*Day in The Life: Arts and Humanities Degrees and Careers

ACADEMIC
Let me introduce myself… My name is Millicent Churcher, i’m 29 years old, and I’m currently employed as a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Sydney. I  spent a good part of my 20s doing a Bachelor of Liberal Studies (Advanced) with Honours in Philosophy, and a PhD.
My job in a nutshell… A postdoc research associate falls somewhere between a phD student and a tenured academic. The job typically involves a lot of research (independent and sometimes collaborative), and helps to prepare you for life as a professional philosopher.
Skills you’ll need… A postdoc provides a valuable opportunity to publish work in journals and books, and draws on all the skills and traits that you develop as a phD student (i.e. patience, discipline, self-motivation, diligence, time-management, critical thinking, intellectual courage). However unlike a phD, a postdoc position may also require you to build research communities, which involves reaching out to other academics, networking, and planning conferences and workshops.
This job is for you if you like… Colonising cafe tables, working solo, reading lots (and lots) of books, putting words to paper, arguing a point, public speaking, work schedule flexibility, overseas travel.
Avoid this job if you do not like… Managing long-term deadlines, solitude, Microsoft Word, libraries.
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How can anyone not LOVE libraries?!
My advice to you… My one hot tip for those considering a career in academia would be to think carefully about what you value in a job: if you value working a structured 9-5 schedule, earning loads of money, and working to well-defined, short-term deadlines, then this path is probably not for you. On the other hand, if you like the idea of being able to design your own work schedule, to do your work from anywhere, and don’t mind being among the more ‘mature’ students on campus, this job will make these things a real possibility!

If your heart is already set on a career as an academic, choose your academic institution, research area, as well as your supervisors, wisely. Take your time, do your research, meet with other academics, and ask as many questions as possible. Pursue a topic or field that interests you; one that will motivate you to get out of bed and sit down at your desk – because there’ll be no-one forcing you to!

 

UNIVERSITY ARTS STUDENT

Let me introduce myself… My name is Freya Zemek, I’m 21 years old and I recently completed a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Sydney, majoring in Government & International Relations and History.

Why I chose my degree… I decided to do a BA because I am passionate about pursuing a career in foreign affairs, and thought that would be an ideal way to build the necessary skills. Turns out, I was on the right track! My degree gave me important critical thinking, analysis, research, problem solving and communication skills, which have proved invaluable and readily transferable in the job market.

My advice to you… is that Arts at Sydney Uni is very large, and unless you make the effort to connect meaningfully with friends and peers, it can be a little impersonal. If you’re considering an Arts degree, be prepared for a lot of reading and writing as well!  

Freya's too neat for her room to ever get this messy - but if you're an arts student, prepare for some serious reading
Freya’s too neat for her room to ever get this messy – but if you’re an arts student, prepare for some serious reading

How I’ve used this to start my career… In my third and final year of uni, I got an internship with a think tank called the Australian Institute of International Affairs. This was the product of extensive independent research to find ways of gaining relevant experience. This opportunity opened a lot of doors and accelerated my career progression, leading to my next internship (which counted as credit towards my degree!) at the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia. There, I was able to apply my writing and networking skills honed throughout my degree, and was offered a full-time paid position commencing in 2016.

My future plans… Long-term, I’m interested in doing further study – hopefully overseas – through a Masters program in Commerce or International Affairs. Until then, I’m leveraging the networks, skills and experience I’ve gained through study and work to maximise my career prospects post-uni!

 

UNIVERSITY ARTS / LAW STUDENT

Let me introduce myself… My name is Anna, I study a Bachelor of Arts/Law (LLB), with a major in English Literature.

Why I chose my degree… I’m not entirely sure. I started off studying a Bachelor of International and Global Studies but decided to transfer to a Bachelor of Arts because I believed it would be more rigorous and allow me to major in English Literature (which at the time would not have been possible). It seemed smart to also transfer into the LLB if I got the marks in order to avoid paying a ridiculous cost for the Juris Doctorate course later.

I chose a Bachelor of Arts because I believe in learning for learning’s sake. If you are passionate about what you’re learning (i.e. English lit) you will love your arts degree (no, none of the subjects are at all similar to the HSC, they are much harder and far more interesting). I love literature and despise people who call it ‘just Arts’ – they have clearly missed the point or believe in education solely as a commodity. If you want a career out of your degree go study commerce.

Where I wanted my degree to take me… When I started Arts/Law I wanted to work in social justice – in some sort of advocacy role – so I thought law would be a good place to start. Five years of law later and a university with an almost singular focus on corporate law (at least as far as careers go) can really squeeze that passion out of you. To manage the inevitable spiral of depression and cynicism inflicted on any left leaning, social welfare loving student of law by the endless sea of suits and bizarre ‘I’m a paralegal’ wheelie bags touted by 18-24 year olds, I decided to volunteer at a community legal centre. I also currently do volunteer legal research for a refugee service in the Western Suburbs of Sydney and that has helped me regain some faith in the law (though not, unfortunately, the people who administer it) and its capacity to help people.

law
Anna means bags like these. With way less colour. And a ton more books.

Skills I’ve developed… Arts helped develop my critical thinking skills, confidence in my ability to analyse texts and the ability to develop an engaging thesis. Law helps you develop several personal and professional skills. Law is a great equaliser. No matter how well you did in the HSC, you are not guaranteed to do well in law. In law you learn to engage with both sides of the debate because a good lawyer knows the arguments the other side will raise. If you do your own research and write your own notes you learn to structure arguments succinctly and with clarity. You also learn that you’re not always right (which can be hard).

Do this degree if…

  • You like to engage with people from similarly white, middle to upper class privileged backgrounds, almost exclusively. (That was a joke….)
  • You like problem solving
  • If you can manage reading dry material for days
  • If you like group work – working with other people in law will help you get through the subjects that are objectively dull and inspire a state of comatose.
  • You’re not good at maths. There’s no maths in law. Unless you do tax law. Don’t do tax law.
  • You’re a bit eccentric. Some really interesting, intelligent people study law, you just have to search for them…. really hard.

Don’t do this degree if…

  • You’re incredibly creative – it will dampen your creativity
  • That was a joke, law desperately needs creative people and you have to be creative to study Arts
  • You can’t manage extensive reading

My advice to you… The LLB is a really great course. That is a hard thing for me to say. If you are creative and engaged you will love Arts. Do not do Arts for the sake of it; it is a waste of your time and the time of the people who chose to do it out of passion. Combining Arts and Law is great because Arts keeps you engaged, and when you finish fourth year law you can reminisce on how much you loved studying Hemmingway or the Brontes as a way to avoid the dark abyss of law that lies ahead.  

 

MEDIA AND COMMUNICATIONS STUDENT

Let me introduce myself… My name is Morgan, and I’m a 23-year-old Marketing Graduate who has undertaken a Bachelor of Arts (Media and Communications), majoring in Marketing and American Studies, at the University of Sydney.

Why I chose my degree… Looking through degree options in Years 11 and 12, choosing my degree was really a process of elimination for me (oops am I allowed to say that?)  I wasn’t too interested in science, law or maths but I wanted something a bit more fine-tuned than a straight arts degree. Plus, I was a pretty strong English student and socially, you’d find me chatting away about as often as you’d find Kim Kardashian taking selfies so I thought I’d give communications a go.

Where I wanted my degree to take me… In the beginning, I really had no idea and flipped between fantasies of being Anna Wintour to Ellen DeGeneres to a female Karl Stefanovic daily.  The beauty of the Media Comms course at Sydney Uni is that you get to sample a range of mediums over your four years, from radio to TV to news reporting and public relations; as opposed to some other courses which are shorter but you have to specialise in one area from the get-go.  One of the really fantastic things about the degree is that it forces you to get real world experience by way of an internship unit towards the end of the course.  So after you’ve tried out different avenues of journalism you can pick one and really see if it’s what you want to end up doing.  In my case, I found out what I didn’t want to do but this was equally as important – now I’m a Unilever Marketing graduate and I couldn’t have gotten here without the skills I learnt from this course.

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Kim is so last year. Tay tay anyone?

Skills I’ve developed… Flexibility and resilience!  Changing mediums every six months is tough because you’re essentially learning a new language when you have to get used to learning to code and pull together a webpage after a semester of flipping switches in the radio station.  However, being able to soak up new information (think: sponge mentality) and then rapidly convert it into action will help you in any new job or career.  I also developed a bit of a tough skin in this degree because almost all the units involve pieces of major work which the lecturers really push you to perfect and polish – a real shock after being somewhat coddled at high school.  I think the entire cohort would agree their resilience had been improved in this course – you try going out with a video camera and having only 1 in 5 of all the random people attending Vogue Fashion’s Night Out agree to give you a short interview – but hey, all in a day’s work!

Do this degree if…

  • You’re passionate.  About anything.  Honestly, don’t do any degree if you don’t have some kind of passion for something – be it foreign news, feminism in Hollywood, the latest Bachie, your dog. Success always starts with passion.
  • You’re outgoing, confident and enjoy communicating (read: in-depth discussion/panel forum chatting/light hearted gossiping depending which type of journalism you go for).
  • You have a lots of ideas and you like keeping up with trends and news – this is a fast-paced industry where your subject area will change daily so be prepared to change with it.

Don’t do this degree if…

  • You don’t like people – it’s not an industry which caters to introverts too much unfortunately.
  • You’re not willing to work for free at least a little – unpaid internships are highly standard in the media industry and I did three working 1-2 days a week for at least three months each – be prepared to slog out some more menial jobs before you find your perfect match.
  • You can’t keep up with the Kardashians … joking – Kim’s naked selfie is already yesterday’s news.

My advice to you… Take it one step at a time.  The hardest thing to get used to after coming from the routines and stability of school is the fluidity and lack of a safety net at uni.  But that’s life baby – so enjoy immersing yourself in whatever subjects impassion you and if you follow that you’ll end up where you’re going!  

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