by Nicole El-Helou and Humaira Iqbal
On Tuesday 21st March, the University of Westminster Alumni team organised a panel discussion with past students from our department, focusing on ways in which they have been using their English degree since graduation. It is a big question any English student faces, and Anna Beecher, Dilpreet Walia, and Abhishake Gandhi were on hand last week to provide some answers.
Anna graduated with a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing in 2014 and has since gone on to open her own theatre company, FAT CONTENT, and seen her plays performed at the Edinburgh Fringe 2016, Young Vic, and Battersea Arts Centre. She also writes poetry and plays, helps other writers as a dramaturge, and leads projects at schools, hospices, and museums. Her advice was helpful. She suggested applying for all opportunities that come up, to get used to rejections and enjoy job offers, when they come your way (and they will!). She also told us about the challenges of recruitment processes in creative industries, especially when you’re first stepping in. But she advised to never give up! By being persistent, you create contacts that will help you in the long run.
Dilpreet graduated in 2012 after also studying English Literature with Creative Writing. A lively and animated individual, she is passionate about puppeteering, having completed an internship with CBBC working on Sesame Street and The Furchester Hotel. She made us laugh when she told us about her experience working with the cookie monster, saving some of his cookies, as well as having a muppet created after her! When she graduated, she faced the typical problem most graduates encounter fresh out of university: what do I do now? She spent some time writing for children, and some time creating puppets, before combining the two interests. As Dilpreet put it – quoting Dory – “Just keep swimming.” It is important to realise that sometimes life won’t be plain sailing, but if you work hard, you will find your way.
Abhishake, also knows as Abs, studied English Language and International Relations, graduating in 2012. He now works as a Senior Account Executive for a PR company. He discussed the challenges of gaining substantial experience to get started in the sector. Abs stressed the importance of internships and an interesting, unique CV. Companies want to hire someone with personality, he advised, mentioning a colleague who wouldn’t hire anyone who didn’t have at least 5 internships on their CV (so get moving, I guess). He also spoke of the importance of understanding and knowing what you want to do, so that one doesn’t feel lost in a big company.
We sat down with the panellists to ask them a few questions:
What are some of your favourite memories from your time at the University of Westminster?
I really loved being in London because you could go out and check out exhibitions and things that are happening around you.
Dilpreet: Oohh, I think, this will sound really bad but, as well as enjoying the classes, I really loved being in London because you could go out and check out exhibitions and things that are happening around you. So I’d actually bring that back to the classroom and into my work, so I think location is really great and also your mentors. I think mentors and your classmates make such a big difference to your work and they’re so supportive of your voice, so I really enjoyed that.
Anna: I think the final project that I did here of writing the first 10,000 words of my novel was really, really special because I was in this tiny little group, there were 4 of us with Michael Nath, just working really closely and intensely on our writing and that’s the book that 3 years on I’m about to finish, so that’s really special. But also just having fun and meeting lots of people
So down in Wells Street in the basement we had this thing called Log Book Party where we all brought loads of food and tea, and we brought in a kettle and we just all spent our whole day doing these big scrapbooks and that was great.
and being silly. I remember we had to do these log books for our final projects and a lot of people hadn’t really done theirs but I was really obsessed with log books, I loved them because I love gluing stuff to other stuff. So down in Wells Street in the basement we had this thing called Log Book Party where we all brought loads of food and tea, and we brought in a kettle and we just all spent our whole day doing these big scrapbooks and that was great.
Abs: I think it was the extracurricular stuff, so doing the muay thai club and being captain of that was really good. The second thing was just being part of the student union, I guess. There’s a lot of activities going on, there’s a lot of ways to socialise, so I think that’s how I kind of built up my network as well which was quite nice in the university environment. The other thing I would mention is the support from the educational advisors, so Sean was one of them. You could go and ask him questions whenever you needed guidance. And there were personal tutors as well, and you were able to ask them any questions you may have. That was a good asset, I think.
What is most enjoyable about your career?
Dilpreet: I think it’s just being free with it! That’s what I love, even if you’re given a brief or a challenge I never feel limited by it. I’m like Limitations? I’m going to make way, I’m not limited by you! I love doing that in writing and even in puppeteering as well. Recently I worked on a pilot where I was meant to be a puppeteer assistant, and last minute I was given another puppet and I had to lipsync to a lot of dialogue! I’ve been thrown into the deep end. It was a live show but I loved it and suddenly I was like Dory, I had to keep swimming, I’ve just had to go for it.
Anna: The wins, the unexpected – when I say wins, I don’t mean literally winning stuff, but you never know what’s going to happen with a project. A lot of stuff you do has a life of its own and that’s it.
And it’s those magic moments where an email kind of flies towards you and you think “I’m not just crazy, I can do this,” and someone has a bit of faith in you. Magic.
But sometimes, someone turns around and goes “Oh, can I program that show at my venue?” or “Yes we will publish your poem” or whatever it is and it’s always so unexpected. And it’s those magic moments where an email kind of flies towards you and you think “I’m not just crazy, I can do this,” and someone has a bit of faith in you. Magic.
Abs: Creativity. And the fact that no 2 days are the same. You get experience across a broad range of sectors; it’s not just copy writing. You also experience social media which, in this digital age, is big for us. There’s a kind of diverse range of skills that you learn: speaking with clients and then having that praise from them that you’ve done good work, that’s a good thing to see.
What advice would you give to second and third year students who are looking for options after graduation?
Dilpreet: So, actually I was asked this before. What I think is important is that people don’t give themselves enough time to consider what they really want. I feel like a lot of people are rushing to get internships. It is important, but before you just go out there and apply to everything that’s available, just really focus on what do you want, what you want to get out of it, who you are, and what you are going to bring to a job. Then go look for opportunities and apply, because I think, without considering these questions, you’ll struggle longer as a candidate. When you get into that interview and smash it, it’s because you know who you are and no one can touch that, and just let your voice shine.
Anna: I would say don’t treat your time at Westminster like a bubble. Yes, focus on your degree and work really hard on your degree, but also put feelers out to other arts organisations, writing organisations if that’s your thing or just be thinking about the fact that there is a life beyond university, because otherwise it’s really tough. You come out and you think “now what?” Whereas, if you’re already applying for posts or getting a bit of work published while at Uni, you don’t feel so stranded when your degree ends and that’s really good.
Abs: I would say research some areas that you might be keen on and shortlist some companies. I would advise to go for smaller agencies, smaller companies, as there’s a higher chance that you can try and send your CV across and that they will respond. With a larger agency, you know, you’re not going to get much of a response from, you’re not going to have many people dedicated to helping junior members of staff. So shortlist some small companies. Even if it’s an hour a week and you keep going through that list, applying and sending out your CV to as many people as you can, by the time you’ve graduated you may have some replies, and you’ll have some feedback to go work with. So when you graduate you could go straight into a placement. The other thing would be to promote yourself. I’ve never been shy of being myself in any employment, even if the company doesn’t like it.
For second years, my advice would be to get involved with your university as much as possible and the activities available
So be yourself and try and highlight that, within certain limits, but try and do as much as you can to bring out your individual character.
For second years, my advice would be to get involved with your university as much as possible and the activities available; whether educational or sports-related. I think that is a good way of character building and a means of experimenting with what you may like. There might be some modules that you think “I like that”, maybe in the first year you liked it and in the second year you are seeing certain skills that you can take from it or you may think “okay what industries require those skills?”. So if you enjoy writing, PR might be a thing for you or if you enjoy writing maybe go into journalism. That will help whittle down some career paths. If you get an opportunity to have some experience in these sectors, then you can figure out if you like the work or not. And you can always move onto a different sector without it being too late in your career!