Department of Literature, Film and Theatre Studies

Sian's career story

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Why did you decide to study your course at Essex?

I was placed into clearing. The University of Essex accepted me, and to be honest, I didn't know what to expect until I attended an open day that summer. I fell in love with the campus, owing to its wide green spaces and brutalist architecture, and it helped that my student guide studied literature, so she had plenty to say about the LiFTS department I was about to join.

What did you enjoy most about your studies? Which modules or areas of research did you particularly enjoy?

I enjoyed the range of literary styles and periods we were taught. My main interest has always been Modernist literature, but my undergraduate course allowed me to discover a passion for ancient texts and philosophy which I hadn't been able to explore at school and Sixth Form. In the first and second year of my BA course, the compulsory modules allowed me to scope out the areas of literature that I enjoyed, and others that I wasn't so interested in. In the third year, this gave me the ability to know exactly which topics I excelled in, and I was able to choose the modules I truly loved. Despite the pressure, the third year of my BA was my favourite; I particularly enjoyed the Cityscapes of Modernism, Decorum and Decay, and The Symbolic Imagination modules.

Did you take any modules from outside your discipline? If so, what did you gain from taking an interdisciplinary approach?

In my first year, I was able to choose a module outside of my department, so I went for the bright and breezy Death, God and the Meaning of Life module from the Philosophy department. Despite a 10am Friday morning class (Thursday night was student night in town!), I was hooked on this course. I discovered thinkers and texts that I had never heard of, and being taught the ability to think critically, and formulate arguments and essays in a logical, structured way has served me well throughout my career.

Did you undertake a placement or work experience while studying?

I undertook a paid placement while I was an MA student, becoming an editor of the ESTRO journal. This definitely stood out on my CV, and I have no doubt that it helped me get my foot in the door as a magazine journalist. I also mentored an undergraduate student when I studied for my MA: this marked my first steps on the road to people management, which is now a core part of my job.

What employability/further study skills did studying at Essex give you?

Studying at Essex didn't just make me more employable in an obvious, written CV sense. I believe that the most important skill an arts education provides is the ability to think critically. You'll be deciphering the meaning behind texts day in, day out; working out the reasons for characters' actions; trying to understand why an author crafted their work in specific ways: all of this will make you form opinions, develop more empathy, and understand your own mind better. You'll take this out into the wider world, and perhaps rethink entrenched world views and the ideas of those around you.

What have you done since graduating from Essex?

Since graduating from Essex, I have become a Deputy Editor at Aceville Publications. I work on Veggie magazine, which is a monthly magazine dedicated to ethical living, sustainable fashion, cruelty-free beauty and vegetarian food.

With your new career, how did you get your start?

There was an Editorial Assistant position at the company. Journalism is a notoriously difficult sector to find work in, due to the level of competition, so I have no doubt that my ESTRO placement, degrees and mentoring experience helped me to stand out in a flooded market.

Could you describe a typical day?

Coffee! Followed by an hour of reading the latest online newsletters in sustainable living, fashion and beauty, to keep on top of the trends. I will take calls from our advertising team about products they'd like to feature in the magazine. The morning is spent writing print and online features and my afternoons are dedicated to meetings, admin, image selection and feature research, and proofing the work of the Content Writer before giving her feedback, amongst many other things!

What do you enjoy about your work?

Variation! I usually have around 25 pages to write per monthly magazine, blogs to upload on the latest trends, features meetings, managerial meetings and photoshoots to direct at our studio, meeting PR's in London, visiting out photography studio, directing beauty shoots, reviewing beauty treatments and new vegan restaurants. During monthly press week, I proofread work and suggest edits. Creating a product that people enjoy reading, and steering them in an ethical direction is probably the most rewarding part of my job.

What do you expect your next step to be?

My next step will be to become an Editor within the company, but new opportunities are always popping up, and I have considered taking a step into the digital side of publishing. It's a very interesting time for members of the media!

How relevant is your degree to your job?

My degrees have been absolutely fundamental to my job. The writing and editing skills I gained when studying have been critical in my role, and studying to a high level has enabled me to be promoted at a relatively young age. Constructing an engaging piece of writing was paramount when writing essays, and it's just as important now when I write for consumer media.

What advice would you give to someone looking for a similar role?
  • Make your CV look as impressive as possible by gaining relevant experience
  • Explore the paid opportunities on campus if you're put off by unpaid internships
  • Don't be too picky if you want to get into journalism - a foot in the door is all you need if you're enthusiastic and ambitious
  • Don't rush to work in London, or even for a huge company
  • Working for a smaller publisher also means you can learn a variety of skills. For example my role encompasses that of a picture editor, sub-editor, deputy and writer
  • Starting small will give you a wealth of skills that will look impressive if you then decide to move on to Conde Nast, for example!
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BA English Literature

Studying English Literature at Essex will revolutionise the way you think about literature. We’ll challenge you to reflect on how literature shapes, and is shaped by, the world.

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