Monday, March 28, 2011

Career Prospects: consternation over courses

I realised over the course of the weekend that I have more questions that need to be answered before I can go ahead and structure my expectations for the future around doing the Master of Environmental Health (MEH).  Later this morning I plan to call the coordinator of the MEH course at Curtin in search of answers.  But, as always, a big part of making decisions based on the best information that you have is knowing what questions to ask.  Knowing which questions to ask comes from identifying gaps in your knowledge and identifying assumptions you might have made without foundation.

The first thing I might mention to the course coordinator is that the list of course coordinators for the School of Health might be incorrect or outdated.  I wrote to the course coordinator for the MEH course over a week ago and waited patiently for a reply for a week before trying to call her.  Even then I had to leave a message on her answering machine.  I did receive a call later in the day from a different member of staff who informed me that he was the course coordinator, not the woman I had been trying to contact.  Thus was a week of worry wasted.

I will ask him about career prospects.  In assessing and comparing the Post-grad. dip. in Occupational Health and Safety (PDip OHS) and the MEH programs, I thought that the career prospects for the two groups were quite similar and so the MEH won my commitment because I thought the work might be more interesting.  But having had the time to reflect on and process what I had read and from rereading some of the course information this morning, now I am not sure that the two courses will launch me towards a career at the same velocities.  I get the impression that MEH graduates generally start off as Environmental Health Officers while some find employment as "Scientific Officers in government and a wide range of other fields including the food industry and environmental management".  That sounds promising but I haven't seen any real indication anywhere of career prospects and the demand for graduates.  In contrast, the PDip. OHS page includes a section headed Career Opportunities wherein graduates' career prospects are described as excellent and their salaries being above average.  I need to ask the course coordinator about what this means.  For the program area Health, Safety & Environment more broadly, apparently "Employment opportunities are excellent, with the majority of graduates gaining positions before graduating and over 90% employed within six months".  That sounds great and it does sound like I wouldn't have trouble getting a job after I graduate (or before) but I wonder about the prospects for career progression.  In addition to that last reassuring line about graduates and salaries, another page about environmental health careers proclaims that, "the only course in Western Australia recognised by the Australian Institute of Environmental Health, a member of the International Federation of Environmental Health".  Later in the same page you can read that, "Employment opportunities for graduates also exist with health agencies in overseas countries".  That is very reassuring for me, given that I expect to live in Canada with my Canadian partner in the future, and suggests that the Curtin qualification will be well-recognised overseas.  The same page also suggests that people in this area earn between forty and ninety thousand dollars a year.  That is a lot less than the salary suggested for health & safety professionals on the Health & Safety careers page - fifty-five to three-hundred and forty-five thousand dollars per year!  I think I should ask the course coordinator about this too.

Another query I need to direct to the course coordinator concerns my suitability for the courses.  To do the MEH I would need to complete a few bridging units before spending 18 months completing the course.  In contrast to that, to qualify for the PDip. OHS you need, "A bachelor degree in an appropriate field plus at least two years’ work experience" while qualification for the Master of OHS entails, "A Bachelor of Science plus at least two years' relevant post-qualification work experience. Your work experience will be assessed on the basis of your level of seniority and responsibility, job description, work-based referee reports, publications or other written reports and short courses or conference attendance".  I don't think I qualify for the Master of OHS but perhaps I could get into the PDip. OHS.  I need to clarify this with the course-coordinator.  If I was able to enrol in the PDip OHS, would I be paying the more expensive rate for the units, something like $1,700 per unit?  Would I need to complete some bridging units in order to enter into the PDip. OHS?  More questions for the course coordinator.

Another query I would like to settle regards study methods for the bridging units.  Last time I spoke to the course coordinator he suggested that they are available online, i.e., over the Internet.  This would be wonderful as it would allow us to live and work overseas teaching English somewhere for six more months while I study part-time.  At the moment the Curtin website lists these units as being available either internally or externally (by correspondence).  I need to clarify this if I can.

The last question I have concerns how well I might travel with my career, if and when we relocate, overseas.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Career prospects: Environmental Health and Safety

Environment, Health and Safety.  This is a  nice area that sits next to - and sometimes on the laps of - Public Health and Occupational Health and Safety.  The respective courses seem to share some of their units with each other.

Yesterday I talked to the course coordinator for the post-grad diploma in Environmental Health and she gave me some priceless information that has inspired me.  This is the course on which I would set sail to gain a qualification in Environmental Health.  I don't really have relevant experience or background in the area or in biology, microbiology, or chemistry, so the first thing I would need to do a a bridging course.  This bridging course is not a self-contained course in itself but rather I would do three of the first-year units from the Bachelor of Science (Health Safety and Environment) undergraduate degree.  This would take one semester and when I had successfully completed these units I would drop out of the BSc and enroll in the Master of Environmental health.  I actually only want a post-graduate diploma but a comparison of course fees in the two courses leads coordinators to suggest taking the Master course and exiting when I have completed whichever intermediate award I want.  So I could do all the units that would get me a post-grad dip and then leave the masters program with that qualification.  The cost benefit would be significant: enrolling in the post-graduate diploma would mean paying $1700 per unit while enrolling in the masters program would cost me $900 per unit, for the same units!  That's almost half of the cost.

So what is environmental health and safety about?  It involves contributing to creating and maintaining environments that promote good health, and managing environmental factors that may have a negative effect on people's health.  These factors could be social, physical, chemical, biological or psychological.  It could involve working with problems involving waste-water, noise-pollution, light-pollution, food safety and hygiene (a big one), and the many problems arising from artificial environments.

The course at Curtin (in environmental health) streams students towards either being an Environmental Health Officer or into a research area.  It occurs to me now that either way I think I would be happy and that I needn't be put off by thinking that this course would mean committing to being an environmental health officer (which in itself wouldn't be a bad thing).  During my first year I would have plenty of time to make a decision about what I wanted to so with the second year and I could always study the other stream in the future.  Reading graduate's stories, I think that graduating from either EHS, OHS, or from public health with a proactive bent and positive attitude will allow me to take my career places.  I guess I just need to decide.  All of them are good.  Reading through the graduate stories, the stories that interest me the most are definitely in the field of OHS, EHS, and public health.  I also get the impression from reading these stories that once you are working in the area, you can complete additional relevant units or courses that will make you more employable and improve your job prospects (and earning potential).  That would be a career.

I think I can sum up my relationship to university education and work like this: interest in what I was learning - high; academic competence and achievement - medium; utilizing experience of study to acquire good employment - poor.  One of the things I have realized with time and experience is that you have to make your qualifications work for you and you need to get whatever experience at applying them that you can.  It is one thing to learn and another to learn how to applying that learning.

I guess I've done everything except decide on which course to pursue.  It comforts me now that I see these pathways as watery rather than as a series of straight sticks.  I mean that there is a lot of mixing and cross-over on the other side of graduation.  I need to be a fish because A fish can swim wherever it wants as long as it has a continual stream of interconnected water-bodies and that is what lies on the other side of graduation from any of the courses I am interested in.  I think I will choose environmental health and safety.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Career prospects: Public Health

Right now, what do I know about public health and what do I want to know?

I think that Public Health involves perhaps working especially for government to organise and manage health services.  Actually I don't know much about it.  Time to find out.

The post-grad dip in public health offered through Curtin Uni requires a specialisation in either epidemiology and biostatistics or in public health.  The epidemiology and biostatistics major involves learning about epidemiological methods and how to use them appropriately, learning how to apply them in investigating the determinants of health and ill-health, evaluating health care programs to see if they are worth running and how effective they are (probably with a view to financing them), making sure that I can manage all stages of a research investigation.  The core units are about infectious diseases and the epidemiology of these (so the study of infectious disease, causes and vectors and interaction with public health policy, cultural practices, behavioural change, etc.), health research methods (ways in which we can study health), foundations of public health (how did the field start and how has it evolved, what is it now), biostatistics (mathematical tools for determining effects and patterns of variables interacting and for describing variables related to health), research methodology and more stats, and so on.  The optional units sound pretty interesting but I don't know how they fit into the course because the core units already provide nearly 200 points which is what is required to graduate.  I think there is room for one optional unit in the 200 points, or you could do some extra work I suppose.

The other stream of study, the public health major, ...

Where does this course get me?  I read the short precis for environmental health and that sounded very interesting.  That was about the interaction between people's health and environmental factors, biological stressors, pollutants, air pollution, water and waste management, noise, built environments, and global climate issues.

One of the problems with this course is that it seems to be designed for people already working in a health-related area who want to upgrade their skills and knowledge to a new level whereas I don't work in a health-related area and don't already have a relevant background from which I am branching out.

The best option that I can see right now for capitalising on acquiring a qualification in this area is to apply for the Department of Health's graduate recruitment program.  However, this would be very competitive and I'm afraid of being stumped if I failed to gain a place.

I have started thinking that environmental health would be an awesome field in which to operate and it is closely related to both occupational health and safety and to public health.  The problem is that is is much more applied science based and courses seem to require previous background in science subjects.  If I could not get into this course directly maybe I could do bridging courses or enter one of the other two fields with a view to moving sideways in the future (if I still want to do that then).

That's enough for now.  Something else has come up, namely a course of study that would get me into Environmental Health and Safety in 18 months (including some bridging units).  Cool.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A & A cycle from Broadwater to Smith's Beach and back

Andrea and I finally got around to going for a good long bicycle ride.  It was a beautiful day for cycling: the sky was perfectly blue and cloudless yet the sun didn't fry us and the Aeolus didn't send his winds against us.  By the end of the trip we had done about 65km and then we went for a swim, made a delicious dinner of rice noodles and fried vegetables, and then I did this while Andrea went and had a white wine with one of nice neighbours.  Nice day.

The map embedded below includes several photos. 

Bike route 852286 - powered by Bikemap 

Career Prospects: Occupational & Environmental Health & Safety

This is where I start writing and brainstorming individual pathways and careers.  First cab off the rank or first close-to-the-use-by-date milk marked down for a quick sale is Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety.

I'm not even sure of the relationship between these two areas.  What I want to do in this post is define the job and to investigate courses of study and qualifications, career prospects (especially overseas), and try to get right into what I might be doing day to day, hour to hour.  I also want to try to get an idea of the overview of the field, the philosophy that drives the process.  Let's begin then.  You will know it is time to turn the page when you hear Tinkerbell ring her little bell like this: [BELL RINGING].

Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) is about managing risk and minimizing damage to persons and property in the workplace, whatever kind of workplace it is.  Curtin's postgrad dip. in OHS requires 12 months of study, four per semester.  The curriculum comprises six core units and two optional units of study.  Some of the optional units of study sound pretty interesting.  Occupational diseases involves a bit of toxicology and epidemiology and an introduction to the history of occupational medicine.  There is a practicum option where you do a literature review of a particular area, design a program (of data collection?) and collect data and do the analysis and report the results.  There are also optional units in relevant law, risk assessment, health impact assessment, and a unit specific to mining OHS.  The core units cover accident prevention, compensation, injury management, ergonomics, safety economics, hygiene and chemical safety, and safety technologies.

The prospects for health careers in OHS are very good although I don't know if that is across the field or whether all those prospects are tied up in the resources industry.  The course at Curtin is all off-campus so I wonder whether that would allow us to live overseas while I did the course.  Perhaps Andrea could do another year of teaching in Asia and I could do some tutoring part-time while studying.  Perhaps we could move to Canada and Andrea could also get on with whatever study she wanted to do.

It is proving quite difficult to find a good web site for searching for OHS/OSH/HSE jobs across multiple countries.

That's as far as I get today.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Career Prospects: Vocational Veracity

Right now I need to write.  I need to think.  I need to brainstorm.  I need to think about jobs and the future and study.  Besides thinking about what I want to do I need to think about how I want to think about it and how to go about investigating it.

These following factors are critical in deciding on a course of study or career:

Money: I want to be able to earn a decent wage doing whatever I am going to do.  My days of working to make enough to cover my living expenses and sundry occasional expenses are over.  I want to be able to afford to travel and buy a house and generally afford a secure future for my own family.

Prospect of living and working overseas: We really miss living and working overseas.  There are plenty of occupations that would transfer to a foreign labour market.  It would be awesome to be able to live somewhere like Taiwan but earn some serious money.  It would be great to have the kind of employment prospects that would make me employable across the world; imagine living and working in Russia, or Singapore, or Hong Kong, or Japan, or Canada, or the Czech Republic, or in Chile.  Cool.

Employment prospects:  I am not in the mood to qualify in something only to have to battle to carve out a career for myself or have to exercise great patience waiting for vacancies and promotions to come up as the older members in the occupational pool reach retirement age and free up some space.  I want to be involved in an area where there is a demand for the knowledge and skills I will graduate with, and where I won't have too much trouble getting a job, and then later, getting a better job or looking for promotion.

Personal interest:  Whatever I do needs to offer me some kind of personal fulfillment.  There are plenty of jobs that I could mange capably and do very well yet not enjoy at all.  I don't want to commit to something that will be unsatisfying and not stimulating enough for me for the next 20 years.  I want my job to be challenging and interesting and rewarding and dynamic.  I want to have to think and create and write and help people with it somehow.  I certainly don't want a job that makes people's lives worse or harms the environment.  Ideally I would like to be paid to do something that I was inherently motivated to do.  Inherent motivation.  Something where I would start work on any day thinking that what I was doing was important; something purposeful, something that had a point to it, not just creating and moving paper around.

Length of time required to attain a qualification:  This is a really important criterion.  I could choose to study anything really but do I really have the luxury of spending the next four years just to complete an undergraduate course again?  It might be worth it if it was something I was very passionate about but there's nothing like that for me.  There are lots of things that I am interested in and that I think are important but nothing in particular that stands out for me.

I need to weigh up all these factors and perhaps other factors that I haven't thought about here or have missed in this summary.  It is a very difficult time for me and a difficult decision to make.  Perhaps one of the most important parts of the consideration is trying to get my head around imagining me doing the job and imagining how I would feel doing it.  For that I need to know about the jobs and what they involve, from the immediate perspective and the day-to-day work, to the larger perspective and how my job fits into a wider society - what it means.

I have a lot of investigating and thinking to do.