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Study choice - a look at the most popular subjects for Greek graduate students

by David Williams

What people choose to study at graduate level tells you something about the way the world is changing. David Williams looks at the most popular choices made by Greek candidates at the upcoming World Grad School Tour in Athens and Thessaloniki and what these choices tell us about career opportunities today.

FAME and money
The top choice for Greek graduate students, as for most of the world, is for a so-called FAME programmes – ones that involves Finance, Accounting, Management or Economics. Between forty and fifty percent of students attending last year's fairs were interested in these programmes. The attraction of FAME subjects is simple: they demonstrate to employers that the holder is serious in his or her pursuit of a broad, non-technical career in commerce or management and that he or she is competent with hard numbers. On the demand-side, the ability to manage and create value in today's increasingly technically-complex and globalised world is a skill that continues to offer premium career opportunities and salaries.

John Wright is Head of Home and European Union Recruiting at the University of Surrey, the most popular destination in the UK for full-time Greek postgraduate students. He is also Chair of the UK's Greek Education Forum.
'FAME subjects are attractive because many students perceive that they increase employability,' he says. 'If a FAME qualification is compliant with DOATAP (the Greek National Academic Recognition Information Centre), it will have the advantage of allowing graduates to work in both the private and the public sector, which, given the security and resultant popularity of government careers in Greece, makes them very attractive. FAME qualifications from well-regarded universities also mean the holder can work internationally so creating a very wide choice of career opportunities.'

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics
Second in popularity, with between ten and fifteen percent of candidates expressing an interest, are the so-called STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). STEM qualifications are highly attractive because they create a double employment opportunity. First, they allow the holder to work in a specific area of technical expertise, in chemical engineering or computer programming for example. Secondly, they also allow the holders to move into a FAME career if they want to. This is because STEM degree holders are highly numerate and almost always have the analytical or problem-solving skills that are prized by other employers.

'STEM subjects provide a lot of fundamental knowledge and training other than that of the specific discipline that is being studied,' explains Professor Michael Yianneskis, a Professor of Fluid Mechanics in the Division of Engineering at King's College London. 'My own area deals with turbulence, and, if you look at the data I am handling, you will find that financial market data is very similar and that the same mathematics techniques are used in order to analyse both. Many companies all over the UK and Europe are looking for graduates who can transfer their analytical skills in this way. Once you possess a mathematical or analytical skill, you can apply it to other subjects. Engineers in particular are trained in problem solving, in analysing a situation and coming up with solutions. Again, this is a very valuable business skill.

'A lot of Greek STEM graduates go on to work across the EU, primarily in the UK, Germany and France. There is not a big industrial base in Greece to absorb large numbers of these graduates so there isn't a huge demand domestically. There is however a substantial service sector for such industries. In many cases these service industries are quite high-tech in themselves and they therefore require people who have a very sound understanding of the core STEM topics. On top of this, if people do return to Greece with a quality STEM qualification and do secure employment, it will help in terms of future prospects, as promotion become very difficult once you are competing against large numbers of generically qualified graduates.'

International Relations
FAME and STEM are by far the most popular study subjects, accounting for about two thirds of all candidates attending the fairs. Yet, while all other subject areas are only in single figures (as a percentage of candidates expressing an interest in them) some potential trends are discernible when you look at figures over the last three years. First, subjects such as communications & media, environmental studies, legal studies and education continue to be perennially popular among Greek students, while subjects such as  psychology and social sciences appear to have fallen away slightly. One subject that shows increasingly popularity is international relations.

Deborah Nutter is Associate Dean of Tuft University's Fletcher School, a graduate school of international affairs which has a long association with Greece and which includes Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis among its alumni.

'International affairs is becoming more of an important area to study for more students,' she says. 'Traditionally, students who were interested in a career in diplomacy or with an NGO or at the UN would have studied international affairs. What we are finding however is that students in a wide variety of other careers are increasingly realising that in order to do well they too need to study international affairs. In a sense everything is becoming international. The world is such today that you do have to understand international politics, history and diplomacy in order to survive.  During the early period of globalization, we went through a period in which the world was, as Thomas Friedman told us, flat. Now the world has been made much more bumpy with the rise of China, the increasing importance of India and Brazil, and the reappearance of Russian political moves. All these geopolitical events and activities are changing the way people do business. It is so complex today we say that not only does every country need a foreign policy but every company needs a foreign policy too.'

How to choose which subject to study
The key to picking the right subject is to do as much research you are able.
'The big pull at postgraduate level is for programmes that will lead to successful careers,' says Jacqui Brown, Head of the International Office at the University of Leeds, one of the top five destinations for Greek postgraduate students in the UK. 'In our experience Greek students coming onto masters programmes are very focussed on their future career. They are very discerning, choosing high quality programmes that will advance them in their career when they return to Greece. They do their research, they don't jump to snap decisions, they are quite risk averse and they like to have a lot of information before they make their choice.'

Key information sources that all candidates will consider are of course national accreditation systems, university websites and undergraduate careers advisors. However, there is also an often overlooked source of information about graduate programmes: the alumni networks. Alumni can give you a wide range of information. They can give you anecdotal information about the employment outcomes of the most recent cohort of graduates that is often more accurate than the information being supplied by the institution. And, while alumni will of course have an interest in talking up their institution, the fact that they are speaking to a peer means that they are more likely to admit to negatives than an institutional representative. On top of this, they give you an insight into the culture and atmosphere of the institution. Perhaps most importantly however, involvement in alumni networks can be a key source of employment opportunities when you leave, and indeed for the rest of your career. Many people who have not networked before are initially quite hesitant, but getting involved with alumni as you go into an institution could pay dividends when you prepare to come out and start looking for employment.

'In general, students should not fear contacting alumni during career exploration because people who love their work typically like to share that excitement with others,' says Dr Briana K Keller, Senior Career Counsellor and Coordinator of Graduate Student Services at the University of Washington in the US. 'Many people love to give advice and serve in a mentoring capacity, especially with students, and alumni are often honoured and excited to help somebody with whom they have a connection through being at the same university.'

Most international schools will be able to facilitate a contact with Greek alumni, or you could get in touch via social networking or through a basic internet search. Also, many of the graduate schools attending the World Grad School Tour are very conscious of the benefits of a peer recommendation and will have tried to include a local alumnus on their stands. Other opportunities on the Tour include the opportunity to talk to professors and to attend interactive sessions where candidates can ask general questions of a panel of experts.

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