How useful are master’s degrees to advancing careers in the public service?

By Jess May

Wednesday May 11, 2022

Taking on a master’s degree is a huge commitment of time, money, and energy. (Studio Romantic/Adobe)

After finishing a BSc in Biology and working in a pathology lab for a year or so, I knew I wanted to do something that made a difference to health on a population level, so my friend recommended I go into health policy.

I decided that this was an exciting field and was later accepted onto a course in Infectious Disease Control at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The course had lots of useful-looking public health learning outcomes, including a diverse range of core and elective modules in various areas of public health practice and policy, and the opportunity to lead a research project overseas in the final term.

I wasn’t originally intending to use my MSc in a civil service career path and was searching for NGO jobs in global health. On returning to Jersey, however, I saw a job advertised for a Policy Officer in the Government of Jersey’s Public Health Department and was successful in securing the position.

I’ve found the knowledge gained through my master’s degree to be invaluable throughout my years working as a civil servant.

Modules I completed in Health Statistics and Epidemiology have helped me to review and appraise scientific research, building on the skills I developed during my undergraduate degree.

My learning around ‘Health Policy, Process and Power’ gave me an understanding of the way progress and positive change take place in public policy, and how this can’t always be logical and stepwise in response to the evidence of what works to improve health outcomes — although we always aim for this.

How it helped

The course instilled in me an understanding of the hierarchy of scientific evidence, and I learnt the value of ensuring that good results have been replicated across a variety of settings and by various research groups, which gives confidence when investing in public health interventions.

I think having career-relevant knowledge from an MSc also helped me demonstrate that I had the understanding and skills to be able to positively contribute to a specialist area of public policy.

But while I found completing an MSc enjoyable and valuable, I think someone’s ability to contribute to positive change is more often about the individual; the passion they bring to their work, their experience, and how they bring the best out in others to achieve shared goals. I think these skills and attributes are harder to learn than the knowledge that comes through studying for a master’s.

Having the right person for the job is much more valuable than having the right qualifications. Seeing the potential in people to grow into their roles and develop the right knowledge and skills is crucial, particularly on a small island like Jersey.

This article is republished from Apolitical.


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