Using Your Subject | The Careers Service Using Your Subject – Oxford University Careers Service
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Ways to use your subject

There are usually more career options which ‘use your subject’ than you might think.

Using your subject-specific skills

Whether you want a career related to your degree subject or not, in the early stages of your decision-making process, it’s always helpful to think more broadly to reflect and have an understanding of what you want from your career. Our pages on Generating Career Ideas may be helpful.

Prospects: What Can I do With my Degree.

There are a number of careers in which you can make use of your subject-specific skills, however, you might be surprised to know that there could be many other roles and sectors that are open to you. For an introductory list of options that directly relate to each subject of study, see Prospects: What Can I do With my Degree

Thinking deeper about ‘using your subject’

Defining ‘using your subject’ is a useful way to crystallize what you’re really looking for and develop options beyond just the basic list above. See if any of the following factors resonate with you (there might be more than one):

  • Analysing further what I developed in my major thesis/dissertation/project
  • Applying the technical knowledge or skills from the course to the real world
  • Continuing to use specific skills or techniques I practised on the course
  • Being around people who I can talk to about academic ideas
  • Making the transition from ‘student’ to ‘worker’ feel more gradual
  • Being in a similar environment as I was on my course
  • Trying out some of the range of skills I’ve learnt to figure out my next step
  • Working in an area of work I understand well and feel confident in
  • Keeping my interest in the subject alive

It’s only the first three factors which relate to the specific academic skills from your course: the others are possible to fulfil in a much broader range of ways.

Using transferable skills

The vast majority of potential jobs and employers do not require specific courses, and are open to nearly all degree disciplines. For them ‘using your subject’ means employing the many transferable skills from your degree, as well as your interests and motivations (which may relate to your subject choice in the first place).

Generating career options

Initial research

To start to generate some more career options, and build up your own list of possibilities, you could try conducting some initial research:

  • Research what alumni have done and use the information to pick a few options which appeal more than others.
  • Talk to tutors and your peers from within your field to learn about what other people have gone on to do, again listening to identify options which might appeal.
  • Take an online career questionnaire or trying career planning exercises – you can learn about these using our advice for generating options.

Mapping options out

Another idea is making a ‘map’ of the different areas which relate to your subject or specific interests. Take each question in turn to help you research the organisations and kinds of work that serve these different niches.

  1. Who is creating new work/ideas? (Academia? Businesses?)
  2. Who is communicating about the new work/ideas? (Marketing firms? Media? TV production houses?)
  3. Who is making the work grow? (Entrepreneurs? Firms? Investors? Government?)
  4. Who is making sure the work is being done properly? (Regulators? Reviewers? Government? Professional associations?)
  5. Who is in a helping role around the work? (Charities? Government? Businesses?)
  6. Who is doing grass roots/front-line work? (Retail? Public services? Small businesses? Individual practitioners?)

An example: using a subject interest in literary fiction

Answers for someone keen on a career revolving around their interest in literary fiction, following investigation using our information pages for Publishing and Creative Arts:

  1. Authors (some of whom have staff), literary agents, new writing festivals and events
  2. Specialist marketing firms, in-house teams in publishing houses, trade press like Bookseller, consumer press and media (from Front Row and Sky Arts and specialist production companies to informal blog reviews), literary festivals
  3. Publisher’s merchandising and licensing teams, rights management, film, theatre and TV companies
  4. Publishers Association (PA), Public Lending Right, Copyright organisations, UK Intellectual property, Society of Authors, IP and entertainment law firms
  5. Lots of non-profit writers groups, creative arts charities, Arts Council England, NESTA, DCMS, literary review and consultancy firms, museums (e.g. Story Museum), public libraries, education and teaching
  6. Booksellers, including e-commerce, independent booksellers, high-street booksellers, book ‘club’ models, e-publishing and self-publishing platforms.

This method generally ensures that you end up with more options than those that seem most obvious at first, but it’s vital to do your research first to build up this list. And remember, each organisation will have a team of people doing lots of different roles – from updating the website, to managing the finances.

What to do with your map

Use your map to explore organisations’ websites to look for job opportunities and learn more about what they do. If you spot something that it particularly interesting to you, whether it’s an advertised role, or an area of work that’s ongoing, you could get in touch speculatively to ask for advice/ work experience to learn more.

Not using your subject

Not using your subject directly is normal for most graduates! Most graduate recruiters in the UK don’t require a specific degree subject – the exception is usually for highly technical roles, which require specific previous technical knowledge and experience. The majority of graduates find work in fields other than their areas of academic study.

Demonstrating your motivation for an industry and transferable skills you have developed through other activities are very important to prospective employers. These can come from many different areas of your life such as work experience, internships, student society roles, working as part of a team, project work, volunteering, JCR/GCR roles, shadowing or information interviewing. If you can demonstrate the skills and attributes they’re looking for, then you’re a competitive candidate.

N.B It’s very important to understand the skills and abilities the industries/employers you are interested in are looking for and this should form part of your initial research. This will give you a realistic view of their expectations and also the opportunity to develop or build on any skills (if necessary) to make you a competitive applicant.

Our resources

Speaking to a careers adviser for further advice and guidance can be helpful to identify which jobs/sectors may be of interest to you.

You can also find out what previous students from your course have done once they have graduated, by looking at our webpage What Alumni Have Done which shows the broad range of sectors Oxford graduates work in.

External resources
This information was last updated on 31 August 2018.
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