLP are designed for independent, self-motivated students who are ready to embrace a shared learning experience through their interactions with peers, industry leaders and academic researchers.
Students can attend optional professional development events and workshops throughout the year, covering topics that include proven tactics for improving presentation skills to networking with confidence. Our Employer Relations and Careers Manager is also available for one-on-one career coaching and advice.
With over 400 student clubs, UBC offers an incredible array of extracurricular opportunities. MEL and MHLP students can take advantage of these opportunities, or even create their own. In 2019, for example, an MHLP student launched a Health Hackathon that brought together MEL and MHLP students to brainstorm a pitch for a breakthrough product or service that could transform the health-care industry.
The business classes bring together students from all of the different MEL and MHLP programs, which means you will be studying and collaborating on group projects with a wide group of professionals from diverse industries and backgrounds.
Adding it all up
Going back to school is a significant life decision, but one that’s easier to make if you carefully evaluate your current circumstances and reflect on your specific career goals. A professional master’s degree is a signal to employers that you have up-to-date industry knowledge and expertise. The hybrid MEL and MHLP – with their combination of technical and business courses – also tell employers that you have the skills and confidence to successfully communicate, collaborate, strategize and lead change within the organization.
It’s also helpful to see going back to school as part of a longer-term investment in your personal and professional development. Some of the outcomes might be immediately clear – a new job or greater responsibility. Other outcomes might take longer to emerge, but are nonetheless equally important, and could include everything from being exposed to new ways of thinking to a new set of friends to where you end up living.