Careers rarely develop the way we plan them. Our career path often takes many twists and turns, with particular events, choices and people influencing our direction.

We asked Brian Macken from Smart Futures to give some advice for people considering this job:


Brian Macken

Science Communicator

Smart Futures

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  Brian Macken

I would strongly advise you to do the Masters in Science Communication in DCU. It really gives you a feel for the different kinds of media and ways of explaining things. And it's a good place to make contacts, which is also useful.

I would also recommend that you read science books. Not textbooks, good popular science books are just as useful for this kind of work, as it's already been broken down into simpler language for you. And only read the ones that you're interested in - it shouldn't be a chore to read them.

But I would recommend reading outside your subject area, so if you're into physics, then read some books on biology and vice versa (everyone should read Stephen J. Gould).  However, the more knowledge you have, the more questions you'll be able to answer.


Creative people are drawn to careers and activities that enable them to take responsibility for the design, layout or sensory impact of something (visual, auditory etc). They may be drawn towards the traditional artistic pursuits such as painting, sculpture, singing, or music. Or they may show more interest in design, such as architecture, animation, or craft areas, such as pottery and ceramics.

Creative people use their personal understanding of people and the world they live in to guide their work. Creative people like to work in unstructured workplaces, enjoy taking risks and prefer a minimum of routine.
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Climbing the College Course Ladder

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Climbing the College Course Ladder

Thursday, October 15, 2015 

Climbing the College Course Ladder

Students and parents may have heard phrases such as Level 8 and Level 7, in relation to educational courses after Leaving Cert., and may not know what they mean. Guidance Counsellor Aoife Walsh, explains it all here:

The National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) places qualifications at an appropriate level on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest. With a Leaving Cert, students may apply for studies from Level 5 to Level 8. Level 9 and 10 are master's and PhD courses, which require a student to already hold a Level 8 degree.

Level 8

Level 8 is known as an honours degree - what many people think of when they think of a traditional university degree. They are offered at universities, institutes of technology, private colleges and training colleges. They are generally four years in duration, with some exceptions - for example medicine is five or six years, while arts degrees are often three.

Students mainly apply for these through the CAO, with some private colleges also offering Level 8 courses outside the CAO.

Leaving Cert students are required to meet the minimum entry requirements and essential subjects for these courses and then compete with other students on points to win a place.

Minimum requirements for all Level 8 courses are two higher level C3 grades and four ordinary level D3s (with the exception of Trinity College Dublin [TCD], which requires three higher C3s and three ordinary D3s).

These will change in line with the new Leaving Cert grading scale in 2017. CAO points for these courses in 2015 ranged from 200 points to 595 depending on supply and demand.

Level 7

Level 7 is an ordinary degree - previously referred to as a diploma - generally of three years duration. Application is mainly through the CAO, while some private colleges offer Level 7 courses outside the CAO. Once again, Leaving Cert students must meet the minimum entry requirements, essential subjects and then compete for places on points.

Many institutions require a student to achieve five ordinary D3s for entry although there are some exceptions. Essential subject requirements are also lower for Level 7 courses. For example, a student wishing to study engineering at Level 8 in Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) will require a higher C3 in maths while engineering courses at Level 7 in DIT require an ordinary C3 in maths.

Level 7 degrees are offered at universities, institutes of technology, and private colleges. CAO points this year ranged from AQA (all qualified applicants) to 450. Most Level 7 courses have an optional 'add on' year, making it possible to complete one extra year and receive a Level 8.

Climbing the Qualifications Ladder

Leaving Cert students may also apply for courses at Level 6 and Level 5, and use these to climb higher.

Ladder System Diagram from Click image for full size.

Level 6

Level 6 courses are also known as higher certificates and courses are generally two years in duration. This level can be accessed both by making a CAO application if you wish to study in an institute of technology or private colleges, and by applying to certain courses in further education colleges. If students attend a CAO institution, they will proceed directly into a Level 6 course. Leaving Cert students need to achieve the minimum entry requirements - any essential subjects and grades that may be required - and then compete with other applicants on CAO points. The minimum entry requirements for Level 6 are five ordinary level grades at D3 or above. CAO points in 2015 ranged between AQA (all qualified applicants) to about 300. However, if you enter a further education college - for which points are not needed - you will study at Level 5 for year one and Level 6 for year two.

Level 5

Level 5 courses are generally available at further education colleges and are often referred to as Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses. These are normally one year in duration and are available in a wide range of disciplines, both academic and practical. Students are mostly required to have five Leaving Cert passes and foundation, ordinary, and higher levels will be considered. Students are usually invited for interview and, as these colleges are not part of the CAO, no points are required.

What does it all mean?

So what does all this mean for students? Well, firstly, that they may make applications for a wide variety of courses with a wide range of entry requirements. This means there are opportunities for further study for every student after Leaving Cert. And, because the system can be considered a type of ladder, it means that, irrespective of the step at which a student enters, it is possible to climb.

Students may apply for up to 10 Level 8 courses through the CAO and an additional 10 courses at Levels 7 and 6. In conjunction with their CAO application, students may apply for Level 5 by applying directly to further education colleges. If students use all of these options fully, there is no reason why they should not have a course to move on to after Leaving Cert.

It is often the students who do not fully investigate their options at Levels 5, 6 and 7 who receive no offer in August.

Offers can only be made if students have applied for the course, so it is important to utilise options fully in case things do not go as expected in August.

Aoife Walsh is a Guidance Counsellor at Malahide Community School, Co Dublin.


The CareersPortal Team