By Emma Heathcote
Photographs by Helena Tomlinson
“Soon Is Now is an event designed to give students confidence in their degree and where it can take them.” – Head of MMU’s English Department, Dr Jess Edwards
With the increasingly competitive job market it can be daunting for students when they finally have to leave the security blanket of education and make it in the real world. However, the Soon Is Now event, organised by Manchester Metropolitan University’s Humanities, Languages and Social Sciences faculty, proved last week that a Humanities degree offers desirable qualities to employers and that students can get great jobs, albeit not without persistence and hard work.
The day began with an introduction by the Dean of the Faculty, Dr Sharon Handley, who said that “education is the biggest investment you make in your future.” There are more opportunities than ever for students to gain access into higher education and while, of course, this is a good thing it means a far more competitive world with many students often going for a single placement. ‘Education’ therefore goes beyond classroom learning and requires students to learn skills and life lessons which will enable them to compete with other students to gain jobs and opportunities.
The first speech of the day came from poet and fiction writer, Kei Miller, who published his first book Kingdom of Empty Bellies in 2006, The Fear of Stones, a collection of short stories, in 2007 and a collection of poetry There is an Anger That Moves. Miller also won the Forward Prize for Poetry in 2014. He came to MMU to study an MA in Creative Writing at the Manchester Writing School. Miller demonstrated to students the advantages of continuing their education to postgraduate level. He said that not only did MMU offer “a space to write,” but that “part of the experience was the friends [he] made,” some of which, he said, he still remains in contact with. Studying to postgraduate level allows students to retain the same student experience whilst studying more specifically for an occupation when they finish. Postgraduate study is useful because graduates can study at any time not just straight from undergraduate level. It also provides the possibility for people to change their careers by studying something completely new at this level so graduates’ options are always open.
Kevin Gopal, a graduate of politics and Philosophy, also spoke at Soon is Now. Kevin worked on a low-budget magazine for Manchester’s Chinese community before becoming a business journalist writing about the global pharmaceutical industry. He is now editor of The Big Issue in the North, a weekly general interest magazine. Kevin spoke about how a Humanities degree gives students a “spirit of enquiry” that is not only useful in journalism but in a range of careers students may want to pursue. He also spoke about how to be successful in journalism and gave advice such as “be knowledgeable” and to “look at sections [in newspapers] you wouldn’t normally look at,” which would increase flexibility in graduates’ writing ability. Kevin stressed the neccessity of looking for opportunities yourself, even if they may not seem to be ideal, such as unpaid internships, and said that it was important not to limit yourself to one narrow field.
The event also showcased to students another route into postgraduate work through Graduate Intern Schemes. While some students might wince at the word ‘intern’ and associate it with unpaid extended tea-making and photocopying, MMU’s internships are far more useful. MMU offers paid internships to students that can then lead onto full-time work at the university. This scheme equips graduates with useful skills which they can then use in a variety of jobs. Speakers, Megan Smith and John Singh-Green, spoke about their own successes through this scheme. Megan spoke very highly of the skills that she learned, saying, “the internship equipped me with many skills – such as project management, communication, team work and management,” all of which are all useful to potential employers. Other positives of the scheme include confidence-building, great opportunities and that it bridges the gap between being a student and getting a job. John also said the scheme allows you to “get involved in a variety of projects.” For students who are interested in the scheme but worry about making the step up from student to working full time John said that although there is “a massive difference between student and staff, the internship prepares you for it.”
This event included the opportunity for students to get advice from and put questions to graduates from their own field. The English graduates panel consisted of Anna Manton, Katie Parker and Tanzeel Akhtar who have worked in Television, Politics, Financial Journalism and Teaching respectively. The English panel offered students an open and frank discussion of their experiences of life after university. There was a large emphasis placed on networking – the idea that students can’t be afraid to put themselves out there to connect with people who could potentially offer them experience or work. It was also advised that students make use of the digital age and use social media to make links with people and businesses and to build up a good profile for themselves. The panel said that the literature they studied on the course helped them with the careers and that they learned useful skills through studying English.
Overall the panel had this advice to offer to students:
- Be persistent
- Volunteer and put yourself out there
- Be visible and use social media
The event was a success because the speakers weren’t afraid to tell students the truth that the real world is competitive – more so now than ever – and that it can be hard to find work after university. However, they said that as long as students are willing to go beyond what is expected of them in the classroom they are putting themselves in a good position to do well. The essential message was that a Humanities degree definitely provides graduates with with skills that employers look for.
A lot of speakers spent time praising MMU’s Erasmus scheme where students go abroad to study for a year in another university. There was much emphasis placed on this and other schemes, such as exchanges, societies, projects and volunteering, providing the chance to develop students’ personal confidence and employment prospects.
Students are under more pressure than ever to not only achieve a good honours degree, but also to have built up a good CV of work experience which demonstrates their transferable skills. However, at MMU students are not expected to do this alone, the event showcased how the university can help students stand out by joining societies and taking part in extra-curricular activities such the MMU Student Press Office, Manchester Children’s Book Festival and Make a Difference projects which are all designed to help students by giving them ‘real world’ work experience and so develop their CVs whilst studying.
MMU Futures allows students to collect points from doing activities and attending courses which then go towards an award – either bronze, silver or gold. Not only can students write about this award on their CV but it also offers them the chance to do an array of activities outside their field of study to gain a diverse set of skills. There is also a great deal of help available through Careers and Employability. This service helps students improve their CVs, runs workshops and mock interviews and holds drop in sessions to help students with their future.
The main purpose of Soon Is Now was for students to see that there is a huge variety of options available to them when they graduate. MMU’s Humanities students are well equipped with useful, transferable skills which are desirable to future employers and if they are prepared to put in the effort both in and outside of the classroom then they will do well in the future. Students told us they “felt reassured about the future” and that there were “people from every walk of life” in “a range of careers” at the event. They also said that the event highlighted the fact that they needed to do “a lot more volunteering.” There was praise of the Q&A sessions which were “useful but not too serious,” so students were well informed but felt they could connect with speakers. Overall the purpose of the event was to reassure students that a Humanities degree is a valuable asset in today’s jobs market and from the students’ reactions it appeared to do just that.
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