An open diary: coming full circle

I must first apologise for my recent absence. Lately my schedule has been a little difficult to string more words together than, “darn I need food”. But then, I usually have that thought in my head regardless.

My diary has been pretty full recently. I’ve had essays for university, seminar preparation work, work, meetings, and it all ended with a conference at The Mitchell Library yesterday, and an interview today.

For a few weeks now I have been thinking hard about what I want to do when I leave university, as well as my final journalism project in fourth year. I did enjoy The Economist’s front page for this week’s issue: a photo of a chap in a gown, topped with his academic cap, standing in the middle of a sea of people crossing the world.

Above his head are the words “The whole world is going to university: Is it worth it?” Sadly I have not had a chance to pick up The Economist (and to be fair I am not a massive fan of the writing), but the very title itself gets to the heart of what (I assume) every university student has thought at some point.

What happens after university? Will I get a good job? How will I stand out? Should I do further education, or settle for a graduate job?

These are all key concerns for the student today. Everyone is getting a degree nowadays. The latest figures for the number of applications to Scottish universities reached a record high this year, rocketing to 45,100, and seeing a 40% increase in the number of 18 year-olds from disadvantaged areas applying to university.

This is fantastic for the health of our society, and for the economy. The more people who receive higher education will ultimately benefit us all, and also help young people become more aspirational.

That is all well and good – until they reach the jobs market. The bank of Mum and Dad only lasts so long, and soon it is time for us all to fly the nest and get a real job – a real job.

As I say, this has been of great interest to me recently. Am I in a position where I could actually go into a good, well-payed, full-time job; I don’t even mean educationally, but personal maturity?

I have started to feel that four years is no time at all. I have already reached the end of second year, and in a matter of months I am off to the States for study abroad.

I can bet my bottom dollar that next semester will go even quicker than this one; then it is just three more semesters until I graduate, and get flung into the choppy sea of employment.

Honestly – I cannot see myself being ready. Where do I go? What do I even want to do?

For two years now I have been set on the path of journalism. I chose journalism for several reasons: I love being nosey, not in a gossipy way, but for stories; talking to people is something I thrive on; and writing has been a passion of mine for years.

Before the journalism idea, I did have a few ideas of where I wanted to go. My first love was teaching, and in fact I did go on placement to my old primary school in Tillicoultry.

It was…an experience, that is for sure. But it did not grip me like I thought it would. Teaching the younger generation always appealed to me, but being in the midst of a bunch of seven year-olds did not seize me with joy.

Home away from home. Photo: Ross Brannigan

Home away from home. Photo: Ross Brannigan

Perhaps high school teaching! Yes. You saw lots of different pupils from a range of age groups, and you got to specialise in a subject. My plan to be a Modern Studies teacher was in the making.

But once I left high school, and went to university, I decided that I never wanted to go back to high school.

And so I was left a little in the dark, until I took up journalism as an optional module (it being the best of a bad bunch in my eyes at the time): I had found my knew path.

Since then I have had lots of incredible experiences. I have interviewed four politicians, and a few academics; been filmed twice, one was today; have worked with the BBC for the indyref, and will again in May; won some awards for the student newspaper; and done pretty decent in university at the subject.

However, sometimes the more you find out about a career path the less enthused about it you become. After taking a trip to a radio station, in the hope of a work experience placement, I was immediately put out – not physically.

Everyone there appeared to view me with contempt. The station manager was not a pleasant man, and everyone I spoke to answered me in very terse fashion.

I cannot say I was surprised. Journalists, I have found, are very focused people; not terribly interested in having much small talk. Get to the point, and get back to the office for a write up and a coffee. The journalists at the top end are very much like that, and it is discouraging for upcoming journalists.

Often – as I say – they are quick to dismiss you, and come across as pretty brutal. You need to be. You don’t get paid to be a waffling idiot. But for me I felt uncomfortable. And then we have the industry problems.

Newspapers are dying; broadcast journalism is very tough to get into without already getting a foot in the door through an apprenticeship, but also I don’t feel comfortable with that branch; then there is the online business.

Social media, blogs, tweets and posts, citizen journalism are all taking off – but is it a career option? I ask this as a blogger myself, and wonder whether I am contributing to the downfall of my own potential career path.

When I went to the AyeWrite! conference yesterday – which featured talks on the Glasgow Rent Strikes, the psyche of leaders, and the future of Scottish politics – I put this concern to the Herald and Sunday Herald columnist Iain Macwhirter.

I asked him what he felt the future held for journalism. He took me by surprise by saying: “We are entering a new age – a revival”.

I was initially taken aback: here is a man in the newspaper business – an industry that was seeing a slow death to instant news online, and a dying customer base. So what could he mean?

Everyone is getting a degree nowadays. The latest figures for the number of applications to Scottish universities reached a record high this year, rocketing to 45,100, and seeing a 40% increase in the number of 18 year-olds from disadvantaged areas applying to university.

I can only assume he meant the craft of journalism itself. Indeed, journalism – political engagement and comment, writing and dissemination – is seeing a revival. The social media explosion has put the power of Gatekeeping and watching in the hands of the online generation (Generation Y). But how can that be a career?

The trouble with social media and blogging is that there are so many voices, and there is no real method of generating income. The only real way to make any money is through advertising, as many YouTube vloggers do already.

So, I would perhaps be of the inclination to think that journalism as a career is going to be a difficult one to sustain.

Where does this leave us, then? We have travelled through the realms of teaching – primary and secondary -, and into and out of journalism; or, at least, for the mean time.

My Mum and myself were talking about this the day after Terry Pratchett died. I remember it quite well. We were walking through the Harviestoun Farm when my Mum asked: “So, what are your plans for after uni?”

I then had to think (with an added dose of imagination for good measure) about where I truly could see myself. It looked good: I was in a study, surrounded by books and papers, sat at a typewriter crossing off notes, and my cat was on the wooden window sill.

Now, I am not saying I am going to become a hermit, living with several cats in the middle of nowhere. What I am saying is I see my road ahead as being one of academia.

I, unlike my younger brother, am not a terribly career-driven person. I can see him becoming involved in law, or business, but I am content with getting by with a job I love doing; doing what I love doing.

As you can tell as we reach the 1500 word mark here, my love is writing and study.

And so, I think I have so far (mentally) mapped out a (rough) plan, that perhaps spans across a decade or so.

I will return to university. I am hoping to ultimately attain a PhD in Philosophy or English. From there my plan is to continue my studies and move to France, where I will hopefully begin lecturing, or teaching English language. Going full circle really.

Moving to France has been an ambition of mine for some time. I had planned to move to the USA, but with the prospect of living there for a semester I am assuming my stance will have changed.

Not just an SNP conference, but a true hub of people, ideas, energy, and inspiration. Photo: Ross Brannigan

Not just an SNP conference, but a true hub of people, ideas, energy, and inspiration. Photo: Ross Brannigan

Ever since I went to Chamonix, rural France has been a true home to me; a home away from home, if you like. Scotland is a beautiful country, and, for what it has brought me, I cannot thank it enough. But the idea of moving and travelling through Europe, speaking a different language and seeing a new culture is very appealing to me.

In the end, though, my life is in writing. I have always dreamed of one day writing a book, and I have started many times. Now I have set myself the task of writing every day: I have created a document called ‘A Word a day…or close to’ on my laptop, and every morning I will be found there…or close to, as I say!

Nevertheless, one day I will extract the people from my brain to have them walk across the pages of a novel, for people are ultimately what I love most. There is so much to this life, and so many incredible people are out there.

If there is one thing I have learned lately, it is that there are far more good people out there than bad. The bad people make more noise, but the good vastly outnumber them. And if you can be a good person too, then the world will be an even better place.

Make the effort, give the time, and you will be better for it. So, no matter where I end up going – be it forward, back, or full circle – at least I can make my career trying to make the world a little bit better, in some small way.

Maybe even get a motorbike.

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