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IT Subject Guide

Do you find yourself constantly called on by your mates to fix their PC problems? Know your hardware from your software and your Java from your C++? Are you interested in web design, programming or even games development?

Whether you’re a dab hand at designing websites, cut your teeth as an amateur hacker or take your laptop apart and rebuild it just for fun, you could excel at a postgraduate IT course.

Contents:

 

What Sort of Person Would It Suit?

As well as an enthusiasm for all things IT, you’ll need a basic knowledge of the component parts of a PC or Mac and the processes that keep them running, plus top notch maths skills and an analytical, scientific mind, as IT is quite a technical subject.

However, creative types might well be drawn to the subject too, as working with computers often means thinking outside the box to find inventive new solutions to complex practical problems. Although not a vocational course per se, IT is pretty skills led, so it would particularly suit a person who prefers picking up practical knowledge to pondering abstract ideas on an arts course.

If that sounds like the sort of thing you’d be interested in, read on!

 

What Types of IT Qualifications Can You Do?

If you decide to study IT at postgraduate level, you’ll have plenty of courses to choose from. Varying by course duration and mode of study, these are just a few of your options:

 

MSC

An Msc is a master’s degree in a science related field, like IT. Most IT MScs are taught courses, so if you prefer the familiar routine of lectures, seminars and regular contact hours with your tutors, an MSc could be the best option for you. Normally assessed with a combination of exams and a dissertation, an MSc is also one of the shortest postgraduate IT qualifications you can take; usually a year if studied full time, and two years part time.

An MSc is a great option if you want to gain your qualifications relatively quickly and look for an IT based job.

 

MRes

If you balk at the thought of going back to a stuffy lecture theatre and would much rather work in your own time, you might want to look into an MRes, a master’s programme by research. Rather than attending classes every day and working towards a dissertation, you’ll undertake a supervised research project instead. While there may be a couple of taught modules to prepare you for everything your course entails, for the most part you’ll be able to work when and where you choose, with your tutors on hand to give advice and supervising your progress to make sure you stay on track.

Like an MSc, an MRes should take a year or two to complete, depending on how you choose to study, and is ideal preparation for a more intensive research degree such as a PhD. Alternatively, after completing an MRes you’ll also be able to go straight into a full time job in an office based role, although after all that freedom you may find you prefer to work in a freelance or self employed capacity as an IT consultant or similar.

 

MPhil

An MPhil lies between MSc/MRes and a PhD both in terms of workload and course duration. An advanced researched degree, an MPhil offers students the chance to specialise in one content area, gaining many of the same skills as PhD students, but in a shorter amount of time - an MPhil dissertation can usually be completed in two years, full time.

MPhil courses are ideal for students who want to pursue an advanced, in depth research degree, but are unable or unwilling to commit to a lengthier course. An MPhil is a good foundation for an academic career, as well as giving you specialised expertise that could help to land you a top IT job as an IT specialist with a charity, public body or private business.

 

PHD

A PhD, or doctoral degree, is one of the most advanced postgraduate courses you can take, during which you’ll work towards completing a PhD thesis of around 100,000 words on average. It’s a big commitment, with the work to be completed within four years full time and seven years if you choose to study part time. But you’ll be paid to undertake your research, and the end of it you’ll be a doctor!

With a PhD in IT you’ll be all set for a career in teaching or research for a university or private company.

 

Other Options

If you want to gain a postgraduate qualification in IT, but aren’t looking for something as time intensive or research focused as master’s degree or PhD, a postgraduate certificate (PGCert) or postgraduate diploma (PGDip) could be perfect. Both options are academically equivalent to a master’s degree, but require only 60 and 120 credits respectively to pass, compared to 180 for a postgraduate degree. Often assessed by a combination of exams and written coursework, both postgraduate certificates and diplomas tend to have a vocational angle, and in most cases can be completed in under a year.

These sorts of postgraduate qualifications can help you land your dream job in IT soon after graduating, or be used a springboard to further study. For example, some universities may require you to complete a postgraduate certificate or diploma before enrolling on a master’s course if you didn’t quite make the grade requirements with your undergraduate degree.

 

IT Courses

IT is a very broad topic with a wide variety of courses you can study at postgraduate level. Although many may cover the same basic foundations of IT, particular focuses vary, so whichever area of IT interests you most, there’s a qualification out there for you! From computing to games design, here’s a breakdown of just a few of the courses you can study.

Computing

Computing is sometimes referred to as a conversion course because a lot of universities don’t require you to have a related undergraduate degree, so it’s a great way for graduates of other disciplines to boost their employability by gaining some tech skills, or to move onto a whole new career path.

Closely related to computer science, computing is often regarded as the more practical of the two, covering areas such as programming, systems analysis and software development.

Computing is a great option of you’ve got your eye on a career in IT or systems support. Some modules you’re likely to study include:

  • Database systems and design
  • Computer systems and networks
  • Systems analysis and design

 

Computer Science

A close cousin of computing, computer science covers much of the same material, while also extending into the theory behind the practical applications of what you’re learning – teaching you not just how systems work, but why.

Computer science courses typically devote more time to exploring the mathematical foundations of computer processes, and its importance in programming, modelling, artificial intelligence, etc.

You’ll need strong maths qualifications and most (although not all) universities will only consider applications from students with an undergraduate degree in computer science or a related subject.

Perfect for students with analytical, creative minds, who also enjoy getting their hands dirty with some practical work, modules that may appear on a computer science course include:

  • Data modelling and analysis
  • Computer graphics
  • Mathematical foundations in programming
  • On MSc Computer Science, 

Thomas Lancaster, a lecturer and course leader in computer science at Birmingham City University explains, "Computer science builds on the skills covered at undergraduate level, particularly in computer programming and mathematics. You can expect to see more application to modern and emerging technologies, as well as towards research trends.

"It’s the course for students who want to be at the cutting-edge of where computing and technology is heading towards in the future. It is equipping students to be at the forefront of developing the computer systems of the future and engaging in research within those fields.

“It’s an exciting discipline to be involved with, as computers are now so much a part of everyday life. With mobile devices, we’re part of a world where technology is continually switched on and we have to be ready to deal with the vast amount of information being generated and processed."

 

Computer Networking

The chances are, you’re reading this article while logged onto your school, university or office network. Maybe you even have a home network – it only takes two computers! Computer networks are invaluable in schools, universities and workplaces, not only for keeping you connected to the wifi so you can play candy crush without exceeding your data limit, but by allowing multiple people instant access to shared files, and making e-communication a cinch.

On a computer networks course you’ll learn how to design, implement and manage computer networks – making yourself pretty much indispensable to a lot of people. Some of the modules you can expect to study are:

  • Communication and computer networks
  • Network programming
  • Wireless networks
  • Network security

 

Computer Games Technology

Minecraft has proved a mega hit since it was launched it was 2009, because it offers players the opportunity to design and create anything they want within the game. But what if you want to design the game? Luckily, there’s a course for that.

If you decide to study computer games technology you’ll learn how to design your own software and graphics, get your hands on some cutting edge industry technology and come up with your very own prototype game.

They say that everyone has a novel inside them, but if you think you’ve got a great game inside you, get yourself enrolled on a computer games technology course. Some topics you can expect to learn about in more detail include:

  • Games development process
  • Game architectures
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Programming in C++
     

Informatics

Informatics is the study of scientific information, particularly data and statistics. Concentrating on human interaction with computer generated information; you’ll learn the importance of different kinds of data and systems, as well as how to apply intelligence gathered to fields as diverse as business, medicine and academia.

If you can’t get enough information about information, signing up for an informatics course will allow you to learn about:

  • Applied informatics
  • Business intelligence
  • Data mining
  • Systems analysis and design

 

Bioinformatics/Health Informatics

If you’re equally as interested in medicine, biology and the natural world as you are in computer science and information, you don’t need to sacrifice one of your passions for the other when it comes to picking a postgraduate course, as bioinformatics is a unique subject which brings these two worlds together.

You’ll learn about advanced technologies such as genome sequencing, as well as get the essential training in computing and statistics that will allow you to understand and analyse the data you collect. You’ll then be taught how to apply real world solutions to problems in the medical, drug, food and agricultural fields.

If you want to be at the cutting edge of both biology and informatics, bioinformatics could be the course for you. Modules include:

  • Data analysis
  • Essential statistics
  • Programming with Java
  • Simulating biological systems

 

Other Options

There are a number of other IT courses you might choose to study, including:

Plus many more!

 

Why Study IT?

Pretty much all businesses and organisations are dependent on computers and computer networks, so studying IT offers a fascinating look into how the modern world is run, plus IT specialists are constantly in demand in a range of sectors across the globe.

If that weren’t enough, you’ll gain a host of transferrable skills on a postgraduate IT course, such as advanced understanding of mathematics, analytical thinking as well as leadership and project management. Maths skills in particular are in demand in several industries such as banking and finance, engineering and medicine, so there is a range of different roles you could go into.

 

What Careers Can I Do?

What careers can’t you go into?! Depending on the particular focus of your course (and your main areas of interest, of course), you could become a games developer, programmer, systems analyst, software developer, information systems manager or IT consultant.

"Many students with a postgraduate computer science degree move into positions as software developers and programmers”, Thomas told us. “This can include working for both large multi-national companies, but also students can work for smaller software start-ups – imagine the thrill of being part of a team developing the next AirbNB or Uber.

"Other graduates go and work as highly paid contractors, consulting with a different company each day. Further academic work, such as taking a PhD in an area of computing that’s of demand, is also a popular option."

If you choose not to move into academia or a technical role, there are still opportunities in offices across the world for someone with your skills. You could be a database administrator, an IT sales professional or geographic information systems officer – that’s someone who collects, analyses and presents advanced geographical information and helps to produce maps for areas such as defence, construction, healthcare and transport.

Finally, secondary schools are often crying out for IT teachers, so if you get on well with kids and teens and want to share your love of your subject, your next step might be a teacher training course. Alternatively, if you get on better with adults, you could embark upon a career teaching vital IT skills within businesses, like John Paxton, an IT instructor and consultant. He says,

"The great thing about studying IT is that it opens up possible careers all over the place. Information Technology is critical to almost all aspects of work today. Curious about medicine, law, engineering, finance, government, agriculture, sciences, or the arts? All of them depend on IT and are moving forward via folks who can use IT creatively. Or maybe you're interested in the big picture of where a field has been and is going... consider Big Data, where a statistics + IT background will help you go far. And, of course, there's IT itself as a career. Google, Apple, Amazon, et al. have always pursued those with advanced degrees in IT or Computer Science. Now, even smaller development firms realize that to move their capacity to the next level, they need someone who has the ability to think at large scales."

 

How to Fund It

Postgraduate study can be pricey, but that’s no reason to be put off. Although funding c an be trickier to arrange than it was for your undergraduate degree, it’s definitely out there. From government to private loans and grants, here are just a few of your options.

 

Government Loans

From 2016, the government will be offering loans worth up to £10,000 to master’s degree students of any subject – woohoo!

Repayment is concurrent with any outstanding undergraduate loans you may have once your salary hits the £22,000 mark.

 

Career Development Loans

Career Development Loans are private loans you can apply for via your bank or building society, and they’re specially set aside for students who can prove that their postgraduate qualification is necessary for them to find a job or further their career, an easy task for students of competitive, skills focussed courses like IT. You’ll be able for anything from £300 to £10,000, covering the cost of your text books and even course fees/living expenses.

Unlike your undergraduate loan, you’ll have to start paying back a Career Development Loan one month after finishing your course, regardless of how much you’re earning. However, the Skills Funding Agency will cover the interest for you while you’re still studying and for the first month after.

Research Council Grants

If you opt for a research based degree, like a PhD, you may be able to apply for funding from the Science and Technology Funding Council (STFC). The STFC offers a range of loans and grants at any given time, so check out their list of upcoming funding calls to see what’s available. The council also offers studentships, which are paid direct to universities, and offers an allowance for disabled students to help them with their studies.

You won’t need to pay back a grant, but bear in mind, competition is extremely tough – you’ll need to go in with at least a high 2:1 in most cases.

University Scholarships, Bursaries and Awards

It’s always worth having a flick through your university prospectus, check the website or give the student support office a call. Institutions offer a range of grants and bursaries for students with top grades, or who are from disadvantaged backgrounds or may be otherwise unable to pursue a postgraduate qualification.

Even if there’s nothing you can apply for, you university may still be able to point you in the direction of any other options that might be open to you.

Employer Sponsorship

If you’re lucky enough to already have a coveted IT job in the bag, you may be able to ask your employer for help funding a postgraduate course.  Lots of businesses offer funding for employees to take work related qualifications (although in some cases, you may need to apply for the job on this basis).

Even if they don’t advertise any schemes, it’s worth asking, especially if you can demonstrate how the qualification will boost your skills and help enhance your career (making you a more valuable asset to the company).

The only thing to bear in mind if you choose this route is most employers will typically require you to stay at the company for a minimum of a year or more after qualifying, or you may have to pay the money back.

Self Funding

Even if you’ve exhausted all other options, don’t give up – you can do this! Whether you choose to take a year or two out to work full time and save up, or balance a part time course with a part time job, it’s definitely possible to fund further study yourself.

Plus, with online and correspondence courses available through institutions such as the Open University you can even study for a postgraduate IT qualification in your own time while maintaining a full time job. So there’s really no excuse not to follow your postgraduate passion.

Case Study

Finlay Birnie studied MSc Computing at Oxford Brookes University. He tells his story...

Why Did You Study IT at Postgraduate Level?

My undergraduate degree was in media studies and I was concerned about the prospects of getting a job I enjoy in that area, so I started a conversion course in Computing as it's another one of my interests and there are more attractive jobs on offer for graduates.

How Did You Fund It?

I started the course the same year I finished my undergrad and worked as a statistical research assistant during the summer. The money I saved from my job and student loan leftovers was enough for the course fees.

Rent and living costs were another thing altogether, I couldn't afford those so I had to live with my parents. I applied for a range of grants but didn't get any in the end.

What Was Your Favourite Aspect of the Course?

Most of my classes were really small - normally about 6 students per class - so we got a lot of time and attention from the lecturers. The nature of computing also meant I studied a wide range of topics from programming to system architecture and networking, and we were able to go into a lot of depth and detail within those topics.

What Was Your Least Favourite Aspect?

I'd done a dissertation before in my undergraduate degree but this one was a lot harder. Plus this time I had to account for the demands of the practical work (making an android app) as well as the essay writing, and there was less supervision than on my undergraduate degree. Also it lasted twice as long as my undergraduate dissertation (two terms compared to one) so time management could be tricky. At times it was a stressful experience!

How Has An IT Qualification Helped You?

I got a job with Middleware IT towards the end of my course and I'm really enjoying it as there’s technical work that varies week to week, along with different ad hoc tasks to work on too. I'm planning to stay for as long as I can!

What’s Your Advice for Anyone Thinking About Taking an IT Qualification?

You definitely have to be interested in what you're doing. When it's interesting, you have a great time and do amazing work, but if it's something you find uninspiring it can be really hard to get through, especially on a long project, so make sure you sign up for a course you really want to study.

 

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