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Stephen Rooney

Leaving university can seem like a daunting prospect. Whether you’re completing your undergraduate degree, master’s or your PhD, leaving education and entering the ‘real world' can seem like a major step change as well as an exciting prospect.

Depending on your degree, many STEM students would have been in education longer than most – especially if you also completed a year in industry as part of your course. So, with the end of university on the horizon, what should you do? Below, we look at your options for the world of work, postgraduate study and taking a gap year.

STEM jobs: entering the world of work

There are a number of studies that report a shortage of STEM skills in the UK. The latest report on this subject by STEM Learning has shown that businesses are facing a shortfall of 173,000 skilled STEM workers and this is costing these businesses £1.5bn a year. If, after university, you are thinking about entering a STEM industry, now is a good time. Competition for top graduates is fierce, however, even though your skills are in demand, you can't wait for jobs to come to you, so to start your job search and take a look at our career advice below.

Small is beautiful

As with many things in STEM, small is often beautiful, and while there are a number of high-profile graduate schemes in large multi-national companies, the vast bulk of graduate jobs are in small to medium-sized businesses. A benefit of working for a small company is that it can often mean you’re able to take on more responsibility and wear a number of different hats. This may mean that you gain a number of skills across different disciplines, potentially opening up more avenues for you in the future.

Build a strong professional presence on social media

It is possible that employers will do an internet search on potential candidates and they may take a look at their social media accounts too. So, make sure your social media accounts represent you in the best way possible.

Social media can also be used to find jobs or help recruiters find you. This is especially true of LinkedIn; keeping your account up to date and writing a strong profile statement, including keywords related to the industry you want to work in, can help to open doors.

Look overseas

Only 2.5% of UK graduates work overseas, according to HESA, and 34% of those are STEM graduates. The most popular countries for graduates are France, USA and Spain. If you want to spend some time abroad you could look for jobs in your industry or alternatively, you may be able to teach in another country. The benefits of looking for opportunities abroad can include:

  • Learning new skills, such as a new language
  • Experiencing a different culture and different ways of working
  • Enjoying travel opportunities, you may not have otherwise had
  • Enhancing your CV with soft skills, such as adaptability
  • Having an adventure

Join a relevant professional body

If your chosen industry or subject has a professional body, we would recommend joining it. Many professional bodies offer exclusive networking events that can help you get a foot into your chosen industry.

Sign up to jobs boards

If you are looking for a graduate job, then sign up to graduate jobs boards, such as STEM Graduates. Our jobs board is the place to go for specialist roles in science, technology, engineering and maths. You can also upload your CV onto our CV bank, and, if you have the skills we are looking for, our recruiter will be in touch. 

Should I do postgraduate study?

If you have completed your undergraduate or master's degree, you may be thinking about undertaking postgraduate study or going on to do a PhD. If you want to take on a post-graduate degree, then you will need to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the course you want to apply for really what you want to do?
  • Is there a need, in terms of job prospects, for you to do further study?
  • Are you committed enough to see it through?
  • Can you afford it? Post-graduate courses can cost thousands of pounds and can be intense, making working part-time difficult

There are advantages to pursuing a post-graduate degree, which include:

  • The potential to earn more. However, this is not the case in all subjects. For STEM students, it is likely that doing a post-graduate course may be beneficial in terms of jobs prospects, but a higher salary is not guaranteed
  • Studying something you are passionate about. Doing a masters or a PhD means you may be free to pursue in-depth knowledge on a subject that you love and find fascinating
  • Improving your skill set – there are a number of transferable skills that you are likely to acquire when you undertake a masters

Should I take a gap year?

This may not seem like the most effective use of time but, if you don't feel quite ready to jump into the world of work, taking a gap year, especially one that has relevance to your studies, can enhance your CV. The cliché gap year of donning a backpack and travelling to far-flung parts of the world is no longer the only picture of what a gap year can be. If you want to do this, go ahead; experiencing new and exciting places is rarely a waste of time. However, if backpacking is not your thing, there are other options that can enhance your skills and CV as a STEM graduate. These include:

Take a language course

Craig Smith, talent development manager at Babcock International Group said in a Telegraph article, that they want to ‘attract applications from graduates who speak other languages and who are both nationally and internationally mobile.’ Learning a new language or improving a language you already have knowledge of is a great way to spend a gap year; not only are you improving your skills, if you take a language course abroad, you're getting in a bit of travelling too. So why not learn French in Bordeaux, Spanish in Seville or Japanese in Tokyo? 

Volunteer

Another option, if you can afford it, is to take some time out and volunteer for a cause that is close to your heart. As a STEM graduate, you may have skills that might make a real difference. Charities such as Medecins sans Frontieres, often require the skills of laboratory scientists, pharmacists, water and sanitation specialists and, for the maths graduates, financial coordinators, to undertake the work they do. If you are selected, International field staff are paid an indemnity salary.

If you are a natural science graduate or you have an interest in the natural world, you could take part in a conservation project abroad or in the UK. Engineers can lend their skills to the voluntary sector with organisations such as Engineers Without Borders.

Graduate Careers Advice

Whatever you choose to do once you have left university, don’t forget to take a look at our jobs board and careers hub to help you find out what your employment options may be, so you can make informed decisions about your future.