We spoke to people who left uni decades ago to see if they had any advice for Edi students

All in all: stop pressuring yourself to make uni the best years of your life


As exam season is upon us, the general anxiety of students about ‘whether this was all the right choice’ is almost tangible.  Having paid £9000 for the year, you’re probably hurriedly trying to learn an entire semester’s worth of work the night before your exam, visualising the downward spiral of your life should you fail, all in a haze of Red Bull and fear.

Fear not. Because we spoke to Kevin, Anne-Marie and John, three ex-students, who told us where their respective degrees have taken them, and their advice for current students.

John

What year did you graduate, where from, and what was your degree in?

“I graduated from Bristol University in 1990. My degree was in Economics.”

What is your current job?

“I currently own and run a high ropes course (much like GoApe) and a festival. I also host big parties or should I say mini-festivals for people who don’t want to hire a marquee. This is all done in the forest.”

Why did you originally choose to study that degree?

“I was always more attracted to the Arts so for my A-levels I chose Art and English. Economics filled the last option because back then it was a new subject and sounded interesting, it also seemed like a good A-level for city jobs.

“It is surprising that I ended up studying Economic at University as I got an F at A-level. We had a new teacher that was utterly hopeless. He lasted two years, which sadly coincided with my two years of Economics A-level. I don’t think anyone got more than a D. The only saving grace was that it was our last exam and he was monitoring the exam. Before the exam started someone asked him when was the earliest we could leave the exam. That summed up the attitude in the room. The teacher said half an hour. Thirty minutes later some of us walked up to his desk, handed him our papers and walked out. I put ‘you are a shit teacher’ on the front of mine. When the results came that Summer he was fired. Unfortunately the damage had been done.

“I was lucky I went to a retake college and was inspired by a teacher called Andy Gillespie, he’s still at D’overbroecks. I did well enough to study Economics at Bristol. It was completely down the his teaching.”

If you could go back and start all over again, would you do the same, and if not, what might you do differently?

“I would have gone to art school. I studied economics because I thought no one would give me a job if I came out of University with a Fine Art degree. I wanted to be a film director but just thought it would never happen so went for the safe option. Yes I regret that now as nothing I have done has required a decent degree and everyday I wish I’d gone into the film business. This is made worse as an old friend of mine is a film director in LA… and I think I would have been better.”

How did your degree guide you into your current job/career if it did?

“I started work at an advertising agency, which had little to do with economics. However, economics gives you a way of thinking and every day I am reminded of that.”

Were your years at university really the best years of your life?

“No. Not remotely. My thirties were the best. I had started up my own company, had money, lived in London. Bristol did not compare. Good but not as good.”

Looking back over your time at University, what single piece of advice would you give to current students?

“You will never have the same amount of time, amenities or options available to you again once you leave university. Don’t just study your degree. Do other things, join societies, get out there and do things. I did little work and got drunk, that was about it. I should have studied a martial art, written a play, learnt a language, learnt to play the piano/guitar/banjo.”

Kevin

What year did you graduate, where from, and what was your degree in?

“1979, Birmingham Polytechnic (today called Birmingham City University) and I got a BA in English Language and Literature.”

What is your current job?

“Managing Director of Top Recruitment Cambodia (a recruitment agency) and Managing Director of KTP Services Myanmar (an Human Resources consultancy).”

Why did you originally choose to study that degree?

“Because I was interested in literature and wanted to spend my time doing something I was interested in.”

How did your degree guide you into your current job/career if it did?

“It led me to become an English teacher which I was for 20+ years. I got into business after that.”

Were your years at university really the best years of your life?

“Absolutely not. Have you ever been to Birmingham?”

Looking back over your time at university, what single piece of advice would you give to current students?

“Take the opportunity to think about ‘big picture stuff’ – you will spend most of your life dealing with the details of life. Spend your time focusing on asking questions – Education is simply learning how to ask the right questions so spend your time being thoughtful.

“In its purest, highest and most important form education is nothing to do with work or career. Work and career related stuff is called training. I know everybody talks about vocational degrees and getting a job, it makes me sad. I am afraid that since the seventies (since market forces became the king of everything) education has been much diluted, universities are full of people thinking about a job, not thinking about higher stuff.

“This is part of the overall dumbing-down of society. If you don’t believe me look at an old Discovery Channel or National Geographic programme from the eighties or even the nineties, then look at those channels today.”

Anne-Marie

What year did you graduate, where from, and what was your degree in?

“I graduated from Brunel University with a 2:1 in Psychology in 1985 and then went on to do a PGCE at Bristol University followed by a PhD at Cardiff 1989).”

What is your current job?

“I currently do both paid and unpaid work for a number of third sector organisations.  I very much enjoy the variety of working on different projects.  Over my career I have particularly enjoyed the following projects: reviewing work roles in the museum & heritage sector, looking at the experience of BME officers in the Police Service and supporting the children of alcoholics.”

Why did you originally choose to study that degree?

“I really had no idea about psychology but thought that it sounded interesting.  The degree was a sandwich course so that I had 18 months of work experience at the end of the four year course.  I worked as a researcher in the cancer centre of Kings College, London.  This led me to a career in research (academic, social and commercial) which I have very much enjoyed.”

If you could go back and start all over again, would you do the same, and if not, what might you do differently?

“I would do the same subject again but it was so much easier when there were grants available and jobs were plentiful.  Our generation had much less to worry about and we were not starting work having borrowed a minimum of £30,000.”

How did your degree guide you into your current job/career if it did?

“Indeed my degree and previous experience has informed my current role as recent projects have included working with a charity to select staff for particular roles and compiling an evaluation report to fulfil funding criteria.  I have also had a day on traffic duty as a steward at a Bristol art festival but received special training on the day for that task!

“Your degree provides a foundation for your future development so whatever you do will be informed by your knowledge and experience.  It is the starting point for a career of learning and development in whatever field that you choose to enter.  I have always enjoyed learning and am currently enrolled in a French class at my local college and also an art history course at Oxford University.”

Were your years at university really the best years of your life?

“I did enjoy being a student but no, they were not the best years of my life.  I worked hard but found my course quite demanding and was quite concerned about whether I could keep up with the work.

“The best years have been, and continue to be, when working on interesting projects (some projects can be dull but we all need to pay the bills!), visiting museums and having relaxing weekends with family, friends and godchildren.”

Looking back over your time at University, what single piece of advice would you give to current students?

“Don’t be afraid to do something different after graduation.  The degree is the starting point for your career and you may well choose an unusual career route.  Just because you study X at Uni does not mean you have to stay with X. As a student, try to go beyond your own subject as looking further afield is stimulating and often provides a better view of your main subject.  The world is BIG so don’t stop looking.

“I do apologise but clichés can be useful so here goes: finally, onwards and upwards, and always remember that a good career is often more about resilience than brilliance.”

While varied in their degrees, career paths, and advice, it became clear after speaking to John, Kevin and Anne-Marie that perhaps our incessant anxieties about whether it’s all going to be worth it are really unfounded, and maybe we should just enjoy learning, for learning’s sake.