Masters of the (health and safety) universe
In 2003, Nick Bell successfully completed his NEBOSH Certificate. He went on to complete the NEBOSH Diploma and then a Master’s Degree in Cardiff Metropolitan University. In 2018 he completed his Doctorate. He discusses the relevance of a Master’s Degree for other health and safety professionals. Stuart Scott, the Programme Director for the MSc Occupational Safety, Health and Wellbeing programme at Cardiff Metropolitan University, chips in.
Any professional worth their salt participates in some sort of continuous professional development (CPD). Rather than undertaking CPD simply because it is mandated by a professional body, professionals are likely to see the inherent merit in keeping their knowledge up-to-date. Occasionally, this will lead them to consider a formal programme of study and one of the available options is a Master’s degree.
Undoubtedly, completing a Master’s takes a lot of work (more on that later). It’s also an expensive undertaking and I was self-funding.
Why would someone voluntarily subject themselves to that expense and effort? Every student has unique motivations. For some, embarking on a Master’s is a calculated decision to improve career prospects or earning potential, for others it’s a chance to push themselves out of their comfort zone or to refresh their passion for their career.
My NEBOSH Diploma had equipped me with all the tools I needed in my health and safety tool box (risk assessment methodologies, the principles of prevention etc.). It is the bedrock of my health and safety career. However, I had some burning questions that I wanted, but lacked the ability, to investigate. The chance to learn research skills, discover new pools of knowledge and undertake a dissertation were big draws. I was also butting heads with some very traditional approaches to managing health and safety and I wanted a deeper understanding of different perspectives.
“Our Master’s programme is designed to enhance the students current understanding and application of occupational health and safety management by enabling him or her to develop a more holistic approach to influencing worker and organisational performance through the contemporary concepts of worker engagement and wellbeing.” Stuart Scott.
The vast majority of my fellow students (and future cohorts) at Cardiff Metropolitan University were experienced, practically-minded professionals who were studying as mature students. Only a couple had completed an undergraduate course at University. You do not need an academic background to complete a Master’s. Learning is not just a ‘young person’s game’.
Prospective students often question their ability to study at Master’s level. It is a skill, and like any other skill, it will gradually develop. You will learn how to learn. For example, you will be taught how to collect and critically evaluate useful information and weigh up competing points of view to help you develop and present your point of view about a particular issue. Academic writing has its own quirks and conventions (e.g. how to reference) but there are opportunities to learn this as well.
“Recognising the hesitations some students have about completing a Master’s programme we have developed an academic induction package that helps students from all backgrounds develop the confidence and skills needed to study at Master’s level.” Stuart Scott
I would like to bust the myth that a Master’s is hard work. I cannot. A typical part-time Master’s degree consists of two years of taught modules followed by a year in which to complete a dissertation. The amount of time you are expected to invest equates to 20 hours a week for 30 weeks each year. Accommodating and sustaining this effort takes considerable motivation, negotiation and some sacrifices.The Master’s is not an abstract, intellectual exercise. Students will be challenged to critically evaluate their own practice and the way that underpinning theories influence how health and safety is managed.
It is this effort which makes a Master’s a career or life changing experience and an achievement of which you can be incredibly proud.
“I’ve watched many Graduates walk across the stage on graduation day. I am incredibly proud of their achievement. Every one of them has my utmost respect.” Stuart Scott
A world of options
A quick internet search reveals numerous different programmes running across the UK (and internationally). There are options for full or part time study and for face-to-face or distance learning. You do not face a stark choice between learning or earning. There are differences in entry requirements and the duration and cost of courses.
Another crucial difference is the specific subjects that are covered by the Master’s. Some topics that may be covered outside the ‘traditional’ remit of health and safety include:
- Environmental impacts and risks;
- Disaster management/recovery;
- Business risk management;
- Wellbeing and employee engagement.
In short, you need to do some homework to find a course that suits your circumstances, your preferred approach to learning and what you want to learn about.
A Master’s degree can be considered a potential option for any health and safety professional. It is a considerable, but also a deeply enriching, investment of time, effort and money.
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