Helena Pozniak
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Masters of the unexpected: do something unusual for your postgrad

The Guardian
Whether you want to be a rock star or search for mass graves, you can find a course that'll set you on the road to your dream

The range of subjects you can study at postgraduate level is ever expanding and there are some amazing courses to choose from.

Walk on the wild side

A self-confessed nature geek, Charlie Nash is on the way to realising his boyhood dream. He's just completed a master's in wildlife film-making and is poised to start work as a runner on the BBC's Springwatch.

"Ten years ago I wanted to become a wildlife camerman – but I flunked my A-levels."

At 30, the former event manager was one of the oldest on the course at the University of the West of England (UWE), which was created two years ago in partnership with the BBC, whose Bristol-based Natural History Unit is based around the corner.

"I hadn't anticipated how all-encompassing this course would be – we looked at the raw end of story-telling as well as the technical side. It was intense."

Only two master's courses teach wildlife film-making in the UK – a master's in wildlife documentary production has also been offered by the University of Salford for five years, and is partly based within Manchester's MediaCityUK, which houses units of the BBC, ITV and independent producers.

There's more of a need for training in this field than ever before, says Salford's course leader Fraser Durie, while appetite for wildlife content is growing, training budgets have shrunk. "The BBC and independent sector just don't have the resources to train youngsters anymore," he says.

UWE's course is only in its second year but has seen 10 applicants chasing every one of its 15 places, which are pitched for entry level into the media. Last year's graduates have all found work either within the BBC's natural history unit or the independent sector.

"We're not necessarily looking for David Attenborough but we do expect them to demonstrate an interest – perhaps they'll have stills or a short film," says Susan McMillan, programme leader with 25 years of production experience at the BBC.

Sports psychology

There are many openings for this relatively new and expanding field of psychology, as the world of sport begins to see how "the inner game" can boost potential. Almost every sport is focusing on using the brain to improve performance. Worldwide the sports industry is estimated at £110bn and rising.

You don't have to be sporty to do it, though obviously an understanding of sport will help, says Steffan Berrow, who's studying for an MSc in sport and exercise psychology at Bangor University, one of a handful of institutions which runs a master's degree accredited by the British Psychological Society (BPS) – a prerequisite for setting up as a bona fide practitioner.

Most UK master's courses in this field look for a first degree in psychology or sports science.

Inspired by his course, Berrow wants to continue research into exercise psychology, looking at issues behind obesity. "This matters more to me than earning loads of money as a sports psychologist – there are more pressing concerns with the general population."

He's enjoyed the emphasis on statistics and research methods, which feature heavily in the course. "Students do have to learn handle complex research questions," says Dr Ross Roberts, director of master's programmes at Bangor's School of Sport, Health and Exercise Sciences.

Unlike Berrow, Leeds Metropolitan postgraduate Charlotte Hinchliffe is on the road to chartership, and has embarked upon a further two years of practical training, working with athletes and sports teams.

A psychology graduate, the sporting side of the profession seemed to tick all her boxes of interest and enjoyment. "You often hear commentators or athletes themselves talk about the importance of mental factors in performance success – I wanted to understand how this could be achieved."

Some more to think about

• Budding music producers, composers of film scores, and rock musicians should beat a path to Sussex University and join the MA in music and sonic media.

Scott McGill from the Brighton Institute of Modern Music teaches the module on rock and popular music performance. "I teach a small group of five or six postgrads in a recording studio. We've got a singer/songwriter, an acoustic guitarist, a tenor saxophonist and an electric guitarist who's into punk rock.

"My aim is to help them become better performers and to help them towards their final research projects," says veteran recording artist McGill.

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