Politics and archaeology.
When I sat my leaving certificate I didn’t know what career I wanted to go into. I did fairly well in my exams – English, Irish, Chemistry, Economics and History - and got enough points to go to my first choice University – TCD..
I was the first person at my University to ever do a politics and archaeology joint honours degree, apparently! Strangely enough, I have used both parts of my degree as I worked for 7 years as an archaeology site supervisor across Ireland from 1994-2000 so that certainly proved worthwhile. In 2000, both aspects of my degree came in handy as I worked with a human rights organisations in Guatemala exhuming mass graves (using my archaeologist skills) and recording survivors testimonies for future perpetrator prosecution (political skills).
Since then my politics degree came in very handy as I worked for Amnesty International and then coordinated a national anti-racist campaign, using professional football as a conduit for positive educational messages in schools.
My initial decision to do politics and archaeology came from a desire to develop both intellectual and physical skills in my career - I didn't picture myself happy in an office environment and I still miss working outdoors sometimes...in the summer.
I loved my time at college and if I could go back, I think I'd still choose the same subjects. My joint degree has been of huge use to me in my employment, both in terms of "opening doors" and practically.
Margaret Clift McNulty
Classical Civilisations and English!
I was pretty clueless making my University degree choice - I just chose a degree in the leaving cert subjects I enjoyed and was good at, without much consideration of career or job opportunities. I was a classic humanities student, excelling in English and History. I chose to study Classical Civilisations and English at University.
I had a mixed experience of the degree - I loved the classics side, because I got to look at a whole culture from religion through to literature and how all the different elements interlinked. It helped me to stand back from my own culture and see similarities and differences and understand how societies work, and are structured. The lectures were fascinating. I was less sold on English - the course at Nottingham was quite language based which I didn't like that much, and I just found it less engaging than I had at school. I ended up specialising more in the medieval and Viking side, which linked more closely to classics. When I finished my degree with a 2.1 I was a bit clueless about what I wanted to do, and somewhat dissatisfied. I didn't feel that I had got enough out of my University experience, so I stayed on and did a Masters in Ancient Greek Drama which I threw myself into and loved. I got a Distinction in that. Other people who had studied Classics went into all sorts of different careers - several lawyers, a few postgraduates, PAs - even a celebrity columnist!
I wasn't interested in the milk round jobs, or working for a blue chip company. I considered a PhD but didn't have the language skills (latin, greek, german and french!) needed for classics, and did some fruitless applications to museums and galleries. I quickly realised competition was stiff - I would need voluntary experience AND another postgraduate qualification to get even a foot in the door.
I stumbled onto my current career path by accident, shadowing the alumni relations team at Lougborough University. I didn't really know much about alumni relations and less about fundraising, but that was my big break. As a result of the knowledge I gained from a couple of days volunteering, I got a graduate entry job in alumni relations at King's College London, organising events and helping to build the alumni relations programme. From there I moved to Amnesty International, being lucky enough to get an assistant job in their new major donor, and quickly being promoted to major gifts fundraiser. Within three years I had organised celebrity balls, solicited major donations, been involved with cash appeals and learned a ton about human rights work in the process. It was challenging, exciting and incredibly worthwhile.
From Amnesty, I moved to the University of Edinburgh and I now raise money for Science and Engineering there, which is ironic considering the degree I chose! I love the job though - I work with fascinating people on world-changing projects, from climate change to research to tackle infectious disease. It has helped me to value the role of universities even more.
In some ways I wish I had put more thought into my degree choice, at a much younger age. There are two different ways to look at university, either as intellectual endeavour for its own sake or as training for a potential career. I just did what I loved, and I enjoyed the experience but it left me in the position of any humanities graduate. In the end, I could have had a degree in anything for the job I ended up doing. My degree has been valuable though, although this is harder to quantify than in a vocational degree like engineering. Apart from the transferable skills of writing, analysing, presenting etc, it has helped me to understand cultures and to make links which are both important in my job.
If you are a humanities graduate, you probably had to work a bit harder to make your CV stand out and to work out what you want to do. You should take advantage of any opportunities to volunteer, shadow, do work experience that are available to help you with this. If you don't choose the milk round route, you wages may also reflect that. My graduate starting salary was lower than my peers who studied the sciences or maths/economics type degree and my student debt trailed on longer.
I don't regret that though - the job I do is fascinating, and doing a humanities degree kept my options open for longer. At 17 or 18 I didn't know which career path I wanted to follow, so opting to do something I loved was the right choice for me.
I studied Politics at University in a really interesting department. I'd been planning to study politics and Spanish but stuffed up my Spanish Leaving Certificate and ended up doing straight Politics.
I loved my course, lots of different things to do and some marvellous characters. A fair few people from my course went into some kind of politics, policy, or public service role - some with political parties, others in local government or with think tanks. In most Social Science, Humanities and Arts degrees you have quite a lot of choice about what you study and how you study. The programmes are so broad that you can take your subject in lots of different directions. I chose to focus on political theory and international relations but others opted for party politics and political history. It's a good subject if you like to argue and hone your ideas and thinking. I've had some wonderful "putting the world to rights" arguments with people from all sorts of political viewpoints and learning to tolerate the views of others and be constructive in how you debate and discuss your views is a really important "graduate skill".
Following my undergraduate degree I read for a research Masters in crisis decision-making in international relations (I loved research) and would have liked to go onto a PhD but sadly there was very little funding around at the time for the Social Sciences.
I finished my university studies just as the dot.com boom went bust which led to one of the worst graduate recruitment years on record (worse than 2008 by some way) but found a quasi-research job at a University looking at the student experience and student development. Nearly 7 years later I'm still working in Higher Education but now in policy and project management within academic administration and do a lot of work around graduate employability, recognising student achievement and curriculum development.
Has my degree helped me in my work? Yes - it helped me understand how organisations work, how people function in groups, how to influence and negotiate, how to present complex ideas ...all of these are useful skills to have but difficult skills to prove.
The graduate job market is pretty tough at the moment and it can be difficult to have a competitive advantage and really distinguish yourself so some advice from me would be:
Study something you enjoy, there's nothing worse than 3-4 years of boredom, you're more likely to drop-out or not reach your academic potential if you aren't interested in the subject
Grab the opportunities available to you - most universities have skills development programme, careers service programmes, training, volunteering, part-time work available to their students. Make the most of what's available. University is an experience that's not quite like anything else
Learn to articulate your development, learning and skills so you can talk to recruiters and admissions tutors about yourself in a sensible way
Find out what's going on - go to guest lectures and seminars in areas outside your own subject, find out about the issues of the day from some of the leading thinkers, step outside your comfort zone and learn about the world
Give something back - volunteer, give campus tours, go into schools and talk about universities. Increasingly graduate recruiters and blue-chip companies are talking about ethics and corporate social responsibilty and they want people who have contributed to the world around them in a positive way
And have a good time - there's a lot of pressure on students these days, particularly financial, but this is a wonderful time to broaden your horizons and meet new people. Take time to find out who you are and how you relate to the world
Psychology (BA), then later a Masters in Information Management (MSc)
I took Biology, Religious Studies and English for my Leaving Certificate because I enjoyed them. A chance chat with a psychologist on a school careers evening led me to thinking it would be an interesting degree and it was.
Psychology, like Information Management, is very broad so you can choose modules to specialise in a number of different ways and if you choose to develop it after your first degree can end up working in business, education, hospitals, mental health, the prison service, with the police etc. according to your area of interest.
Core areas that are likely to be included in most degrees include neuroscience, social psychology, child development, artificial intelligence (of some description) and statistics. The latter is a strange one because you can learn enough about statistics to be able to do them without really understanding it fully. I definitely took advantage of the extra support available for this area as it didn't come naturally to me!
I ended up working in my university Careers Service (Sheffield) for 5 years in a variety of roles, but ending up researching labour market intelligence - namely what the graduates of the Yorkshire universities were doing, earning, where they were living etc three years on from graduation - very interesting! It was ironic that I ended up in the Careers Service as I never felt I had an idea/desire of having a traditional career!
After a year out travelling, I returned to university to study Information Management - which sits between Librarianship (I've always liked libraries and researching family history etc) and Information Sytems, the more technical side of organising information.
I chose IM because it seemed it would be the most employable in either the library world or in business, medicine, legal services etc. I loved the course as it developed my natural affinity for anything to do with organising information and helping others to feel less overwhelmed by the info they need in their job or business.
Through a very upside-down route, I now run my own information management consultancy, using these skills to help businesses to realise the power of good information management. If you have a visual/verbal information style, check out http://www.emmersonsltd.com to see what this looks like in practice. If you prefer picking up information via audio, you can listen to this podcast I did for the University of Sheffield Careers Service: http://www.careers.dept.shef.ac.uk/podcast/infoman.mp3
...You can see I'm a natural information sharer!
In terms of developing your own skills at university, do take the opportunities available to get involved with clubs or societies, volunteering, tutoring etc, anything which appeals to you and which will help you develop a broader set of skills than those taught on your course. Make sure though you leave time to enjoy being a student too; life in the working world gets v busy so you'll treasure the student lifestyle once you've left it!
I would also advocate understanding your own information style - this is the way you find, use, manage and share information. Are you a natural information gatherer? Do you often think 'I saw this and thought of you' and find yourself sharing links/info with friends and acquaintances? Do you enjoy organising files on your computer or is everything just dumped on your desktop and hard to find?
Information styles differ. By understanding yours, you can see where your natural strengths lie and explain these to employers in your job applications and interviews (explaining that you have a natural affinity for sharing information in conversation and through social networking is much better than the generic and overused 'I have good communication skills'!). It also helps you see where your areas of weakness lie - and either choosing to develop these areas, or find ways of getting support for them. It can also help you see what kind of job roles you would like or dislike according to what kind of information skills are needed.
Information styles and skills are not often talked about in job applications. By developing your understanding of yours and explaining it, your CV can give you an advantage over your fellow applicants.
Whatever you choose to go on and study I hope you enjoy it - just remember you'll encounter information whatever subject you choose!
Economics and Social Sciences.
I have ended up as a Deputy Headteacher in a secondary school. Teaching (despite reputations to the contrary!) is a great job, particularly if you find a school or schools that suit your skills and passions. I have always taught in relatively academic schools, which has meant I could really extend both mine and my students’ passion for learning.
The pay structure has also vastly improved in the last ten years or so and you might find them much more attractive than you might think. Also there has been the bonus of travelling to countries such as Russia and Kenya. OK, you might have to take 40+ young people with you but that can actually be a huge amount of fun.
I find it is refreshing spending time with people who haven't already made up their minds. And hate to say but the holidays are great! It’s obviously not for everyone (you have to like children!) and supposedly the same job is completely different dependent on where you work but I've really enjoyed it.
Other people with my degree have ended up in the financial sector. You can also work for government, multinationals, NGOs etc. all of whom require economists and people with good analytical skills which the degree engenders. You also have to write well which helps in most jobs.
I studied Marketing at U.C.D. Looking back, I was lucky that I ended up studying something that I enjoyed learning about so much. I came across a book called the Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard from the '60s, which is about marketing and advertising. I found it was something I was really interested in.
My degree was pretty varied and I had a lot of flexibility in the first year, when I took German as well as my core subjects. As I progressed through the degree I focused on social marketing and consumer behaviour. I combined these in my final dissertation to look at decision-making related to organ donor cards and organ donation.
One of the best things I did while studying was to spend some time abroad. I was an exchange student in the north of Sweden for one semester in my 3rd year. This was a fantastic opportunity to experience a different culture, meet people from all over the world and think about my future. My Swedish classmates had generally had some time out before University (the boys having done military service) so they were more focused in their work and I learned a lot from this. I'm still friends with some of the people I met during the exchange, 15 years later.
In some ways, I didn't make the most of University life. I came from a small secondary school and, by change, 8 of my classmates went to the same University. It meant that I didn't try so hard to make new friends and try new things. University is such a good opportunity to meet like-minded people, join societies and enjoy the non-academic side of life.
I now work in fundraising, which I absolutely love. I've worked in a number of sectors and, although, I haven't done what you'd describe as a pure 'marketing' job, my degree has helped in understanding people's motivations for giving to charity and in terms of employment, a good degree shows employers that you're capable of committing to something and learning new skills.