Plunging back into university after graduation may sound daunting, but more Australians are seeing the benefit of using postgraduate study to forge a new career, writes Rob Payne.
If you’re feeling unenthusiastic about your job and in need of a change, you’re not alone.
Perhaps you ended up in a role that lacked opportunities to progress.
Maybe your ‘dream job’ turned out to be a repetitive nightmare.
Maybe your sector is in decline, or jobs are scarce, or your family commitments have changed.
Perhaps you simply have a hidden passion you long to pursue.
All these reasons are drivers for people to return to study — leading to a boom of postgraduate students seeking new skills in their field or an entirely new career.
According to Graduate Careers Australia about one in five students finishes their Bachelor’s degree and then promptly returns to full-time study.
Some of those higher degrees are in their undergraduate field, while others look for complementary or new courses.
But among older grads, those with a few years in the workplace, there is also a growing trend of returning to study.
Around 41 per cent of all university students are now aged 25-64, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and 60 per cent of these already hold a Bachelor’s degree. The proportion of postgraduate students also grew 4.6 per cent last year.
Graduate Careers Australia says the average age for male postgrads is now 34, for females 32, as people begin to rethink their positions midcareer.
How did we get here? Often it is because we hate our day jobs.
According to a 2013 U.S. Gallup Poll involving 142 countries, a meagre 24 per cent of Australians report being engaged at work.
What that means is that nine million of us are not getting the most out of our careers or our lives – and neither are Australian employers.
And even if you don’t dislike your role, the opportunity to up-skill or explore a new career path comes with significant rewards.
The median salary for someone holding a Bachelor’s degree in 2015 was just under $56,000, according to Graduate Careers Australia, regardless of whether they were just starting out or had been in the workforce for some years.
The comparable median salary for a postgraduate (with any form of postgraduate degree) was $80,000.
In some fields, the gap between a Bachelor and a postgraduate qualification is even wider.
The average salary of $52,000 for a Bachelor’s degree holder in the private sector climbs by $28,000 for those holding a postgraduate diploma.
According to Diane Smith, ECU Guild Postgraduate Officer and Western Branch President of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations, the most common reason for not taking postgraduate study is time.
“The decision to return to university is very personal and different for everyone, but the biggest concern we hear is having a balance between family, work and study,” Smith says.
“When you have children, your time isn’t always your own.”
As a mother who has returned to do a Masters in Public Health, she understands the demands. But she also suggests technology has shifted the playing field.
“The ability to watch lectures online and access multimedia resources and information reduces the amount of time you need to be on campus,” she says.
EDITH Magazine looked at how four ECU students have made the leap and changed direction.
After ten years as a mechanical engineer in the automotive industry, Mark Hochguertel knew he had to make a change.
“I still enjoyed the principles of engineering, but I had lost my passion for it as a job,” he says.
“My career path had led me into a role that I wasn’t enjoying.”
The one aspect of his work that did engage him was dabbling in programming, which prompted Hochguertel to look into whether he could study computer science.
“Unlike a lot of courses, you didn’t need to have a previous degree in IT to get into the Masters of Computer Science at ECU,” he says.
“They provided the bridging content. “I wanted to kick-start my career and find my passion again, and I knew that IT offered a reliable future.”
The decision to give up a secure job for the two-year full-time course was not one that Hochguertel made lightly.
In the end, his partner Carla convinced him that he needed to make a change for his long-term happiness, with their savings and her salary offering a financial buffer.
He is now nearing the end of a six-month paid placement with Illuminance Solutions in Northbridge and says returning to study was the right decision.
“If I had been on my own, I don’t think I would have done it,” Hochguertel says.
“You need the support of those around you.
“I’ve really enjoyed studying and learning and it has changed me and got me out of the day to- day drudgery. I’m now looking forward to what happens next in my career.”
Some career changes happen faster than others. Having made the move from Kalgoorlie to Perth to study a Bachelor of Science (Exercise and Sports Science), Michael Genovese’s life took an unexpected turn right at the finish line.
“On the day of my final exam, I got a flyer from WAAPA about their Graduate Diploma in Broadcasting,” Genovese says.
“At that point, I was really open to everything and it sounded cool, so I thought, why not get in touch?
“They asked me to come in, and then invited me back for an interview and audition. [Senior lecturer] Jo McManus really pushed hard for me and everything just fell into place.”
Hard work and natural talent saw Michael snag WAAPA’s George Grljusich Sport Broadcasting Award, which provided $1000 cash and, more importantly, a six month paid internship in the sports department of Radio 6PR.
This allowed him to report on his beloved footy and found him reacquainted with his former footy coach, Tim Gossage, who happened to be Channel Ten’s Perth Director of Sport.
“Goss gave me my start in TV at TEN, working with him for two years,” Genovese says.
“I loved every second of it.”
Not prepared to let the grass grow under his feet, he changed direction once again, this time moving into television news with Nine News Perth.
“I’m still interested in sport and sports science, but in general news I get to do stories related to these areas and much more,” Genovese says.
“I love that I’ve got a job where every day is so different.”
For years Sonja Cavallaro lived the hectic life of an international lawyer, travelling from Shanghai to the USA, and jetting to Singapore, Malaysia and Taipei.
But after she married and had two children, she realised her priorities had changed.
A return to Perth was the first step, but it was only when her eldest daughter entered kindergarten that she realised how much the source of her fulfilment had shifted.
She found herself making time to help out in the classroom and go on excursions.
“My daughter’s teacher was amazingly enthusiastic and noticed my enchantment with assisting little ones to learn,” Cavallaro says.
“She was the catalyst that encouraged me to go back to university after all these years away to study Early Childhood teaching at ECU.”
While the course material might seem simpler than law, the juggling required to get her second degree was a challenge.
“Studying while looking after my girls was much harder than my undergraduate degree because I still had to do the washing, cooking and shopping in between lectures, tutorials and assignments,” Cavallaro says.
“It wasn’t easy, but nothing that gives you the sense of true accomplishment really is.”
She says her daughters helped her along, being both the source of her greatest joy and ‘guinea pigs’ on which to test her lesson plans and activities.
Cavallaro graduated in 2015 and now works part-time at a primary school in Nedlands. She still loves seeing the sparkle in the eye of a child who understands something new for the first time.
“Would I recommend it to others? Whole-heartedly with bells and pom-poms,” she says.
Sometimes a moment comes when you know things need to change. For Dr Tristan Kelly, that occurred one evening at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.
“I was a year into my residency and was on the emergency rotation doing nights in a very intensive environment, 70 or 80 hours a week,” Kelly says.
“Each morning I was struggling more and more to get out of bed.
“I’d always known that medicine wasn’t my passion, but I grew up in a family of doctors – my mum, grandmother and grandfather – so it was something I had always expected to do.”
Seeing him unfulfilled, Kelly’s partner Molly suggested he take some time to pursue his other interests — photography, art and music.
With nine months left on his work contract, Kelly took a break to explore his options, starting with ECU’s Introduction to Screen Production before furthering study at ECU’s WA Screen Academy.
“I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I really took to screenwriting,” he says.
“I specialised in screenwriting and editing but worked in every aspect of production, getting experience on web series, short drama and client-based work.”
Kelly is currently writing a feature film and looking for project funding.
There is some irony in the fact that his hours are comparable to those of his medical intern days, but now he no longer has to drag himself out of bed.
Please leave a comment about your rating so we can better understand how we might improve the page.