Here are the questions you asked our panel of people who work in the medical devices sector in Ireland.
A PhD and a Masters can prove useful if you are looking for a job in research and development, however they are not essential in order to gain a job in R&D.
John Burton (Vitalograph): Work placement is certainly valuable as it helps the student gauge what actually happens within organisations similar to where they will be expected to work on completion of their degree.
It also gives that student something valuable to add to their CV/resumé and can provides for a discussion point with prospective employers on leaving third-level education.
It’s always a bonus to be able to demonstrate to employers that you have applied your third-level education to real-life situations e.g. via work experience, final-year projects, summer placements or as your “hobby”. It’s all about being able to separate yourself from the crowd and giving the employer a reason why you should be chosen over someone else who has a similar degree.
It can also be valuable for the employer in helping them identify students who may be suited to their organisation on completion of their academic studies. It’s not unusual for students who have had a successful work placement to be subsequently offered a job by that employer on completion of their studies.
Sarah Jane Lye (Creganna-Tactx Medical): Not only will you gain valuable experience in a particular industry but it can also give you a better understanding of what you are learning in college and you will start thinking in a more practical way.
Also, students get an idea if the particular industry in which they complete their work placement appeals to them.
A Masters/PhD is a great idea as the person gains a greater knowledge of a particular area. However, it can sometimes be a good idea to work for a while before pursuing further studies as you gain a greater knowledge of the industry you want to work in and you have a better understanding of the course/subject which is right for you.
When employers are interviewing people for a position, they look at all the attributes of that person and their suitability to the role. Work experience is always very beneficial as that person has experience in the industry and knows how it functions.
A Masters/PhD will also stand to you as you have a greater knowledge of a particular area. However, an employer looks at each person individually and if the Masters/PhD has no relevance to the role it can be overlooked.
It is generally a combination of factors such as qualifications, experience and personality that lead to the choosing of the most suitable candidate.
It can make a real difference as a graduate, and can show that you have a very good practical understanding of the topics you’ve studied.
We always advise people to try to get some practical experience, and if that’s not as part of a formal course curriculum, no worries – try to secure a position in industry either during the summer months or on a part-time basis.
It shows great initiative if it’s something you’ve arranged yourself and says a lot about your work ethic, so we’d always advise students to try secure something related.
When it comes to a Masters or PhD, it very much so depends on the type of job that you are looking for. A higher level of qualification is very rarely a substitute for work experience, but it can open up different doors to you.
Paul Martin (Abbot Diabetes Care): If one chooses to go straight for higher qualifications straight off the bat, the perception can often be given that the person is not really interested in industry and wants to concentrate on academia in the long-term.
At the same time, once you start a job to gain that experience, it can be difficult to go back to education. So there is no right answer to this question, it all depends on the aspirations and abilities of the person and what they are most inclined to do.
Some employers will desire a higher degree, some employers will prefer more work experience and a lower degree.
John Burton: It depends on whether the PhD is a personal academic objective or a requirement for a very specialised area in which you wish to work.
If it’s the latter, then obviously achieving the PhD beforehand is necessary.
However, if it’s a personal objective, I would say it’s totally a personal decision – but most non-specialised jobs do not require a PhD first.
In the early stages of a career, the person who spent the equivalent first 4+ years gaining experience in the field may find their hands-on experience to be more relevant/desirable to employers.
However, as your career progresses, the PhD can become a real asset in terms of differentiating you from others with equivalent work experience and also in terms of gaining respect with employers and clients. It signifies a capability of being able to work methodically on complex issues and may open doors from a career progression perspective.
If you work first (as I did before obtaining my PhD) then work pressures and family life may reduce the amount of available time you have to focus on your PhD.
You may end up having to put in late nights and weekends to get the PhD done, and for some this may become difficult to manage.
However, on the plus side, if you’re lucky enough to be working in an environment where your work focus is innovative and can contribute to achieving a PhD and vice versa, it can actually be of great benefit when it comes to choosing the PhD objective(s) and putting a sense of focus and urgency on delivering the PhD.
If you decide to do the PhD first without working first, the biggest issue I’ve seen is where PhD students may sometimes struggle to define their objectives sufficiently, find the required motivation to get through the long haul or struggle to manage their time efficiently.