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 Caitriona Jackman from Smart Futures to give some advice for people considering this job:


Caitriona Jackman

Planetary Scientist

Smart Futures

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  Caitriona Jackman
If you are considering full-time scientific research, try to get a work placement in a university department so you can see first hand what it’s like. It’s a relatively relaxed, flexible environment, but there is a certain degree of self-motivation needed. 

So I would say you need to be able to push  yourself and be proactive in terms of setting up collaborations with other scientists etc.

Realists are usually interested in 'things' - such as buildings, mechanics, equipment, tools, electronics etc. Their primary focus is dealing with these - as in building, fixing, operating or designing them. Involvement in these areas leads to high manual skills, or a fine aptitude for practical design - as found in the various forms of engineering.

Realists like to find practical solutions to problems using tools, technology and skilled work. Realists usually prefer to be active in their work environment, often do most of their work alone, and enjoy taking decisive action with a minimum amount of discussion and paperwork.
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ACCESS Programmes & Courses

For school leavers or others who, for a variety of reasons, can't get to third level by the standard routes, many of the Universities and Institutes of Technology across the country offer an ACCESS course or programme of some kind.

ACCESS programmes aim to provide participating students with the skills and knowledge needed for undertaking a full-time third level course and to make the whole process of transition to third level easier. They also help students to identify and choose the third level course that is best suited to their particular interests and abilities. 

People who successfully complete a particular ACCESS programme may then be able to apply to that college for a place on a third level degree course.

For School Leavers

Certain ACCESS programmes are for students who have a real desire to study at third level but may be unable to, due to social, financial or educational reasons. Certain criteria may apply, such as having attended a DEIS school. A minimum Leaving Certificate standard is usually required for entry to the programme. Students who have completed a Further Education course are also eligible.

The Trinity Access Programme (TAP) aims to encourage young adults, adults and ethnic minority students who come from socio-economic groups under-represented in higher education, to go to university.

Some ACCESS Programmes are specifically for students from a particular geographical region or catchment area.

NUI Galway offer an ACCESS COURSE FOR HIGHER EDUCATION for those who have completed Leaving Cert from all schools in the BMW region and County Clare.

The Trinity Access Programme (TAP) for example, works directly with three colleges of further education in Dublin: Liberties College, Dublin 8, Pearse College, Dublin 12, and Plunket College, Dublin 9; each of which delivers a one-year, full-time, FETAC-accredited university access course in liberal arts.

ACCESS courses for school leavers tend to be full-time and typically 6 -9 months long - this varies from college to college so you should always check the details.

ACCESS for Mature Students

Mature student ACCESS programmes are generally based on the same criteria as for school leavers, the main difference being that applicants must typically be over 21 or 22 years of age when applying. Specific entry requirements such as a Leaving Certificate are not required.

The application process for mature students generally includes an interview and a piece of written work. ACCESS programmes for mature students tend to be part-time and spread over an academic year.

What will you Study on an ACCESS or Foundation Course?

ACCESS programmes are about preparation for Third level courses, so the core subjects will typically focus on:

  • Study Skills - equipping students with the organisational skills and study techniques to help them succeed at third level
  • Writing/Communications Skills - improving the student’s communication and writing skills so they will be ready for the demands of assignments and projects at third level
  • IT Skills - equipping students with the basic IT skills necessary for undertaking the study, research, and assignments necessary at third level
  • Maths - Some programmes will include Maths as a core subject, or as a project as part of the qualification process

ACCESS Programmes may also include some form of educational guidance and support to help students with completing their course, and with career planning and goals.

As part of the programme, students also get to explore electives from a range of disciplines - for example, if you are interested in courses in the area of Humanities, you may get the opportunity to attend introductory lectures in such subjects as Sociology Philosophy, or History.

The one thing that ACCESS or Foundation courses have in common is that their main purpose is to prepare you for third level and they are a recognised entry route for full-time courses at the particular University or IoT. This means that if you successfully complete the ACCESS Programme, you can apply for a course at that third level college.

Details such as attendance, course duration and entry requirements vary with each college, so it is always advisable to contact the particular college or university BEFORE applying.

It is also a good idea to check out the third level courses on offer at the particular college to be sure that there is something you will want to progress to and can aim towards.

Universities offering ACCESS Programmes

  • Dublin City University (DCU) offers an ACCESS programme for Leaving Cert Students – Click here
  • Maynooth University ACCESS Programme (MAP) encourages under-represented groups to enter third level and provides these groups with support through their time at Maynooth. These groups include under-represented school leavers, mature students, students with disabilities and members of the travelling community. Click here
  • UCD offers an ACCESS Programme for Mature Students who are interested in Arts & Human Sciences and Science, Engineering and Agriculture Click here
  • University of Limerick (UL) – offer an ACCESS TO UNIVERSITY Course for those who have completed Leaving Cert Click here
  • NUI Galway - offer an ACCESS COURSE FOR HIGHER EDUCATION for those who have completed Leaving Cert from all schools in the BMW region and County Clare. Click here. NUIG ACCESS Information for Mature Students and people with disabilities is available here

Institutes of Technology offering ACCESS Programmes /Pre Entry Initiatives

  • DIT – Access office 
  • IT Carlow – The Carlow Access Programme is a supplementary admissions scheme which offers college places on reduced points to: Applicants from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds (Reduced Points Entry plus Financial Support) Or Applicants with disabilities (Reduced Points Entry plus Disability Support) Click here 
  • Institute of Technology Blanchardstown (ITB) – The REACH programme is an admissions scheme which offers places on ITB’s courses on reduced points, to school leavers from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds Click here

Foundation Courses

These are similar to ACCESS programmes, except students do not usually have to meet the socio-economic disadvantage requirement. Primarily for adults, the general requirement is that students be over 21 or 22 years of age when applying. Foundation courses tend to be part-time and spread over an academic year.

  • Athlone IT – offers a Foundation Certificate course for adult learners who wish to return to study after a break in their formal educational experience and who may not have benefited fully from, or have access to, previous educational experiences.  This course provides an effective introduction for adult learners embarking on a third-level course. 
  • TCD Foundation Studies click here 

Joint Foundation Courses

These courses are usually run by a University and an Institute of Technology together – they are designed to target participants for a specific area i.e. Science and Technology.

They are geared towards students who have been out of the formal education system for a while, and who want to enter 3rd Level Studies in that specific discipline. For that reason, the core subjects will be related to that discipline. Attending a Joint Foundation Course in Science and Technology for example means you will study subjects such as Physics and Mathematics.

Closing Dates for Application

Access programmes typically recruit in March - May each year. Check individual website for specific dates.

Application dates for the Joint Foundation Courses vary.

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