By Dan Wilberforce
BSc Geography (Class of 2013)
So I’m sitting on the London Underground listening to a more-than-slightly-tipsy-Londoner complaining about minicab companies, the pitfalls of the new Hackney Carriage and the reason why he never uses the Tube anyway. It never runs on time, it’s too cramped, the seats smell…”Northern Line this, Northern Line that….”The people of this particular cramped Tube car, on this particular Thursday in January react in the typical London way to the guy’s blusters; awkward shuffles of annoyance, sideways dagger glances and sighs galore…but undoubtedly and perhaps predictably an overwhelmingly apathetic tone triumphs amongst the victims of London’s evening rat-race.
Things weren’t looking like they were going to improve much, when from the corner of the carriage a familiar and welcome accent makes a lively appearance in the form of a small stocky Scouser, resplendent in merchandise from Liverpool FCs official store.
‘Hey mate!’ hollered the Red, catching our evening in-car entertainment’s attention. ‘Shut up will ya, … you’re really doing me nut in. I’m sure we’ve all had a long day and listening to you is seriously down the list of ideal commute options.’
From the eyes wide, slightly panicky astonishment gripping the face of the perpetrator, this sudden outburst of heart-on-sleeve honesty shocked and certainly thwarted any continuation of that specific evening lecture; and the reaction of the crowd was no less brilliant. Visible displays of relief started spreading across the faces of the other car passengers, then that relief turned to joy… and then energy. Soon the carriage was buzzing and people actually started talking to each other. It was great to see, and it all started with a Scouse bloke lightening the mood with a bit of ‘everyone else was thinking it, I just said it’ attitude.
This got me thinking about my time in Liverpool and the energy the city has, the days of Bold Street Coffee, Leaf and Heebies; reasonable rent, ‘8 Days a Week’ all day breakfasts, News from Nowhere, cheap gigs, quad vods, BBQs in the Park, and of course the fact that you knew what you were going to do for at least three years. When you’re in the moment, enjoying (or not) the security of a commitment to something that takes time, it’s easy to overlook the peace of mind that it provides, and consequently not take advantage of that security in a more proactive way. So when Pete North asked me to write a bit about my experiences post Liverpool, and buzzing with nostalgia after the ‘Scouser on the Tube’ episode, I thought I might try and offer some insights and reflections that I and some of my friends have had as a postgrad.
I have recently completed an MSc in Human Rights at the LSE, which is granted a bit more than a hop skip and a jump (subject wise) from the BSc in Geography that I took at Liverpool. Though Geography does have this knack of being very good at providing rounded skill sets. Nonetheless, the masters was challenging; a year of intensive study, meeting people, a new city (that is considerably more expensive than Liverpool), starting to think more in sociological terms than paleoclimatological ones, all whilst trying to find a niche that would suit my new found, slightly abstract collection of qualifications. However, to finish a masters degree and then find myself unable to get anything other than an unpaid internship in any of the related fields was an obstacle that I had not predicted, and actually turned out to be the hardest period of my academic/work related life to date. But it was my fault, and it could have mostly been avoided. See, I was under the impression that I would be able to walk out of the those graduation doors, slam the degrees down on the CV and let the job offers role in, or at least get some interest from something interesting.
I got a linkedIn email from a small recruitment firm in Wandsworth.
I didn’t understand. So I started sending off application after application, CV after CV, cover letter after cover letter….. 20 applications, 30, 40 , 50….
What I became increasingly aware of was the fact that I hadn’t used my time, my exposure to academics, my access to career services or peers as effectively as I might have. Lots of people around me were getting good roles, paid ones, loads of responsibility, challenging positions…what did they have that I didn’t? In reality it was what they had done, as well as what they had. They had spent time developing relationships with various different professionals, as well as people their own age that were interested in roughly similar trajectories. Also something that became apparent was that people had multiple potential routes and aspirations, there was and still is little need to nail one’s flag to the mast so early on, though it does help to work within some relatively refined parameters. This takes me back to the time available to one when studying for a bachelors degree. You have long holidays and plenty of time during term to explore different potential routes for after you graduate. You can use the holidays to do a few short internships, get to know some people in the industries or sectors that interest you, because it is these relationships that open the doors later on. It doesn’t have to take up the whole holiday, just a week or three. Any work put in early on will certainly pay off later on. If finding these connections is a bit daunting, try the professors, try the careers service, the more you put in to finding and developing these early networks…the easier it will be to actually get a fulfilling role. This also applies just as much to any masters level preparation or participation, although I found it harder to find the time during a masters degree.
I am saying this from personal experience and observation… You can work very hard, get a very good degree, but the guy/girl who has made the extra effort to show interest and demonstrate ability to potential employers will be ahead by a decent margin; and it’s very competitive out there right now….don’t be fooled by the zero hour contract revised stats, jobs are hard to find. Also this sort of planning is what you will start doing when starting to work full time. People may start bandying around words like nepotism, brown-nosing and favouritism. But this isn’t what building a network is. Building a network is about finding likeminded people within all age brackets that you can help and that can help you, it is about co-operation and mutual benefit, it is essential in the modern work environment and something you do anyway, though probably in a more social capacity. However, avoid at all costs being way too keen, it just annoys people.
Another thing to try is exploring more people within societies or different social groups at uni. I know most of my extended group of mates focused around groups formed in Halls, but there are so many people around. If you want to find people with big ideas, unless you’re lucky, they probably won’t just appear.
And lastly, do talk to your professors and lecturers. They really do have a tonne of experience in a huge range of areas. I know so many people who went through their entire undergraduate degree (and even masters) without really having a proper chat to the academics at their institution. Don’t do that. You’ll find most of them drink beer, and picking their brains (if they have the time) over a pint is always a good way to find out more about opportunities that interest you.
So all these things, are all undertakings that I’ve been trying to do with more frequency towards the end of my masters and upon completion. I have been interning for various Human rights NGOs, writing some articles for small newspapers, taking testimonies from Darfuri genocide victims, helping to organise attendees for the Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations, attempting to recruit SMEs into custom Corporate Social Responsibility schemes (especially payroll giving), and trying to play a bit of music on the side. I’m also trying to start a social enterprise that provides legal assistance and safe-housing for sex trafficking victims in the UK, but funding seems to be the big next question (guess it’s a watch this space type thing).
I hope that some of these little insights prove helpful for anyone who reads this. I hope it wasn’t too prescriptive, but reading a little chronology about what I’ve been doing might have been a little bland. Liverpool is still without a doubt my favourite city in the UK. I come back as often as I can, and I’m sure that will be the case for years to come. If you’re there, soak up the atmosphere and energy, its good for the soul!