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Alum Interview: Sarah Fortais, PhD Fine Art, Slade School of Fine Art 2018

Joe O'Brien24 November 2020

Read time: 5 minutes

Interview with Sarah Fortais, PhD Fine Art, Slade School of Fine Art 2018

What is the core purpose of your role and what typical activities does it involve?

As a self-employed artist I create work for exhibitions, performances, private commissions, and public artworks. These include large-scale, permanent bronze works as well as ephemeral works made from found materials. I also teach, running courses during the Slade Summer School and giving lectures both across London and in Canada. My specialisation is sculpture and performance and so most of my teaching revolves around these subjects, but sometimes it also incorporates the study of creativity and ways of implementing creative methodologies, which relates to my PhD research.

I live and work in my studio and so a fair chunk of my time is spent ensuring that all my equipment is running safely and also coming up with new ways of storing more and more work.

Another important part of my day-to-day operation is organising logistics for installation and delivery of artworks, and keeping up to date with necessary safety training and licensing. This has at times involved learning to use different types of 3D rendering software, so as to ensure work can be approved before installation. Because I build and install most of my works by myself, staying physically active is extremely important to my job, and I try to take time away to hike and stay active. Most of the time however, I seem to get my exercise by wearing spacesuits or carrying giraffe parts across London.

What kind of people and clients do you work with?

I have worked with UCL on a number of projects including the UCL Donor Wall, which involved working with hundreds of different people including students, staff, volunteers, charities, private and corporate benefactors, and recipients of research scholarships or patients of medical procedures directly resulting from UCL’s research. I also work with artist groups such as London Sculpture Workshop and London Bronze Casting and institutions like the Pompidou Centre and the Victoria & Albert Museum. I have taught students aged 10 and upwards but primarily I focus on teaching University students completing a Bachelor’s degree in a creative subject. In addition to lecturing on fine art programmes, I have also lectured for London College of Fashion because my PhD research focused on defining cool, which also included defining concepts such as trend and copying. Through exhibiting and performing my work I have been able to travel across the UK as well as France and Canada, and have been able to work with local residents, tourists, refugees, and first-time gallery goers. Part of why I have chosen to be self-employed is because I enjoy working with continuously changing clients.

How did you get to where you are now?

I completed my PhD research in 2018 and so I have only been self-employed in the UK for the last year and a half. In order to gain contracts I first answered a lot of open calls for artworks and volunteered my time invigilating exhibitions for my peers, in order to gain a back-catalogue of work and experiences that I could draw from when applying for paid contracts. I still sometimes exhibit my work for free or for a small financial loss for the exposure which I feel has led to many groups independently contacting me with offers of commissions and performance opportunities. I also try to experiment with my performances in public and document them whenever possible. This means that even when I have a work-in-progress I can get public feedback and sometimes even free materials or meals!

What have been some challenges to your role due to Covid-19 and how have these been responded to/managed?

Seeing galleries and campuses close to the public has meant that many of my contracts/commissions have either been postponed or cancelled outright. I also lost a commission due to the fact that the client felt that they were no longer able to support an artwork that encouraged people to come together, which was a real shame because for me that’s what makes art-making worthwhile. As a result of losing these opportunities, I took on two key-worker roles in London, one as a part-time Art Technician at a public high school, and another at a bakery, to make ends meet. I have since left the bakery position as enough of my fine art contracts have picked up again, but I used the position as an opportunity to practice my fine motor skills, to increase my knowledge of health and safety in the public sector, and to divert/recycle food waste. I have found working as a technician with high school aged students to be very rewarding and it’s inspired me to begin private tutor sessions as well as revisit some mixed media projects that I did not resolve while on my BFA. Furthermore, as a key worker I have been able to commute without interruption and subsequently I produced a performance series with artist Emma Burdon to chronicle how London’s coffee shops have been adapting and changing over the past months.

How do you see your work, or that of the sector more generally, impacting on societal wellbeing as we learn to live with Covid, and do you see any signs that investment in the arts will increase as part of the health and wellbeing response? 

I think most people are aware that both making and experiencing artwork can have a profoundly positive impact on wellbeing. It’s also acutely apparent that there are many, many groups of people underrepresented in the arts and excitingly, I have seen a positive shift at the grassroots level toward supporting artists from a wider range of backgrounds. At the same time, I feel that most large institutions have yet to reflect these changes, and I also feel that overall, the arts industry places far too much emphasis on exclusivity both for its commercial viability, and for determining its conceptual and social value. What I would like to see is a large-scale reimagining of the fine arts sector and for artists to become employed across a wider range of disciplines, so as to more deeply integrate art-making into every sector. I have always preferred to find art in unexpected places and so I feel that personally, in order to make work that I feel is relevant to other people, it should take place in any setting that people are willing to constructively criticise, interact with, or enjoy it. In 2018, artist Zeinab Saleh curated an exhibition titled Widening the Gaze at UCL’s Slade Research Centre, which included an astounding array of works by artists whom I feel are already challenging and profoundly impacting the arts industry in ways that can only result in improved societal wellbeing.

How would you go about getting experience (placements, work experience, internship) in the industry you work in?

There are many online opportunities available on an international level that have recently become exclusively online. As for work experience, I would suggest that artists continue to answer open calls (many groups like A-N and Curator space have been posting calls consistently over the last few months) and asking for feedback whenever possible. I also have found it immensely helpful to look outside my industry for experience. For example, while completing my education I worked as an Assistant Foreman and Environmental Resource at Habitat for Humanity, and also was employed by my Students’ Union while studying at Central Saint Martins. As it might not be possible at the moment to gain experience invigilating or assisting other artists in their studio, I would instead suggest honing your skills on small, manageable projects or experiments and document them in a way to build up a portfolio for future assignments.

What is the one thing students can be doing right now to boost their career prospects at a time where opportunities in the arts may be limited?

As a sculptor, I would suggest focusing on resourcefulness and using any time that can be made available to develop new ways of sourcing materials, techniques, and ways of presenting, and then resolving a few artworks that can be used to showcase your adaptability to employers/clients/institutions. My advice is not to focus on self-reliance, but rather, to use the changing environment as part of the process of generating artwork and finding safe ways of being visible. For instance, I used the changing rules about travelling in London to my advantage and was able to produce a performance which took place completely masked on the London Underground. Prior to lockdown, the TFL told me I was not allowed to create such a performance but with the changing rules it actually meant that my performance became not only allowed, but became the safest way to travel. The only misstep at this time would be to stop producing artwork.

Do you have any top tips for current students who may be interested in your career area?

For any portfolio it is paramount that it includes what appears to be completed works. However, I want to stress that whether or not you as the artist thinking that the work is completed is irrelevant to whether it appears completed to others. Thus, my advice is to focus on how you frame or present your works so that each time you share them they can, for each client, uniquely and contextually be experienced as completed works. This will give you a competitive edge compared to other student portfolios that stress artworks as assignments or experiments, as they are not using their portfolio as an opportunity to demonstrate an understanding of the client’s needs or sensibilities.

Insights from UCL Class of 2008 Webinar

Joe O'Brien31 August 2020

Read time: 3 minutes

Written by Glyn Jones, Careers Consultant at UCL Careers

Nick Coveney, Publisher Relations and Content Lead at Rakuten Kobo Inc took part in a recent UCL Careers, Class of 2008 insights webinar. I’ve summarised 5 of the key messages from Nick’s journey about how he went about navigating the job market during the last global recession in 2008.

  1. Having a clear idea of where you want to go can be very useful

Nick knew exactly what he wanted to do when he applied to university. He had a clear career goal of working in publishing and becoming an editor. Through having this goal in mind, Nick was able to seek out relevant opportunities, make the most of societies, volunteering and work placement opportunities that presented themselves to him. Nick spoke about how knowing exactly what he wanted to do helped him embrace opportunities such as getting a placement with a publishing house, volunteering with the most suitable societies and picking the right postgraduate course to study. This confidence in knowing exactly what he wanted to do helped him hone his skills and tailor his experiences, which would ultimately lead to him working in his chosen sector of interest.

Not everyone has a clear idea of exactly where they want to go, but having an idea of a sector of interest can be really valuable as it allows you focus on getting key experiences that will prove relevant further down the line.

If you want to learn more about specific industries and the graduate opportunities available, take a look at the Job Sectors section of the Prospects website.

  1. Things may not go according to plan: adapt and be resilient

Nick had three goals when graduating with his BA in English from the University of Nottingham.

  1. Get a good English degree from a good university
  2. Secure a graduate job with a major publisher
  3. Become an editor

The plan was ticking along nicely and Nick had even secured a graduate scheme. Then the financial crash of 2008 happened. In the matter of a few weeks, Nick went from being well on track, to graduating with a 2:2 and having his graduate scheme cancelled. Despite these setbacks, Nick didn’t allow this to prevent him from pursuing his chosen career path. He adapted his plans and took what opportunities he could, eventually ending up in his dream role as an editor.

Resilience and the ability to adapt is key when searching for career opportunities. There are very few people who have never been rejected or unsuccessful at some point in their career. What’s important is to not give up. Adapt to the circumstances you’re in and continue to strive for your desired end goal.

Read our blog post on Building Resilience in Your Job Hunt: How to Progress Your Career Planning and Overcome Setbacks in Challenging Times for tips dealing with setbacks.

  1. Any opportunity can offer skills

After hearing that his graduate scheme was cancelled, Nick had to move back home and extend his part time job, working full time just so he could earn a living. Although not what he wanted to do, this opportunity still provided him with experiences that developed his transferrable skills.

This opportunity also maintained Nick’s drive and energy to succeed in his sector of interest. Through doing something he didn’t want to do, it reaffirmed his desire to work in the publishing industry and acted as motivation for him to pursue his goal with even more vigour.

In challenging times you may sometimes need to compromise on your first choice job, but don’t forget that the transferrable skills you develop in these roles can still be useful when it comes to applying for more desired positions in the future.

If you want to learn more about how and when you can develop your transferrable skills be sure to visit the UCL Careers Skills Hub.

  1. Make the most of extracurricular opportunities, but know your limitations

Nick spoke about how he enjoyed working with societies and clubs during his undergraduate degree at Nottingham and added how useful these had been in future job applications. However, he did state that he was possibly guilty of getting too involved in these extracurricular activities, which meant that his studies suffered. When completing his masters at UCL, he seemed to find a much better balance. He still volunteered at some societies and was a course representative, but this time he made sure that he gave his studies enough time, enabling him to secure a distinction.

Finding the right balance between academic and non-academic commitments can be tricky whilst at university. Involvement with clubs, societies and work placements can be valuable when it comes to applying for roles, but try to make sure this isn’t to the detriment of your academic pursuits.

To find out about the range of clubs and societies you can get involved with at UCL, take a look at the UCL Student’s Union Clubs & Societies Directory.

  1. Find your niche

Nick had a clear idea of where he wanted to go with his career and was able to pursue this, even if it meant not following the most direct career path. However, it was interesting to note that while Nick thought he knew exactly what he wanted to do, he actually found an area within that sector that suited him even more. Through different experiences in his chosen sector and developing areas of interest during his academic studies, such as his dissertation, he carved out his own niche. He utilised the skills he’d developed through his experiences and combined these with knowledge of the sector he was interested in during his studies.

Sometimes, to identify your niche you can’t be afraid of moving away from your ‘dream job’. If you know the sector and are aware of what you’re good at, then this doesn’t need to be a scary prospect. Think of it as a matter of utilising the skills and experience that you’ve acquired, thereby offering something that no one else is able to within the sector.

If you’d like to discuss how you might go about finding your niche in a professional setting, or if you want to speak about any of the topics mentioned in this article please do book a one-to-one appointment with one of our Careers Consultants.

It was heartening hearing about Nick’s journey. He proved that even when times are challenging, it doesn’t mean that your dream job is off the cards. If you weren’t able to attend the session yourself, you can find the full recording of the session here.

Sector Insights: Market and Social Research

Joe O'Brien28 July 2020

Read time: 3 minutes

Written by Susanne Stoddart, Recruitment and Selection Advice Manager at UCL Careers

What is market and social research?

Market and social research is an incredibly broad and wide-ranging sector that is primarily concerned with using research as a tool to support decision making. The research could pretty much be about anything – from informing decisions about brand packaging to decisions affecting government policy.

The quantitative and qualitative methods that are used in the research are again extremely varied – for example, researching using the internet, analysis of data from consumer wearables, taste testing, focus groups and large-scale international telephone surveys. Social researchers use many of the same skills and methods as market researchers but their concern is always with improving the performance of the public sector through influencing national policy or policy at a local level.

The majority of market researchers work within a research agency. Some large research agencies within the private sector, such as Ipsos MORI and Kantar Public UK, also have specialist social research departments. However, other key employers of social researchers include central government departments, local authorities, higher education research institutions, social research agencies such as NatCen, charities, pressure and lobby groups and trade unions.

For further introductory insights into the market and social research sector, I would recommend this Career Guide put together by the Market Research Society.

Meet David Ireland, Research Manager at Ipsos MORI

I recently contacted David Ireland on LinkedIn to find out about his experience as a Research Manager at Ipsos MORI, and his route into the market and social research sector. David completed his MSc in Security Studies at UCL in 2015 and he told me that he enjoys a career that draws upon his academic training, allowing him to use his research skills to impact business.

David also kindly answered my following questions:

Did you do anything during your time at UCL or after you finished your degree that helped prepare you for your current job?

Whilst at UCL, research methods modules were key. Alongside that, work experience was key. Not just internships – some of the most useful lessons were from when I worked in a running shop as it really built my presentation and communication skills.

What are the key skills that you use in your current job?

Juggling multiple tasks and projects isn’t to be underestimated! Analysis with a curious eye – thinking about what research means and what should be done off the back of it. Presentation skills and communicating – I do quite a lot of presenting and talking and that’s super important. Other things include writing, data visualisation, delegating (up and down).

What does a typical day at work looks like for you? What do you find most enjoyable and most challenging?

A typical day starts between 9 and 9.30am. I catch up on emails and plan the day based on what’s going on. I typically spend time working on projects (PowerPoint reports are the norm), talking to other internal teams and having client meetings. Normally I have a client meeting once a week but that ebbs and flows (some weeks none, other weeks multiple). Most enjoyable is delivering something that is really good with powerful messages that has impact, whether a presentation or a report. Most challenging can be juggling multiple projects as there’s often a lot going on.

What would be your top piece of advice for current students interested in a career in research?

My advice would be to not just think of yourself as a researcher – especially if you’re interested in going into more of a commercial research role. Think about how research can impact business.

Next Steps to Building your Network

Despite the impact of Covid-19 and the current lack of in-person networking opportunities, here are some tips on how you can continue to build your connections and explore a career within the market and social research sector:

  • Whenever I reach out to UCL alumni like David and they respond with enthusiasm to help and fantastic advice, it’s a reminder of what great value and a source of support they can be to current students and recent graduates. So, if you’re interested in finding out more about a career in market and social research, reaching out to UCL alumni on platforms such as LinkedIn or UCL’s Alumni Online Community is a really great way to do this and to start building your network. Sometimes you might not hear back but hopefully sometimes you will – and it’s worth it!
  • You can find out more about using online platforms for networking in our recent blogpost on 5 Key Resources for Networking from Home.
  • For further insights into building connections within the market and social research sector, I would also recommend checking out networking advice provided by the Market Research Society.
  • Remember that if you would like to explore your career in the sector further – for example your networking plans, how to use the summer to develop relevant sector skills, or something else – you can book in with UCL Careers for a one-to-one guidance appointment.

Interview with an Alum: Theo Margolius

Joe O'Brien3 April 2020

Interview with Theo Margolius, UCL alum (2015) and Co-founder & COO at Otta. Written by Joe O’Brien, Marketing Communications Assistant at UCL Careers.

How did you get to where you are now in your career?

After graduating from UCL, I started my career in investment banking, a popular career choice for Economics students. After two years of learning about corporate finance and building up my analytical skills, I joined Nested.com, a fast-growing proptech startup. I had the opportunity to work in a few different roles across finance, operations and strategy, which gave me loads of exposure to different parts of the business. My time at Nested taught me a lot about what it’s like to grow a startup. While there, I worked closely with my two current co-founders, and we would spend weekends in the office working on different ideas. I left Nested after 18 months, had a couple of months off and then started Otta in June 2019. Starting a business has been a great challenge and very different to my last two jobs. I feel like we’ve made a lot of good progress already and I’m excited to see what the next few years hold!

What skills are involved in your current role?

Being an early stage founder requires you to wear a lot of different hats! One hour you’ll be meeting potential investors to try and raise money, the next you’ll be on a call with a customer trying to get their feedback on the product, then you’ll be interviewing a candidate and trying to convince them to work for you. If I had to pick one skill, I would say persistence. You need to believe that your idea needs to exist even when things are going wrong. It’s persistence that gets you through the challenging days.

What advice would you give to current students on getting into your sector?

I’m really passionate about encouraging people to work for startups, which is why I started Otta. If you want to work for startups or build your own business in the future, it helps a lot to be entrepreneurial early on and try out different ideas. While at UCL, I tried to start a tutoring business. It didn’t work out (because we weren’t persistent enough!), but that didn’t matter because I learnt a lot of valuable skills that helped me the next time around. If you have an idea, don’t be afraid to try and make something of it in your spare time, what’s the worst that can happen?

What is on the horizon within your industry/company that our students can learn and get excited about?

In my view, startups are by far the most exciting places to work. No two days are the same and the priorities of the business are constantly changing, which means you’re almost always learning something new. London is attracting billions of pounds of investment from venture capitalists every year, which is all going into funding and growing different ideas. Whatever sectors you’re interested in, you’ll always be able to find a business that’s doing something new and exciting. I don’t expect this innovation to slow down, and think Europe will continue to get more innovative and attract record levels of investment for many years to come.

If you could give a current student one piece of advice on something you wish you’d have known prior to starting your career what would it be?

If you find yourself in a job where you’re not learning, try to leave and find a job that pushes you. It’s really important to give yourself as many learning opportunities as possible during the formative years of your career, don’t play it safe!

Finally, can you tell us a bit more about Otta?

At Otta, we’re building the only place candidates need to go to find and secure roles at the world’s most innovative companies. We started Otta because the current options out there don’t put the interests of the job seeker first, with most recruitment companies focused on squeezing fees out of companies. Otta was founded in June 2019. We raised our first round of funding in November 2019, securing backing from some of the top investors in Europe, including LocalGlobe and Paul Forster, Co-founder of Indeed. Make sure to follow our journey ‘OttaHQ on Instagram!

Interview with an Alum: Suban Abdulle

Joe O'Brien26 March 2020

Interview with Suban Abdulle, UCL alum and entrepreneur. Written by Joe O’Brien, Marketing Communications Assistant at UCL Careers.

Hi Suban, tell us about where you are in your career and how you got there?

I’m the Founder and CEO of Silk Theory – a premium bedding Company, specialising in Silk Pillowcases! I actually started Silk Theory around 2 weeks after my last exam. This decision was considerably influenced by my role as the Managing Editor and Writer of UCL FinTech Business Review, where we interviewed, analysed and dissected some of FinTech’s most exciting startups.

How were UCL Careers able to support you as a student? 

A few weeks before my last exam, I booked a meeting with an advisor from UCL Innovation and Enterprise. This was really helpful, and I was able to sit down with an experienced business advisor and go through my business plan and strategy in depth! They also hold monthly networking sessions and competitions, which really helped me hone in on my pitching skills.

UCL Careers services, events, and resources are open to recent graduates like yourself for up to 2 years after graduation, how do you foresee yourself utilising UCL Careers services to help you reach your career goals?

I think it’s really useful to network as much as you can and to talk about your business to as many people as you can. I’ve attended a few of the events hosted by UCL Innovation and Enterprise and have met some really wonderful people who have been able to help me on my journey with Silk Theory!

What other services did you make use of during your time at UCL?

Whilst in my second year, I booked an appointment with the careers service to discuss my intended IB route post university. It was a great was to explore different avenues and options with someone experienced in career progression. This definitely helped get the ball rolling in terms of thinking outside the box!

Can you tell us what your favourite and/or most challenging aspects of being an entrepreneur are?

My favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur is being able to follow my passion and meet a lot of interesting and exciting people along the way. Also, meeting customers and hearing their love and passion for your product is really amazing.

A challenging aspect would be that it comes with a lot of ups and downs. Since this is my first venture, it’s pretty much been trial and error till now and I’ve learnt a great deal!

What career advice would you give to current UCL students ​or recent graduates reading this? ​

An advice that I would give is to set goals and be persistent in achieving them. Persistence is something which has been crucial in my growth. Also, if you’re looking to get into business, speak to as many people as you can about your idea. Utilise your network, and if you don’t have any … make some! We’re so lucky to be living in the era of LinkedIn and Instagram.

Where was your favourite place to go on campus when you studied here at UCL?

My favourite place on campus was definitely the main quad. After hours of revision, I’d often meet up with friends for a quick break and recharge for the next revision session. The open greenery and benches makes it the perfect spot to relax and socialise.

Where can readers find out more about Silk Theory?

The best place to find out more about Silk Theory is through our website www.silk-theory.com and our Instagram account @silktheoryuk! We can also be found on twitter at twitter.com/silktheory!

Sustainability Fortnight: Career Stories with Sustainable UCL

Joe O'Brien24 February 2020

As part of UCL Careers Sustainability Fortnight our colleagues at Sustainable UCL are sharing their career stories, motivations and top tips. Inspired? Check out our full events programme and learn more about careers in sustainability

Written by Katie Robinson, Sustainability Engagement Intern at Sustainable UCL.

What does your role consist of?

Having worked with the Sustainable UCL team for just five months, I have learnt an incredible amount in this short period of time. Not just about sustainability within UCL but about the larger Climate Crisis and the incredible actions students, staff, academics, scientists (the list goes on), are driving in a commitment to protecting our planet.

In broad terms, my role consists of developing sustainability engagement programmes at UCL, raising awareness around sustainability and encouraging, promoting, and facilitating actions among UCL staff and students.

A large part of my role is coordinating with our Green Champions across the many departments, to embed sustainability as common practice. We have developed the Green Impact toolkit to reflect UCL’s Sustainability Strategy 2019-2024. Since the launch of this Strategy, we have seen an encouraging increase in engagement and active participation. I work to bring these various activities and conversations into a cohesive whole, as much as possible, to showcase the incredible work individuals and teams are doing.

What got you interested in the environment?

It was during my Masters in Cultural Heritage Studies at UCL that I realised I cared about protecting the planet above all else. Heritage is a heterogeneous term so I turned my attention to human-nature relationships and how this has transformed over time, to where we are today.

This drive stems from the time I became vegetarian, instigated by a concern for animal welfare. As I moved towards veganism, I inevitably researched my new diet and it naturally fed into all of my other habits: shopping, consumption, hobbies, holidays, etc. An initial compassion for other species, evolved into a care for the environment and social justice, which are intrinsically tied in the climate crisis. My role with Sustainable UCL lets me share this passion and enthusiasm for positive change with others.

What tips would you give to someone interested in this field?

Do not worry if you have realised, after choosing/studying your degree that it no longer matches with your concern for sustainability. Every industry and sector must respond to the climate crisis now so whatever your field of study, they will need your academic expertise and commitment to sustainability to help them change. I have an undergraduate degree in History of Art and a postgraduate degree in Cultural Heritage Studies. I previously worked in hospitality for eight years. These previous pursuits do not seem particularly well suited to a career in this field but it is all about using the experience you do have to find the role that suits your strengths.

I would highly recommend reading plenty and often. News changes and research is outdated and updated regularly in the climate crisis, so read broadly. This can be commute reading such as articles on the tube. If you find an area you are particularly interested in, research with a little more focus on this and you will be well versed to talk about it in your next role.

Thank you to Katie and Sustainable UCL for sharing their career stories. Keep an eye out for our next edition coming soon. For remaining Sustainability Fortnight events, see here.

UCL alum shares experience of volunteering as Chairman of London Gay Men’s Chorus

Joe O'Brien20 January 2020

Written by Anthony Hull, MSc Construction and Enterprise Management 2011 & Project Manager at Network Rail

Background to the London Gay Men’s Chorus

The London Gay Men’s Chorus started in 1991 when 9 guys decided to sing Christmas carols at Angel Station to raise funds for the Terence Higgins Trust.  It has since grown to become a registered charity with over 300 members.  Other than performing and entertaining, educating and inspiring through song, its mission includes:

  • To provide a safe, supportive community for gay men to socialise, exchange ideas and have fun; and
  • To work with schoolchildren, teachers and parents to eradicate homophobic bullying.

When did you join the LGMC and why?

I joined the LGMC in January 2014. I had been in the choir at school and the work the group were doing and the events they took part in really struck a chord with me and something I felt I would love to be a part of. The rest is history.

Why did you decide to take on a volunteer role within the Chorus?

I felt that I had something to offer the group with my background in project management, as I could see that the work of the chorus consisted of many background parts that may not be immediately obvious. I have never been one to sit on the side lines and say what I think should be done – I want to get in there and play my part.  I particularly wanted to offer some support and give back to an organisation that was providing me and continues to give me such personal joy and contentment. I had no intention or wish to be the chair when I joined the committee, but as my time in various trustee roles lengthened, I gained the confidence to step up and take forward some of the ideas that had been forming in my mind.

As chairman, what are your main responsibilities?

I am both the lead for the internal management of the chorus as well as lead external representative with other organisations and have a varied mix of responsibilities both legal, strategic and operational. Firstly, I lead the Board of Trustees, which on a practical level involves the chairing of meetings and developing of the agenda each month as well as agreeing the roles and responsibilities of those on the board. I also have lead accountability for ensuring that the Chorus is complying with its legal obligations as a charitable company. The second part is strategic in terms of ensuring the chorus has a strategy and action plan in place to meet its objectives across the year and is always looking two to three years ahead, as these are the kind of timescales we need to work to in terms of planning for the shows, performances and tours we undertake. The third element is very practical day to day operations. Our trustee board currently also acts as the management committee, so I oversee a range of issues which require attention. These can be anything from ensuring we have refreshment provision at rehearsals to ensuring we have made our Gift Aid claims to ensure we have a good cash flow.

How have you found balancing your ‘day job’ with your Chairman responsibilities?

This is a huge challenge. My day job is a project manager for a range of construction schemes ranging in value of between £5m to c.£2bn. As with all projects, there are peaks and troughs of activity across a year and the biggest challenge is ensuring that I dedicate a portion of my time to my work as chair, whilst balancing with the needs of what I am paid to do. I don’t always get that right and too much focus in one area can cause a backlog in the other. A key lesson I have learnt is around ensuring I undertake activities in little and often bouts of work, prioritising what needs to be done, working gradually on some of the bigger ambitions our chorus has and also delegating to those who can dedicate time to a given task.

What would you say have been the top three benefits you’ve been able to action on behalf of the charity during your chairmanship?

I would say that the top three issues I have been able to bring in my time since being elected have been a much improved and more professional approach to our management of performances and events, right from the first contact to close out, payment and feedback at the end. I am working to ensure that we plan our years ahead in a much more systematic way in order to ensure that the chorus has a wide range of opportunities for members, whilst balancing the resources and finances available. The third area of activity is to get a greater focus on our financial sustainability. We have many ambitions about how we would like to do new projects, but we need to ensure we have a much more consistent and strengthened position – no different to any other charity no doubt!

Would you recommend volunteering / charitable work to others and if so, why?

Yes, I definitely would. I say this because volunteering and doing charitable work offers a way of enacting change and making an impact in an area which is of personal importance to you. It also allows you to bring skills from your day job and vice versa and brings a lot of satisfaction.

Where can people find out more about the LGMC / get involved in the charity?

You can visit our website at www.lgmc.org.uk for more information. Alongside joining and taking part as a singing member, you can also support our work as a non-singing member. Later in 2020, we shall be appointing external people to our board of trustees to bring a different perspective when making decisions and also skills that we may not have internally at present. Do keep an eye on our website for information about that or contact me on chair@lgmc.org.uk.

Insights Into: Working In Travel Journalism

skye.aitken27 November 2019

Written by guest writers, Sophie Dening and Katie Bowman.

A common thing people write under ‘hobbies and interest’ on a CV is ‘travel’. But have you ever thought about turning this interest into a career? Sally Brown, UCL Careers Consultant, talked to two UCL alumni who have done just that. 

Image of a woman taking a photo of some ruins in the sunshine

Sophie Dening, Editor and journalist

UCL graduate: BA French Language and Literature (1997)

Sophie is a self-employed editor and journalist – for publications such as Condé Nast Britain, Gourmet Traveller, the Evening Standard and the Daily Telegraph. She is also the acting production editor at Lonely Planet magazine.

How did you get your job?

I applied for my job as production editor at Lonely Planet magazine via a jobs site. I had been on extended maternity leave following a long period as a freelance food and travel writer. It took me six months of applying for jobs before I got one, and I had to accept a drop in my salary. 

What’s a typical day like?

I check emails and make sure I am up to date with where we’re at with all the pages of the magazine, as well as future issues and side projects, then divide my time between writing, editing and working in InDesign. I also manage another subeditor and a freelancer, and work on the flatplan and lead a weekly editorial meeting.

What do you enjoy about your role?

I enjoy working with words, I enjoy carrying out varied high-level administrative tasks, I appreciate working with a team and learning from them, and I enjoy regular hours and low stress.

What are the challenges?

Getting everything done in time, always – deadlines. Sheer volume of work.

How relevant is your degree to your current job?

Currently not particularly, more tangentially, in terms of working with texts. But as a freelancer I have worked as a translator for hotel brands, and worked extensively in Paris and France as a food and travel writer, where I have used my French language skills.

How has your role developed and what are your ambitions? My role here at Lonely Planet has been interesting as I have acted as a sort of workflow consultant as well as carrying out the usual tasks. It is a year-long contract covering someone else’s role. My ambition at present is to continue working for LP when I finish my contract, as a writer or project editor, and to find other regular freelance work that will fit in with my family commitments.

Any words of advice for someone wanting to get into this sector?

Try to get experience any which way you can: work on a student paper; write a blog; enter writing competitions, in order to populate your CV. And do try to enter a sector that will hold your interest for years to come; once you are established as any sort of specialist, it can be hard to move around within publishing. Advice for someone wanting specifically to become a production editor or chief sub in travel publishing? Get any subbing experience as you can and apply for junior subbing roles. You need to be really good at English, and be able to spot a spelling mistake – aka a typo, in the trade – at 20 paces. Read up on style (I recommend Butcher’s Copy-editing, Cambridge University Press). Travel writers and editors tend to be fairly well-travelled and may start to specialise (in terms of destinations) right from the start of their careers – rather than entering travel publishing in order to travel. You are bound to experience rejection in the publishing industry (don’t lose confidence – there are jobs out there!), and salaries have not gone up much recently. It can be tough being a freelancer, or advancing in a competitive sector. But it is an interesting industry, always changing, and full of great people and varied work.

Image of a woman walking through a field holding a camera

Katie Bowman, Features Editor, The Sunday Times Travel Magazine

UCL graduate: English (1999)

Katie has worked in her current role for nearly 17 years, she has also worked as a sub-editor for Condé Nast International and Marie Claire Australia.

So, what does a features editor for a travel magazine do?

The Sunday Times Travel magazine is different from newspapers – it is on sale in stores competing with magazines such as Vogue. It is mainstream, glossier and I suppose more ‘glamorous’ than a newspaper travel section. My role is varied, from looking at how to make the front cover enticing to deciding what goes into the rest of the 164 pages of the magazine. The features have to be both inspirational and also realistic to sell well – ensuring well-timed ‘big hitters’ such as New York or Paris. Locations such as these can be revisited year after year, compared to a newspaper who might focus on recent events across the world such as bombings or natural disasters.

What is your role like on an average day?

My actual day to day activities involve commissioning freelancers, going through ideas pitched by more junior members of staff and perhaps travelling myself.

With regards to travelling, if this is a major focus for you then you might consider working as a freelance writer/journalist instead. The main advantages are that you have control over your schedule, where you go and can work around your other commitments such as family. Working on a magazine ‘in-house’ often means you are getting involved with the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the publication rather than the actual travelling. As the dynamic of teams vary from magazine to magazine, then it is essential that you find this out before applying – as you might find an in-house role will only allow you to travel sporadically if at all. 

What do you enjoy about your role?

The change – I have been in this role for nearly 17 years, but the novelty still hasn’t worn off! This is because the world never stops feeling new – even a location that we have featured many times can change – such as a new restaurant or a new local event. Travelling is all I ever wanted to do – in fact, I would rather stay in travel (such as being a flight attendant) than journalism (such as working on a financial publication). I love planning trips, not just going on them! 

What are the challenges?

The pay really – you won’t make much money if you want to work in this industry! Just doing freelancing alone also probably won’t allow you to pay your rent/mortgage. Most freelancers do other roles – such as copy writing or editing – alongside their freelance work.

 How relevant was your degree to your current role?

My English degree is not directly relevant to my current role, but it was helpful in the past for me to secure internships. I was competing against people who were studying master’s degrees in journalism, so having the name ‘UCL’ was really helpful in getting opportunities.

Do you have any tips for current students wanting to get into this industry?

Do an internship with a well-known publication whilst you are living in cheaper student accommodation. We have interns who are forced to either spend a lot of money travelling into London or sleeping on friend’s floors in order to do the internship.

How would I find out about internship opportunities?

Our two-week programmes are always oversubscribed, but follow us on social media as we may have someone drop out – so we might ask for a replacement at short notice. Most internships are unadvertised, so choose a few publications and write a perky and engaging cover letter – remembering that you are not applying to a big corporate company, so don’t make it cold and impersonal: ensure you write to a named person rather than ‘Dear Sir or Madam’. In the letter, state clearly your availability – if you can only offer a couple of afternoons a week due to your course timetable that is fine.

What might make an application for an internship stand-out?

A clear level of maturity – so make sure your CV looks professional and highlights that skills that would make you useful in the workplace such as computer skills, languages and other office skills. Make the life of the person reading your application as easy as possible. If you already have a blog / website then write this on your application – it is useful for me to see your potential.

But the other important thing is to make the most out of the experience once you are there. Don’t have too high expectations of the internships – you won’t be writing big cover stories! You also might not always be doing the most exciting tasks – but grit your teeth and get on with it. Also, leaving early without a valid reason can give a really bad impression. Be proactive during the experience, approaching people with your ideas – ask them ‘What can I pitch?” or “Can I offer some ideas?”.

What would you look for when commissioning a freelancer?

Similar to other editors, I tend to work with freelancers I have worked with before – as I know I can trust that they will deliver. However, this does not mean I am not open to working with new people. Their initial pitch might be something I could use in a smaller story and I would be looking for something that is tailored to this magazine – which the freelancer has been clear about where it would ‘sit’. It is the responsibility of the freelancer to curate and build the stories – not to send the same pitch to 20 different magazines.

Any other tips for potential freelancers?

Be aware that you will receive very little feedback. But give the initial pitch the time it deserves and it will pay off in repeat commissions. After you have done an internship with a magazine, then offer to write for free ‘on spec’ pieces – this could be as simple as writing a piece about your recent holiday destination. You will then accumulate by-lines and build up a professional portfolio – you only need 2 or 3 well-known publication names – then pitch properly using your portfolio. It is not always enough just to have published in a university magazine – as they are not always well-edited. Having a well-known publication in your portfolio is invaluable.

UCL Careers Themed Weeks 2019: Museums, Arts & Cultural Heritage Interview

skye.aitken14 November 2019

Ian Richardson – Senior Treasure Registrar, Department of Learning and National Partnerships, British Museum

MA in Cultural Heritage Studies from the Institute of Archaeology (UCL) in 2007

Photo of interview, male wearing a suit in front of a bookcase
What is your role and where you work?

I work as part of a project called the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which is run by the British Museum. Specifically, I manage a team of four Treasure Registrars and we carry out the administration for cases of ‘Treasure’ reported under the requirements of the Treasure Act 1996. Treasure items are objects which, when found, have no known owner and which are made of gold or silver and are more than 300 years old, hoards of coins except for base-metal coins hoards of fewer than 10 coins, and prehistoric base-metal hoards. In practice, the vast majority of this material is found by metal detector users.           

What challenges does your sector / organisation face at present?

One challenge that we face which is specific to our jobs is that continuous rise in the amount of material being reported and which we have to process. This seems down to the growing popularity of metal detecting as a hobby and also to the fact that reporting such finds has been made easier over time. This challenge is linked to something that is facing the entire museum sector, which is a lack of funding to support all of our activities. Many people are now expected to ‘do more with less’.

What is the range of roles that people can apply for in your organisation?

There are a wide range of roles available at the British Museum. Probably what first comes to find is ‘curatorship’ but in fact, roles directly involved with the collection only make up about 1/3 of the jobs at the British Museum. There are also opportunities in fundraising, facilities and maintenance, finance, human resources and education, for instance.

What skills/qualities do you feel are particularly important in the type of work you do?

In my role it is useful to have a good general knowledge of British History, current archaeological and museological principles, and of the types of artefacts that are typically found in Britain. However, the last topic is something that is picked up quite quickly ‘on the job’. More generally it is important to be organised, have good attention to detail and the ability to understand how one’s job impacts on wider activities within the museum and beyond. There is a lot of diplomacy required in this role, as it involves dealing with colleagues who one has to chase for progress, and also involves a lot of correspondence with members of the public whose expectations (in terms of timescales and potential financial rewards) have to be managed.

Sustainability Fortnight: Careers in Energy

UCL Careers15 March 2019

Careers in Energy Panellists

The 18th February saw Sustainability Fortnight kick off with a panel event exploring careers in the energy sector. Our panellists were:

We heard from each panellist about their career path and the decisions that led them to their current roles – to hear their stories, you can read their biographies and view the event recording.

The speakers had plenty of advice for current students – and what you can do now to shape your own career.

Networking

Every single member of the panel cited the importance of networking, and several mentioned the connections they built by attending events such as this one. University career events bring professionals straight to your doorstep and make it easier than ever to engage with people in the industry. You can always reach out to them for a coffee or a phone call in the future, as many of them are happy to help and to give their advice. And don’t forget LinkedIn! Sara from XCO2, who also lectures at the University of Suffolk, reminded everyone to make sure your profile is up to date and filled out, and to use it to make connections with new contacts, as well as keeping up with old one. She estimated that 75% of her job roles came from ex-colleagues and references, so make sure you keep contact open with your professors and colleagues as you move between organisations. Charlotte, from the Renewables Consulting Group, added how useful your university’s alumni network can be. You can join UCL alumni network and find access to thousands of past students, many of whom are now offering mentorship opportunities.

Keep your goals in mind

“Follow your values”, recommended Ben, from Azuri Technologies. “Create your own mental checklist of what you want and stick to it when you’re job hunting. Keep a shortlist of the companies you’re interested in rather than jobs”. He went on to urge the importance of focusing matching your values to the organisations you’re applying to, and suggested signing up to their job feeds or newsletters, as well as attending their events.  Fiona suggested starting with research into how many types of companies there are in the energy sector, and to look at the Energy Institute and similar organisations – they often have student groups and networking events.

Sara pointed out that “Your first job might not be the one you want, but keep your ideas guiding you. Learn from each role.” She and Fiona both emphasised the importance of keeping an open mind, both about the type of company and the type of role you might be interested in. All of the panellists encouraged the benefits of “portfolio careers” and experimenting – particularly in a field as dynamic and changing as the energy sector.

Focus on your own development

“Soft skills are important”, Charlotte advised – practice your public speaking and writing skills.

Ben offered some pointers on the importance of feedback – “Feedback is golden. Ask your peers for feedback when working on group projects. Don’t take it to heart but try and develop from it.”

As always, don’t forget to tailor your cover letters! Jean-Paul, from Zenobe Energy, acknowledged that having to write them can of course be horrible – so don’t waste your efforts, and make sure they are tailored to the job and the skills.

Stay resilient

“Don’t be let down by rejection”, advised Jean-Paul. He also encouraged students to continue to go to events and to keep talking to people – you never know what will lead to an opportunity. Fiona echoed this: “Don’t take rejection personally, sometimes it’s just about timing.” Sometimes re-applying to an organisation later on might yield a very different outcome.

Want to learn more? You can find event recordings and resources from previous Themed Weeks on our website.