Does the degree you choose affect your chance of getting a job once you’ve graduated?

Posted on October 25, 2005 in Uncategorized

Have you ever wondered if you chose the right degree? This article sets out to examine the importance of studying a directly-related subject with a future job in mind – does it make a difference or not?               

 Emilie Connes: Everybody tells me this: if you want to work in publishing, don’t mention that you write. I have often wondered why this is. Do prospective employers think you’re going to take the opportunity to shove your manuscripts at them as soon as you get a foot in the door? I suppose some people must do.  But aren’t aspiring and sometimes accomplished writers the best kind of people to work with in publishing? Their interest in the business is pretty much guaranteed, they have years of experience correcting their own work and have no illusions, if published at all, as to how selective the process is.
      I will be graduating with a BA in English Lit. and an MA in Creative Writing this year. Creative Writing? ‘Pah!’ You might say. But I believe this particular subject can be used as a vital asset when applying for a job in publishing, or more specifically, editing.
      Let us imagine, for a moment, my next interview:
Interviewer: So Miss Connes, you have a… Masters in Creative Writing.  What makes you think we want to employ you?
Me: Isn’t it obvious? I have been editing my fellow students’ work for four years. I can spot a typo, grammatical error, incorrect use of verb, noun or adjective, or lack of description a mile away. During my university career I proofread an average of 50,000 words a week, not including my own work, developing a critical eye for detail and unmerciful attitude to plot inconsistencies.
Interviewer: Do you truly believe this would be of use in this job?
Me: Absolutely. If four years at university doesn’t prepare you for staring at a computer screen all day long searching for discrepancies, nothing does.
 So if you’re a Creative Writing graduate, don’t apologise for it in your next job interview. You didn’t waste your time, and underlying acquired skills can be put to extremely good use.

 Jamie Shaw: When I was younger, I used to enjoy making posters and other layouts using my rolling ruler, Crayola drawing board and set of 50 WH Smith colouring pencils. Eventually, a PC replaced my Spectrum, and I started creating random magazine posters just for fun.
 Programming was also something I liked – IT lessons at school being preferable to ‘Graphics’ that consisted almost entirely of drawing clamps – and I chose to do a degree in Computing and Publishing at Oxford Brookes.
 People in the publishing lectures were more, well, normal than those in computing and it quickly became apparent that I preferred print and typography to algorithms and data flow diagrams. Thus I took the illogical step of going into a systems administrator role; when a job is handed to you almost without effort and the starting salary is better than anything in publishing, it’s stupid to refuse. Three years later I decided to rectify my mistake and moved to Oxford University Press. The job, Pre-press Controller, requires knowledge of the publishing process, ability to use Quark, Photoshop et al, plus a technical mind helps. Perhaps, unusually, my job matches my degree very well.

 Deb Sanders: While studying French and German, and then linguistics, I hoped to become a lexicographer, and did work experience with various dictionary publishers. However, the closest first language-related job I found was an editor position at the abstracting and indexing service ARTbibliographies Modern, based in the Oxford office of American publisher CSA. The main task was to write abstracts (summaries) of articles from modern and contemporary art magazines (my art background is limited to GCSE!) The abstracts, all in English, were published in an online database, though many of the articles were in French or German. After a year and a half, I progressed within the company to running a similar database focused on design. The job is challenging, varied, and exciting and, as the first person in this new post, I have the opportunity to shape my role. Sadly, my languages now rarely get used at work, but I’m learning Spanish in my spare time.

 Holly Myers: For anyone who has attended SYP events in Oxford, you will be quite aware of how many times I bring up my degree with just the slightest bit of relevance to the topic of conversation.  Annoying as this is for my fellow SYP members, I’m afraid I can’t help it.  Why?  Because I just LOVED my degree!  But how does it help me in publishing?
 I gained a first class honours degree in Philosophy from Cardiff University.  I applied for the position of Publishing Assistant at an educational publisher in the year of my graduation. Rightly or wrongly, I would not have got that interview had I not got a degree of some kind.  Persuading employers my degree was relevant was much more difficult; most people I meet who ask after my degree respond to ‘philosophy’ with a mildly perplexed ‘ah…that must have been interesting!’ Well, it was, but it was more than that.  I grappled with formal logic, ethics, theory of mind and language, to name but a few.  What I stressed in my interview, as I was applying for a position in the Secondary Science team, was the time spent on Philosophy of Science, which luckily I chose to spend many years on.
 When I put together my CV, I thought carefully how my flexible degree (philosophy, happily, is the base of many disciplines) could apply to the Publishing Assistant role.  I already had administrative experience, having worked throughout my time at university, so I tried to show how I could use my research skills to find out about the market, my analytical skills to judge products viability and my passion for the subject to show my commitment.  This seemed to work!
 I would advise anyone wanting to go into publishing to look at what they have already learnt from their degree before considering further training.  These days you pay a lot of money for that degree, so make it work for you!  Certainly, in educational publishing, you will often see ‘relevant degree’ quoted in adverts rather than publishing degrees required.

 Claire Shanahan: Most people think it is quite ironic when I tell them that I have a BA in English and Philosophy, subjects that are traditionally associated with ‘the Arts’, and that I work as an Editor for Pearson Education in their Primary School Maths department.  My MA in Literature and Publishing at the National University of Ireland, Galway, has proved invaluable to my career. Although I have only been working a few months and initially struggled to find an open door into publishing, it was the skills that I learned in my MA, such as copyediting, proofreading and Quark XPress, that enabled me to prove myself in a week of work experience. I was offered a job on the Friday and I have been very happy and content there ever since. If I didn’t have even the specialist expertise, insider information and general overview of the industry that I gained from my Masters, I would probably have been stuffing envelopes in my week of work experience, and I doubt that any amount of skill, speed or enthusiasm in this task would have secured me a job so quickly.
 
 Clare Truter: Personally, I studied French at Exeter University purely for enjoyment, not with a future job in mind. I was certainly focused on a career in publishing but also knew that I would need to study something I really enjoyed in order to stick with it for four years. I haven’t found my degree to be a hindrance at all – if anything, it has proved to be a bonus – I have studied to degree level and thus can perform in a role, and have an additional language skill to boot.

 In conclusion, choosing a degree is an extremely subjective decision. You might find that the subject doesn’t directly relate to a job in publishing. My advice is to look at what you enjoy – after all, you’ll be studying your chosen subject for a number of years. A degree proves that you have reached a certain level of comprehension and learning, and although there are without doubt exceptions, as Jamie’s testimony shows, any subject can stand you in good stead for embarking on a publishing career.