Notes from Toulouse: choosing a British Master’s degree to change careers in France

Kay Taylor, completed our MA in Career Development and Coaching Studies in 2019. In this blog, she shares how she is putting the skills she gained on the course to practice in France.

I originally imagined I would use my MA to continue working with adults in a business context. However, once I switched to part-time work, I gravitated from business to higher education, mainly through financial necessity and networking. Although initially employed as a language teacher, I began to market my MA in this new environment. However, despite being France’s fourth largest university city, Toulouse has no centralised student careers service and few clearcut occupational paths for a careers consultant.

To summarise very simply, France’s higher education system makes a clear distinction between universities (clustered into three independent ‘pôles’ in Toulouse), technical
institutes (for more vocational training) and the more prestigious ‘grandes écoles’ (specialising for example in engineering, science and business). Entrance to a grande école is based on a highly competitive national entrance exam, usually requiring two demanding years of ‘classes préparatoires’, which count towards a Bachelor’s degree; students then complete three years at the school to obtain a Master’s degree. University entrance however simply requires students to have passed the Baccalauréat, although government reforms are underway to address the issue of very high numbers of university students failing after one year. Consequently, major discrepancies in educational quality are often perceived between Toulouse’s HE institutions, contributing no doubt to a desire for independence and lack of more coordinated services.

My perception of careers work in this complex and sometimes confusing context is that much of it is actually embedded in student curriculums, often as credit-bearing modules. Although there are advantages and drawbacks to this system, it has meant that the more comfortable I became in explaining my MA, the more career-related teaching opportunities started to arise, which would not have been possible without it. This began with my MA course assessments: the creation of an eight-module career-related learning course for aviation engineering students, and a career coaching programme for adults in continuing education at the law faculty for my dissertation project.

These projects have led to other opportunities, and I am now working full-time in the Soft and Human Skills Centre of ENSEEIHT, an engineering school. I am gradually moving into a new coordination role for their Leadership and Management programme, which has a strong focus on personal and professional development, with potential for further improvement and innovative course design.

As recognition of the value of such courses for engineers appears to be increasing, it is an exciting time to be involved and help it grow by drawing directly on the knowledge I have acquired from my MA. Ideally at some point in the future, I would like to oversee the development of a range of complementary careers services in parallel to these initiatives, in a less pressurised grade-free context. I would also like to develop my career coaching practice in parallel to continue working with adults.
‘Change actually happens the other way around. Doing comes first, knowing second.’ Ibarra (2002)

Although there are likely to be many changes ahead for me, I feel that my career is finally moving in the right direction. I feel pleased that I have been able to work through the long and messy process of changing careers described so well by Herminia Ibarra, and to realise with hindsight that it makes sense and is worth it! I believe this life-changing experience will help me to help others learn to make their own career transitions successfully.

Ibarra, H. (2002) How to Stay Stuck in the Wrong Career, Harvard Business Review.

You can read Kay’s other blog on her reasons for returning to study.

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