A career path that’s completely off the map

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
~ Robert Frost

Sarah Boyle (Geography and International Relations, Hons, 2013), always on the look for “something new and exciting,” lives by this poem.  In 2009, when friends were matriculating to nearby University of Illinois, Northwestern University or Loyola, she followed her less-traveled road from Chicago, Illinois to St Andrews, Scotland.  A year later, despite her lack of fundraising experience, she joined the University of St Andrews Phone Campaign team – one of the first and most successful student fundraising teams in the UK outside of Oxford and Cambridge, and among the even-more-elite few who call alumni around the globe.

“It looked like a good university job with decent hours and pay.  Plus, it seemed simple enough – I love chatting to people, especially about St Andrews!” she reflects.

The phone campaign requires a tough, two-part interview, the first segment on the telephone with a stranger and the second face-to-face with Development staff.  Fewer than 25% of applicants were accepted the year Sarah applied, and even more dropped out during the lengthy two-day training.  Not Sarah.  Despite the long hours and challenging conversations, Sarah quickly mastered the skills required to chat at length with University alumni, parents and friends about everything from archery to zoology while updating contact details and asking for contributions.  Moreover, she thrived.

She enjoyed the job so much, in fact, that three years and seven phone campaigns later, Sarah is among the most senior and most successful St Andrews phone campaign students, having single-handedly raised nearly £35k for the University’s 600th Anniversary campaign.  Her skills have even been highlighted in a series of training videos for new team members.

This year, during the UK phone campaign alone, Sarah raised almost £16,000, speaking to several alumni and parents for more than an hour.  Her efforts contributed to the team total of £263,000 raised — £13,000 more than its campaign goal – for scholarships, academic resources and other campaign projects, including Sarah’s favourite,  the Family Book Fund, which has provided £400,000 in books and electronic resources for the library over the past 19 years.

There have been advantages for Sarah as well.  “I’ve received amazing advice from alumni across the world on what classes to take, what career to choose, how to go about finding my first job,” she said.  “This job has allowed me to speak with people who can show me a plethora of other roads I can take in this life.”  Her favourite memory is of talking to a young alumna about to move to Qatar, where she will map the area’s water system ahead of the FIFA World Cup in 2022.

Although Sarah’s less-traveled road has led to one expected destination – graduation – it has ultimately changed her future plans.  Sarah has decided to pursue a PhD in the geography of philanthropy, where she hopes to research the spatial distribution of philanthropy and discover its impact on local communities.

From one advertisement for a “good University job with decent hours,” Sarah has found her career.  What would she say to students considering joining the team? “Do it.  The team spirit and atmosphere is great – but more importantly you’ll learn skills and meet people who can inspire you to careers you never dreamed of.”  For Sarah, it has certainly made all the difference.


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