Is work experience worth it? Anthropology student Marisa tells her story.

By Marisa Bell
Final year Anthropology student

chalkboardNine months slogging through one year of your degree can feel more like nine years at times. One bad week slips past and before you know it you’re neck deep in readings – most of which barely feel as though they are written in your native language. As you sift through the inaccessible writings and abstract theories, scribbling notes, highlighting this, highlighting that – constantly measuring yourself between this grade and that grade; pulling your hair out over the difference between a 61 and a 69 graded essay (they’re both 2:1 people, get over it!) – you start to wonder what the hell this is all for anyway? What really is the point of all this?  The purpose in doing this starts to get lost.

In Defence of Social Sciences

I’d say I can at least speak for the social scientists and humanities students out there. We are the people who are left defending our degrees all the time “What are you going to do with a degree in Sociology? Psychology? Literature? History? Isn’t Philosophy pointless?” “Unless you want be an academic, I don’t see the point.” Most people I meet still think Anthropology is what Ross from Friends does (No guys, that’s dead dinosaurs, not living people!) Ugh. The list goes on. And each one pains me every time.

I’m now 32 – it’s not particularly old I know, but it’s not particularly young either. And much like my peer group at university I’m astutely aware of competitiveness ‘out there’ – you know, in the real-world. Which I why I took it upon myself to pursue the opportunity of work experience. Tip number one: perseverance and pursuit.

What’s the Point?

Have I worked a day in my life before now? Yes. Yes, I have. I have not however worked a day in the industry I am trying to move into. And when you’re new to an industry it’s a challenge in itself to pinpoint exactly what it is you are looking for. You like the idea of something – but you don’t yet know the reality. My industry of interest (Marketing and Advertising) is a broad one indeed, and each segment of the field varies widely from another. Just because you’ve studied a non-business related degree it does not mean your skills can not be applied to business. And gaining that hands-on experience is truly valuable.

Fact-finding Analysis

I came to the placement with the earnest eagerness of any other student – I just wanted to learn about stuff – how does it all work? So, when faced with the question “What area of Advertising interests you most?” I was all “…Um, I just wanna learn all of it…see what bits I like, then decide”. Not ideal.

My second tip is research, research, research! It took me a while to pinpoint my segments of interest. And some conversations with those in-the-know can go a really long way. A few coffees later (read: wine) and I had a much deeper understanding of how things worked and which bits made me more enthused than others. If you don’t know people in the field you are looking to get into, you can still do online research – LinkedIn is a great place to start, with lots of industry based networks and blogs offering any eager business novice invaluable insights. Get creative! I messaged a few industry blog groups and asked for advice from veterans and moguls of the field. You’d be surprised, there are some really great folk out there, old Alumni etc, who are more than happy to help.

Relinquish Excuses!

“I can’t afford the time out!” Yes, yes you can. Have you heard the saying “Short-term pain for long-term gain”?  – Well, this is just that. Many companies nowadays offer payment for travel and lunch expenses. And if you’re a self-supporting oldie like me, this can still feel off-putting. But don’t let it be. My advice is to start saving a little bit here and there to cover your costs. Or ask the business you have applied to if they’d consider subsidising your travel costs as a one-off, if it’s done in the right way it’s professional and perfectly okay. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. When these options really aren’t possible (and trust me, I know this!)  – Then sacrifices you must make! My placement was short and sweet for this exact reason. Can I work 3 months? No. Have I got two or three weeks spare? Yes. This kind of rationale is much more realistic and perfectly doable.  I framed it as though it were the annual holiday I would normally make. Tip number 3: budget and be prepared to make sacrifices!

“I found out about things I never knew before. Interesting and inspiring nuggets of wisdom in a welcoming environment.”

Hard Work Pays Off

During my placement I not only gained fantastic insight into industry practices but found inspiration through seeing my university work and practices applied literally.  I found out about things I never knew before. Interesting and inspiring nuggets of wisdom in a welcoming environment. The business I worked in applied lateral thinking to business, drawing on the critical and analytical skills I pick up sifting through all the endless readings night after night. Making a laborious practice which often feels meaningless and nonsensical, seem perfectly logical! Eureka!

Had I not completed the work experience I would not have realised how interesting I find Market Research as a day-to-day job. It appeals to my curious and analytical nature and is always evolving over time, from project to project – with the added bonus of working with brands I am interested in or a least familiar with. Previously, if I’d looked at ‘Researcher’ as a job title I’d likely think it was either too dull or not the kind of thing I could do. Now, I know otherwise.

My final tip is BE PROACTIVE. From the start of your research to your time in the business. Don’t just hang around waiting for things to come your way. Get stuck in! People have busy lives. If they don’t reply – send a follow-up email. In the job, ask people if they need help with anything. Be curious. Show off your talent and get to know theirs. This is your time and well as theirs so the most valuable thing you can do is to take away a whole heap of knew knowledge. Knowledge is king. And if you’re really lucky, you may even gain a few more new friends from the experience!

 

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