Relevance, Values and Opportunities: Pursuing A Postgraduate Degree in The Pandemic

postgradasia sat down with the Dean of UiTM’s Institute of Graduate Studies (IPSis), Professor Zuhaina Zakaria as she shared her thoughts on the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the current postgraduate scene, the value of a postgraduate qualification and the prospects that await those who are pursuing postgraduate studies in this trying time.

With a pandemic underway, it came as no surprise that many people are taking a step back from pursuing their postgraduate studies, while others are moving forward, deciding that there's no better time to achieve that postgraduate degree than right now. Not to mention that most academic institutions are rolling out more online courses to make things easier for the candidates. No matter if you belong to the first group or the latter, the pandemic undoubtedly introduced some major changes to the postgraduate scene in Malaysia.

The relevance of continuing your postgraduate studies in COVID-19

Previously the Director of Centre for Academic Leadership, Institute of Leadership and Development, UiTM and currently the Dean of IPSiS, Professor Zuhaina acknowledged the global outreach of the COVID-19 pandemic with many crucial sectors affected including the education division. Students aren't allowed on campus and physical classes, workshops and club activities are now conducted online.

Despite the remote ways of conduct, Professor Zuhaina still believed that there's a relevance for Malaysian candidates to not forgo the dream of pursuing their postgraduate studies.

“Many businesses are shutting down and employees are losing their jobs. Furthermore, some countries are still enforcing lockdowns, and working from home has become the new norm,” she added, before coming to her main point.

“But looking from a positive angle, this could be the right time for some people to improve their skill sets and develop new specialised knowledge. Postgraduate study is one of the options to position oneself as an expert in their field.”

Professor Zuhaina also added that this in return will help to open doors to new opportunities once the pandemic ceases. Various fields will be looking for new experts to fill in positions that had to be left empty as corporations are adjusting to the current situation.

The real value of a postgraduate degree

Is it true that people usually pursue a postgraduate degree to teach in their respective fields? Professor Zuhaina revealed the truth to the question.

“For those who are in academia, postgraduate degrees are considered to be highly valuable. Most higher institutions nowadays are setting PhDs as the main criteria for employing new academic staff,” she explained.

But what if I'm not in academia, will a postgraduate degree help me in my career? The answer is... Definitely!

Professor Zuhaina explained that: “However, there are also PhD graduates who found careers outside of the academia field, such as in research institutions, banking sector, public sector and such. A postgraduate degree holder will have many skills, ranging from analysis and problem-solving skills to project management, and these skills can easily be translated into a wide range of career opportunities.”

Picking up from that, Professor Zuhaina also highlighted the importance of having a postgraduate qualification to advance further into the corporate sector.

“Recently, more organisations are recognising the benefits of a Master’s degree and most of them prefer their employees to have one. As I have said earlier, a postgraduate qualification prepares you with specialised knowledge and skills, and these are important factors to have as it creates a more competitive environment for everyone. It makes it easier for assessments to be done for you to move into more senior positions in the near future.”

Closing our interview session, Zuhaina stressed the importance for new postgraduate students to familiarise themselves with online platforms and technologies.

“Learning in this new norm may pose a challenge to certain people, nevertheless students still need to quickly adjust their learning styles. As almost all student-lecturer interactions will be online, a well-functioning device and a conducive environment are needed. And of course, this might be simple advice, but if you’re really thinking of pursuing a postgraduate degree at this time, no matter for whatever reasons, you have to prepare yourself financially, physically and most importantly, emotionally.”