Twenty-three days ago, I completed a degree in English Literature with Creative Writing. Apologies to any medics out there who still have two months of library toil ahead - your time will come!
I wish I could say I felt somehow wiser or more prepared for life beyond late night library sessions and Tuesday nights necking £1.50 jaegerbombs in my student union but the moment I clicked 'submit' on my final piece of coursework was strangely anticlimactic. Not that I was expecting some sort of lightbulb moment whilst unshowered, sleep deprived and wearing my pyjamas.
Two weeks later I started work as part of the PR team of eco fashion brand Rapanui, back at home on the Isle of Wight. Suddenly, plunged into the real world, or about as real as you can get in an office boasting a skate ramp, deck chairs and fake grass, I realised how little university education had prepared me for this moment.
Unsurprisingly, encounters with gothic literature and modernist poetry alone are not adequate preparation for professional life. They aren't sold to students as such, and clearly I don't believe my undergraduate study was a waste of time (or of nine thousand pounds...). There are many aspects of my degree which I've loved: the freedom to write creatively on any subject, the opportunity to study feminism, the necessity to read Angela Carter... Even if I could, I wouldn't go back and study for a BA in PR or Journalism, but I do wish there had been more opportunity to gain professional experience as part of my course.
To gain this kind of valuable experience (for me, internships at The Independent and Mother & Baby magazine), I had to skive four weeks of lectures. That is not to say that my university were unsupportive, I have my careers department to thank for helping me to secure the two week placement at The Independent. But if the opportunity for work experience could be worked into the syllabus of an academic degree like English Literature, without the need to miss weeks of studying, then I feel this could be incredibly positive.
The research and analytical skills gained from academic study shouldn't be underestimated. But the ability to write commercially, communicate your ideas in a meeting or even make a simple professional phone call can fill students with confidence and not only help get you a job, but give you the skills to do it well.
The time I spent on professional placements increased my self belief and gave me a focus which motivated me in my work back at university. It was also nice to be reminded that a low mark on that close reading of Virginia Woolf or an unwillingness to read Ulysses is unlikely to doom you to indefinite unemployment.
I am hoping, however, that during the course of my summer in PR I can find a practical use for my knowledge of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus. I like to think if he was alive today that he'd be writing it wearing an organic, ethically manufactured sweatshirt...