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Media Studies Or Classics? It's a No Brainer

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Shakespeare once said "the education of circumstance is superior to that of tuition" and so when I am asked, as if often the case, about the perception and relevance of media studies compared with traditional subjects, I remain ambivalent.

I have worked with students and interns from across the academic and vocational spectrums and I have little interest, other than curiosity, in what they are doing. Whether they are studying for a degree in astrophysics or have decided to turn their back on plumbing matters not. What I am interested in, and what will ultimately bear out in the workplace - and what will often be a greater determination of success - is a combination of factors: good interpersonal skills, aspiration, an ability to bounce back after a setback together with dedication for the job in hand and genuine kindness and empathy towards others.

After years of nurturing both young and mature talent, I invariably find that a student, or intern, who is passionate about their interest, whatever that may be, will often exude enthusiasm and confidence, and that, as time progresses, they will invariably discover their own chosen path.

While degrees are valuable for many, and necessary for certain vocations, there are many gifted professionals whose rise to excellence has frequently been via a diversionary route or outside the field of mainstream academic study. One colleague, a talented political journalist who is passionate about his work, recently told me that he dropped out of university after discovering that "computer technology wasn't my thing."

My daughter's best friend, studying physics at Bristol, remarked that she could never have done drama because, in her words "she was rubbish at it" while a mutual friend of theirs, a born actor, found physics difficult.

An eminent medical consultant also told me recently that two of his best students were not typical undergraduates but a former pilot and a teacher who had undertaken the necessary access courses to study medicine while a friend's father, a redundant miner, retrained as a chef after finding that, through adversity, a new world had become his oyster.

Fundamentally one truth frequently bears out. At the heart of success is a passion for the subject, craft or vocation - whatever that may be - and that there is not necessarily one route through to the desired objective. Ironically, what is often perceived as failure, can often open routes to different opportunities.

I have also found that many young people harbour issues and self doubt borne out of bad experiences and treatment as children. Labelling children, without constructive analysis, at a young age is fundamentally wrong. Like growth spurts they develop at different rates and history is littered with those that defied the odds once they discovered their true vocation.

Former Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, regarded as an academic failure at school went on to become one of the world's most powerful orators and a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature; Trevor Baylis, inventor of the clockwork radio felt, a "dunce" at school as he had difficulties learning the alphabet; Florence Nightingale felt the charmed life of an upperclass lady was not for her and, balking against both her family's wishes and convention changed the face of nursing while, after writing, Beatrix Potter found her true vocation in a lifelong passion for farming.

And it's not just children who battle adversity and juvenile demonisation. Elvis Presley was fired by Jimmy Denny, manager of the Grand Ole Opry, after just one performance saying, "You ain't goin' nowhere ... go back to drivin' a truck." From the world of film Steven Spielberg was rejected three times from the University of Southern California School of Theatre Film and Television - without faith in their own ability and a passion for their craft both might have failed to achieve the heights they eventually reached.

So as we gear up to the inevitable triumphs and tears surrounding A level results, it's worth bearing in mind that Albert Einstein, unable to read until the age of seven, regarded by his parents and teachers as antisocial and retarded went on to university and his passion for physics was to earn him a name synonymous with genius; similarly Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of university while William Shakespeare didn't go at all. But that didn't stop them all, in their own way, changing the world.

Hilary Robinson will be appearing at the Manx Literary Festival, Isle of Man. The festival takes place between 27 and 30 of September 2012.