Postgraduate study and qualifications

Postgraduate study in arts, humanities and social sciences

15 Mar 2023, 12:01

To maximise your job prospects, be as clear as you can about the types of jobs that interest you before you embark on your studies.

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Job prospects

Postgraduate study, if chosen wisely, can significantly enhance your career prospects. Courses with a strong career orientation such as journalism, public relations, social work or music therapy, are very likely to improve your chances of getting work in these areas, and for some professions – for example psychology and social work – a postgraduate qualification is usually a prerequisite. Graduates of research programmes are increasingly entering non-education related positions.

Think carefully about what you want to do

It's worth pointing out that, although a considered postgraduate course can be a first step towards a rewarding career, there is absolutely no point in doing one if you don't have a clue what you'll do once you've finished. Employers will want to know your reasons for choosing postgraduate education and will expect you to demonstrate the additional skills your studies have brought you.

Research relevant opportunities and use the support available from academic departments and your Careers Service before making concrete choices about the future. Careers services survey graduate destinations annually and can often be excellent sources of information on the career opportunities from courses in your institution. It's important to investigate the potential career paths that may open up (or even close) after a particular postgraduate course.

The options

Emerging areas at postgraduate level include courses that fuse the arts and the sciences. For example, Trinity College Dublin offers an MPhil in Music and Media Technologies, DCU has an MSc in Science and Health Communication, and the National College of Art and Design runs the MSc in Medical Device Design. Globalisation, international relations and peace studies are increasingly popular, as are the psychology-based courses.

Taught or research?

Decide if a taught or research style of learning will suit you best. Although research has often been perceived as the reserve of science students, most arts subjects can also be studied in this way. Research will typically build on and develop your existing expertise, culminating in a research masters MA or MLitt (approximately two years) or a PhD (approximately four years). Entry requirements are usually a 2.1 in a related discipline.

Taught programmes culminate in a diploma, postgraduate diploma, higher diploma, MA or MPhil. They are normally one to two years in duration. Some will build on your undergraduate study, for example a degree in popular literature or medieval history, while others (conversion courses) provide an opportunity to try something completely new. Entry requirements vary but typically require a 2.2 or a 2.1 depending on the demand for places.


Alternate upskilling and reskilling opportunities are also available via the Springboard and ICT Skills initiatives. The Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences (IRCHSS), previously the main funding body for research in the Republic of Ireland, merged with IRCSET in 2012 to form the new Irish Research Council . For Northern Ireland, the Arts and Humanities Research Council has a series of awards for research and postgraduate training in the UK.

Conversion courses

Conversion courses are usually intensive, one-year taught programmes that can be found in most subject areas, with a very high concentration in the arts. Popular topics range from journalism, social policy, library and information studies to art therapy, advertising and public relations. Conversion courses are open to graduates of any discipline and can be invaluable in terms of the practical skills and knowledge they offer for a particular profession, such as social work, law, speech and language therapy, translation work, public relations and tourism. Find out more about why conversion courses might be right for you here.

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