Three years of my life as an EU student of English Literature at the University of East Anglia,England.
The Working With Words conference was a day-long event taking place yesterday on campus. This event was organised by the UEA Career Central and featured over forty speakers (most of them were UEA graduates of all ages) and there were about twenty panels throughout the day: they covered a very wide range of topics and career paths, from communication and journalism to literary translation and blogging.
Because of similar events I went to before (and my complete uncertainty about my plans for the future), I was worried that the whole thing would be very daunting and scary but I actually found it encouraging and strangely motivating! To be honest, it might also be due to my current more positive mindset but, although I only went to two panels, Working With Words 2016 was really good at showing the variety of options available with an arts degree.
The first thing I went to was entitled “Working in the Arts”. It wasn’t what I expected at all (I thought it had something to do with arts administration), I was so motivated and relieved when I came out of the room! There were three speakers: two of them had graduated a long time ago and talked about all the things they have done since then, and the third one had only graduated a couple of years ago but was slowly getting experience and better positions. I was struck by their positivity and how much fun they seemed to have in their jobs.
It was also nice to see that they’ve all been working in or around Norwich and that there are definitely opportunities available in Norfolk — which is a relief since I think I’d like to stay in Norwich after I graduate (more about it in another article soon). The youngest graduate confirmed what I thought: volunteering, internships and any work experiences are very important. I’m not looking forward to sacrificing my time and energy for volunteer work or sacrificing a precious summer doing an unpaid internship but I guess there is no choice. Hopefully things will work out in the end.
Another thing I loved was how they talked about arts degree and transferable skills. I know there isn’t necessarily a job that will involve me sitting at my desk and reading or writing essays all days. But with an English Literature degree, we learn so much more. We learn to think creatively, critically and to organise our thoughts. We learn to communicate and to actually come up with ideas. And, even though it may sound cheesy, we learn about the importance of art and culture and this is extremely important in the development and wellbeing of a city. That’s what the women who’d worked for the Norwich festival said and I completely agree with it.
After being really put off Advertising, PR and all that stuff recently, I was glad to hear people talk about jobs that I can imagine myself doing and enjoying. I’ll try to put all the chances on my side. However, I wouldn’t object to someone offering me an amazing job directly, if one of my readers has something for me (hint).
After this, I went to the panel on Literary Translation which was really interesting! …And more complicated. For years, my dream and goal was to become a translator. At university in France, translation was by far my favourite module and I actually prefered it to literature. I remember having so much fun in class and I loved the competition there was between a friend of mine and I. Why didn’t I study translation at UEA? Well the main reason is that the translation BA forces you to spend a year abroad, and since I was going to come to England, I didn’t want to do a year “abroad” in France (or anywhere else). Besides, I felt like I needed to study English Literature and to get better at English through that.
I know the door of the translation industry remains open after a BA and last year, I considered doing an MA in Applied or Literary translation at UEA. I do not plan to do that anymore and am considering very different options. It breaks my heart. I would have loved to be a translator, even though a French/English pairing is far from being out of the ordinary. I thought about it a lot after another event I went to last month called Careers Using Languages. Three translators were speaking there and they said that deciding what to do after you BA can be very tough so you need to consider two things: what do you like, and what are you good at?
I will never have the experience and practice necessary to being a translator unless I spend all my free-time on it and let’s be honest: translating doesn’t make you rich. And by that, I mean that you struggle to make a living. I find this thought way too scary to pursue my dreams. I still went to get some sort of “confirmation”. At the end of the session, I asked what I thought was a ridiculous question: can you become a translator without doing a BA or an MA in translation? The answer is yes, but it’ll obviously be harder. It’s good to know and I’ll still think about it…
I am very glad I went to both talks though and will definitely go again next year when I’m freaking out and having an existential crisis. It is totally worth it even if you hate some of the panels: it means you know what you are definitely not interested in (that’s what happened to me and publishing at Working With Words 2015). More generally, I’m sure you’ll be interested and motivated by all the speakers. There’s something so satisfying about a recent graduate telling you they have a job and that if they managed, you can too.