By Samantha J Rayner, on 8 June 2015
It’s that time of year again: this year’s group of MA Publishing students are now mostly off-campus, either doing work placements, researching dissertations, or in some cases starting new jobs. Next year’s cohort are in the wings, but already real presences waiting for the new term to start in September. So for the staff team, as we wait for news of job offers, or of confirmation that place offers on the course have been firmly accepted, it’s a time for celebration, and of anxiety, and of anticipation.
We are lucky at UCL that we can genuinely recruit our students from all the applications we get in: we interview ones whose application forms look promising, and then if the interview goes well, we offer a place. We are, very simply, looking for the best potential out there – regardless of previous experience, degree subject, or place of origin. It’s a bit like being a publisher: we have to review all the ‘raw’ manuscripts (ie applicants), judge which look like they will be responsive to work with, and then commit to editing skills so that each individual is an enhanced and employable person at the end of the course. It’s a responsibility we take very seriously: increasingly, we need employers to realise the value a UCL graduate has, and that means trusting us, as a team, to pick strong students. The strengths may be very varied, and come through in all sorts of industry-relevant ways, (our alums have jobs all over the world, and in every sector of publishing), but the core thread that connects us all is that commitment to keep learning, to keep trying to improve, to be open to new ideas, and be able to explore them with a realistic appreciation of commercial and cultural contexts.
Each year group is unique, and as such it is like building a new company every time the course kicks off again: will the students all ‘gel’? Will we be able to help them fulfil their expectations? What will we be able to achieve this year? Every year our students help drive our course ambitions, and encourage more risk-taking activities. 2014/15 saw us team up with BiC to run a production module that was not only industry-led and relevant, but also saw the class produce an amazing book, London Life, in just 12 weeks. Thanks to the energy and belief of Heather O’Connell and Karina Luke, this module enabled students to really appreciate the exciting range of job roles within production, and to consider careers linked to this vital part of the industry.
The Publishing Project module, in its second year, saw students take and run with projects that were all challenging – some with external partners that meant steep learning curves all round! We have been deeply impressed with the patience and professionalism showed, however: the William Morris Society at Hammersmith will soon be taking delivery of a book created by one team, while this year’s UCL Publishers’ Prize Anthology is already selling well in Waterstones Gower Street. Jeremy Bentham’s Cookbook, another project working with the UCL Transcribe Bentham team, will be coming out over the summer, and there is more to come from other groups, too!
We’ve been extremely fortunate to be able to work with some amazing people from the industry this year, too – and we are deeply grateful for their input and support. It is critical that we remain closely connected to publishing companies, and responsive to the need for new skills (consumer insight has been an area we’ve tried to focus more on this year, for instance – thanks largely to our alum, Kate Jervis, now Marketing Analytics Manager at Harper Collins): the MA is a professionally focussed course, with the main aim of training people in skills and knowledge of how the book trade world operates so that they can gain employment in it as soon as possible once the course has finished.
We are very proud of all our students, past and present: no matter where they are, or what they are doing, it is definitely our privilege to work with such talented people, and a joy to spend time with them. It’s why every year flies by so quickly, and why it is always such a pleasure to share good news from them. UCL Press, which launched last week, took Samuel Johnson’s definition of “To Publish” as the text on their tote bags: ‘1.To discover to mankind; to make generally and openly known’. I cannot think of a better aim for our MA than to try and help make each of our students happy, confident, productive and valued members of the publishing industry, and to continue to connect with and promote their successes beyond the life of the course. So, good luck to the class of 2014/15, and welcome to the incoming class of 2015/16! Keep in touch – we love hearing from you all!