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Post-graduate transitions - work, travel or PhD?

29 June 2022

As the academic year enters its final quarter, post-graduate students face important decisions about the next steps in their lives. Read on for UCL Student Support and Wellbeing Adviser David’s tips on how to navigate the changes and new landscape.

Person at a crossroads in the woods and deciding which path to take.

For many post-graduate students (taught programmes - PGT), the arrival of summer marks the beginning of the last stretch of their studies. Summer is often a period of mixed emotions and decisions for post-graduate students with many struggling with completing their dissertations and facing decisions about the next steps in their lives: return home (and leave newly found friends and loved ones behind) or take advantage of the UK’s new graduate route visas and stay in the UK and find employment (international students)? Or embark on PhD studies and research? Or perhaps take some time off for a bit of travel across Europe or other places? Transitioning from academic life back to the regular world can extend for several months or even years and filled with complexities, ambiguity, and anxiety and may be disorienting for some students.

Following are a few tips to help you navigate the changes and transition landscape.

Start Preparing

Whatever the decision start preparing. If you decide to continue to research studies, then start considering what institutions offer the research fields you are interested in and start preparing your applications. In general applications for research studies are open throughout the year but check the deadlines of the universities you are interested in (international applicants usually need about three months lead time). For some institutions it is possible to apply for readmission if continuing to research studies from taught post-graduate study without any breaks.

Identify suitable advisors

It might be cliché but choosing your supervisor(s) is the most important decision you will make about the Ph.D. They will influence your research and could also influence any funding decisions. Visit staff websites and read their publications before contacting potential supervisors.

Arrange Your Finances

International applicants will need to show proof sufficient funds or sponsorship.

Check if you need a new visa

If you want to continue with your studies after graduation, you will need to extend your visa. This can be with the university you are currently attending or if you plan on attending a different university this will need to be with that institution. International applicants usually require a visa to take up research studies in the UK.

Start Applying

If the decision is to remain in the UK after studies, you may do so under the graduate visa extension scheme without the need for sponsors. The UK Council for International Student Affairs has several useful resources on working after studies. The British Council’s video about preparing for work after study in the UK is also very useful.

Start looking and applying for jobs and places to stay. Will you be staying in London? Or would you prefer to live and work in another part of the UK? London is a large and vibrant city and offers a rich experience, but it can be expensive to live. Other cities are smaller and offer different cultural experiences and employment opportunities but can nonetheless be enjoyable and rewarding.

If you plan on remaining in the UK it’s important to think about the supporting networks (family and friends) you have in place now and that you will need for the duration of your stay here. Try to stay in touch with old friends or friends you made during your time in the UK. And put yourself out there to make new friends. Start volunteering. Join a community group. Go to church. Or join a sports team or health club/gym.

Get Planning

If you decide to travel after completing your post-graduate studies, then it’s time to get planning. International travel has changed significantly since the coronavirus pandemic and though negative tests for Covid19 are no longer required for travel to and from the UK other countries may still require this or some related proof of covid recovery. Besides, there is much to consider with regards to tickets, hotels, visas, travel vaccinations, currency exchange, and where to store the stuff accumulated over the past year.

Map out your itinerary

Research the preferred places you plan on visiting to find out if they are suitable for travel at the time you plan on visiting (what are the travel restrictions? What are the hotel and car rental policies? What public transport services are there? What are the weather conditions like? Are there any cultural or religions festivals or national holidays?)

Set a budget and start saving

Once you have decided on your travel destinations, set a budget, and start saving towards this. Cutting down on fast-food deliveries and eating out can help you save. It is also advisable to have a mix of cash (in convertible currency such as €, £, or $) and credit cards.

Accommodation

Book accommodation (bed & breakfast; hostel; hotel) early where this is possible. This can help lock in lower rates, provide better options, and avoid the crush of last-minute booking.

Tickets

Explore ‘low-carbon’ options other than flights where this is feasible to do so. Train’s offer one of the lowest carbon footprints and has the added benefit of great vistas along the route to your destination. Buses are a cheap option but take longer.

Visas

Check if the country(ies) you plan on traveling to have opened their borders and what their visa requirements are. Schengen visas are required for travel to countries in the Schengen area for several nationalities and a two-week application period is usually required.

Travel Insurance

Buy travel insurance. This is required as part of Schengen visa applications, but it is still advisable to get travel insurance if travelling to non-Schengen countries.

How UCL Careers can help

UCL Careers can help with understanding the job application process in the UK and it would be helpful to book an appointment with a career advisor to discuss prospects and goals.

How UCL Student Support and Wellbeing can help

If you need support or just advice, UCL remains open for current students. Make an appointment with one of our caring advisers.


David Gomez, recent UCL PhD graduate and Student Support & Wellbeing Adviser