Landing a Creative Career with a languages degree

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Alumna Hannah Brownlow (MA 2011) came to St Andrews in 2007 with a range of ideas in her head as to what career path would follow her degree. Four years later she left with an entirely different plan. Here, Hannah tells her story of how her St Andrews degree led her into a career in a world of creativity!

What does a creative career look like? Maybe working with visuals, even a bit of design?How about writing content, delivering it, presenting it? Maybe a bit of travel, and building relationships with people – clients, colleagues, and the like?

In 2007 I headed north of the border to study English Literature at St Andrews.

In 2011 I graduated with my MA Hons in single honours Italian (who’s not had a last-minute change of heart, right?).

In fact it was while I was out in Italy on my year abroad that I had an epiphany. I realised I didn’t want to go into a career that used my language per se, but actually used the skills I was learning. I’d got really involved in student radio at the University of Verona, and we had a couple of hundred podcast subscribers who wanted to get involved with our creative and madcap approach to looking at living abroad as a student.

I also realised that travelling, and meeting and getting to know different people from different cultures was something that I absolutely loved.

But coming back to the Bubble in fourth year, I was faced with a dilemma. I knew I didn’t want to follow one of the ‘traditional’ career routes for a languages graduate (teaching, translating, and the like). What I wanted to do was something creative, that broadened my horizons, and harnessed the skills I was learning along the way (both in the lecture theatre, and out of it).

But where do you go to find a job that gives you all of that, and is looking for a languages graduate?

Well readers, it took me a while to work that out. I spent a long time looking. (And I do mean a long time.) After a short stint working as a content developer for an art instruction website, I finally found it.

I am now a Managing Consultant for a presentation and eLearning delivery specialist company called BrightCarbon. And yes, that list at the beginning – it has all of those things. And more.

So how did I do it? How did I land the holy grail of creative jobs with my languages degree?

Here are three things I’ve learnt along the way that can help you target the right creative opportunities, so that, like me, you can find a job where you can use your skills to best effect:

Communication, communication, communication: what does a languages degree help you most to do well? Communicate. Look for creative jobs that need effective communicators, because that’s what you excel at as a language graduate. I started as a Communication Consultant at BrightCarbon, where my day job was turning words into effective visual sequences. I needed lashings of creativity, and – most importantly – communication skills.

Small and innovative: however creative you want to be, if you’re in a huge corporation, you’re going to be limited by bureaucracy, and corporate structure. Look for a small – but growing – company. Since joining BrightCarbon, the company has tripled in size and diversified into new services. It’s an exciting journey to be part of.

Think outside the box: I had aspirations of working in television. And radio. And maybe film too. But now I work in PowerPoint. Literally. But just because it’s not what I expected to do doesn’t mean it’s not a fulfilling career choice. Don’t restrict yourself into thinking there’s only one path for you. Find a job that suits your skills and personality, not necessarily what you think you want to do.

Go forth, be creative, and find that dream job.

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If you are interested in learning more about a career like Hannah’s, you can visit the BrightCarbon careers page.

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Penguin Post – St Andrews in the Ice

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Port Lockroy and the local residents. Courtesy of Laura Martin.

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Laura Martin at the base

In recent years a number of St Andrews graduates have gone to work at one of the most remote places on Earth.

Every year several out of thousands of applicants worldwide are selected by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust to work at ‘Base A’ at Port Lockroy, a historic site on the Antarctic Peninsula that was the first British base in Antarctica. Now it hosts a post office and museum, and is populated by four people and two thousand penguins. In the last five years, four St Andrews graduates have worked here – including Laura MacNeil (MA 2002), who went in 2016-17, Laura Martin (BSc 2013) who went in 2015-16 and Amy Kincaid (BSc 2014) in 2014-15.  Our intern, Francis Newman, interviewed them to find out their stories.

The Antarctic continent – white, stormy, freezing – conjures up a timeless mental image. Going there is the experience of a lifetime.

What could lead someone to such an extraordinary role? Laura Martin’s initial interest was sparked by an ice cream advert at the cinema showing scientists living and working in Antarctica. “From then on, there was always something inside of me that knew I had to get down there myself to experience what life was like.”

In a building that is familiar to any recent St Andrews student, she finally realised how her dream could be realised. “Sitting in the library working on an essay that felt like it was never going to end, I read an article about Florence Barrow, a St Andrews graduate who had worked at Port Lockroy for an Antarctic summer season. All of a sudden I realised that Port Lockroy was the job for me and the gateway to Antarctica and nothing else seemed as important as getting the job down there.”

Amy Kincaid’s enthusiasm stemmed from a primary school project. “I think the photos of amazing sculpted blue icebergs caught my imagination,” she says.

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Home. Courtesy of Limewash/Laura MacNeil

Laura Martin says that the job seemed “like a brilliant and exciting challenge, living on an island the size of a football field with 2000 fluffy, smelly Gentoo penguins for neighbours… what was not to like?” Never before had she seen a job description which included ‘carrying heavy boxes whilst dodging penguins’ – “that pretty much sealed the deal for me!”

Laura MacNeil tells me more about what their responsibilities were. “Our duties included carrying out artefact surveys in the museum, working in the gift shop and Post Office and doing any maintenance required on the historic buildings. We also counted the Gentoo penguin colony as part of a longitudinal study to measure any tourism impact.”

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Courtesy of Laura Martin

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Courtesy of Laura Martin

The local residents – penguins – were obviously a key part of  their experience. Laura Martin explains the downside of living with their feathery companions.

At first, the smell was so bad that I thought that I’d made a terrible mistake and couldn’t possibly survive four months among the penguins. However our noses soon adjusted!

“I loved being able to see a whole summer season through, from watching the penguins arrive back to their nests – which were hidden under snow initially – to laughing at their mischievous nature. They would steal each other’s stones from nests to improve their own, and chase each other across the island if they were caught! Watching and listening to the greetings the partners would give each other was lovely and it was so exciting to spot the first few eggs – and even more exciting when the first chicks hatched just after Christmas!

“When the chicks were old enough to run around in little gangs (creches), you knew predators wouldn’t be far away so they would keep nice and tightly together and would waddle around at fast speeds that we would have to avoid!

“I felt really privileged to be able to experience a snapshot of the life cycle of Gentoo penguins and when inquisitive Chinstrap or Adelie penguins came to visit it would make our day to see them explore the island too.”

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Exploring home

Life in Port Lockroy had its advantages – and disadvantages. “We were extremely busy,” said Laura MacNeil. “The site is one of the most visited places on the Antarctic Peninsula and we welcomed in the region of 17,000 visitors over the course of our three and a half month stay. This meant that we had to balance welcoming ship visits with the other conservation and wildlife work that we had to carry out – we were certainly never bored!”

“We were also very remote and did not have running water or internet access. We became used to the relatively basic living conditions very quickly. We had a satellite phone and text-only e-mail. Contact with friends and family was therefore quite limited and I did miss that.”

Laura Martin, however, enjoyed the simplistic way of life. “Not having the internet was brilliant – I really didn’t miss it. To be able to write postcards to friends and family was a brilliant way to stay connected, and when a ship delivered mail to us it was so exciting to hear news from home the old fashioned way!”

They didn’t feel terribly lonely though, says Amy. “Although there were only four of us living on an island the size of a football pitch for four months with no means of escape, we didn’t feel too isolated from the outside world. With 18,000 visitors during that time, it’s pretty easy to have a chat and pick up bits of news. We got to know the ships’ crews quite well which was advantageous as they would bring us gifts of fresh fruit, veg and dairy – highly prized items when tins and dried food was the normal menu! ”

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Base A. Courtesy of Amy Kincaid.

Their time in St Andrews really shaped them for their experiences – and not necessarily in the ways that they had expected. Laura MacNeil studied French, German and Russian at St Andrews. “We received lots of French and German cruise ship visitors, so it was great to be able to converse with them and help them in their native language. Some of the ships’ crews were Russian so I could at least say hello!”

After their times in Antarctica, the three graduates went on to do very different things. Laura Martin travelled to South America as a way of readjusting to normal life “after living on an island with just three other people for four months.” After she did “get back home to reality” she went to work for a school in Switzerland, and now works in the Cairngorm National Park.

Laura MacNeil returned to studying, this time at the University of Strathclyde, where she pursued an MSc in Information and Library Studies. She now lives in Edinburgh and is looking to find a job in that field. Amy managed a cafe on Corrour Estate, started a felt making business and spent several months in Nepal and New Zealand. She’s now starting a postgraduate rural surveying course in Aberdeen.

Despite their experiences at the ends of the earth they all retain nostalgic memories of St Andrews – I ask them each what their favourite is. “I think one would be my first Raisin Sunday as an Academic Parent,” says Laura MacNeil I loved choosing outfits and dressing up my kids and accompanying them to the Quad for the foam fight. I think I enjoyed it more as an Academic parent than I had in my own first year!”

Laura Martin also loved the traditions. “St Andrews is so unique for having Raisin weekend, May Dip, pier jumping, the ceilidh in the castle and the soaking after your final exam – all of those stand out as lifelong memories for me.  I’ll also never grow old of the views from the beaches – it really is a magical place. “

For Amy Kincaid, it was shared experiences with friends. “Late night skinny dips in the North Sea, canoe club trips all over Scotland and the Alps, and shared housemate meals with a view of the sunset down Market Street.”

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Courtesy of Laura Martin.

The Alternative Format Suite: Kat Lawlor

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Katherine (Kat) Lawlor is from Spokane, Washington State in the US. She is about to start her third year studying an honours degree in International Relations and is a class rep for IR. Once she has graduated, her ambition is to work in international development or on Capitol Hill.

She describes why a positive response from the Alternative Format Suite and Disability Services at St Andrews played a huge part in her decision to study here.

“I was born with albinism. That means that I can’t see fine detail – so reading textbooks with small print is really difficult for me, and I’m incredibly light sensitive – anywhere there’s a bright light around I tend to see the light but I can’t see anything else. In the States I’m considered legally blind so I use a white cane in unfamiliar situations or if it’s sunny outside.

“So a big consideration for me when I was looking at universities was would they be able to accommodate me?

“I had a lot of trouble in high school with institutions that weren’t able to support me: I ended up taking my PSAT exams [equivalent to National 5 exams or GCSEs] a week late in a Trinitarian convent with a bunch of nuns and a couple of boarding school students because they couldn’t get me a large print test in time to take it with my classmates. It was bizarre! The College Board (the organisation which administers the SATs) was less than accommodating about finding large print textbooks for my SATs [equivalent to Highers or A levels and used for college entrance].

“So I wasn’t expecting much, to be honest. I considered St Andrews originally because it was a small town, and small towns are easier to navigate. When I was accepted, I emailed disability services and said: ‘These are my issues – what can you offer?’ And they were much more responsive than any other university – and I emailed many. Some didn’t even respond, or said: ‘We’ll deal with that when you get here’ which didn’t fill me with confidence!

“Student Services told me they could enlarge text and that they would talk to my professors, and they put me in touch with Paresh when I arrived. He’s been a godsend. Just having access to the same textbooks as everyone else has been a huge help. I can get them all in pdf format on my laptop. Paresh uses an image-to-text technology that allows you either to have your laptop read it to you or to enlarge the text.

“My vision has become worse since I’ve been here – I don’t know the reasons for that – but the Disability services and the AFS have been wonderful in accommodating that as well. For example, I had to switch from writing my exams to typing them last year and that was no bother at all – little things like that would have been difficult at home.

“I can’t thank Paresh enough and the volunteers are wonderful, too. They do so much. It’s been an invaluable resource.”

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