Monday, 5 September 2016

The Graduate

You've finished university. You're no longer a student. You're a graduate, an adult. What are you going to do next?

I embarked on my university journey a fresh-faced teenager, excited for another three years of learning - hardcore learning - and expected to graduate knowing exactly what I wanted to do, and what the next step was. Today I graduate, tomorrow I get the keys for my first grown up flat with my grown up boyfriend, and in three weeks I start my first proper job. A job where I have to turn up every day, and wear a suit, and start paying back my student loan. It sounds kind of like I've got it all sorted which, in some ways, I have; but it doesn't feel like it, because I still don't really know what it is that I want - now, or in the future. 

And therein lies the problem. University is too readily presented and perceived as a means to a job: the kind of job that wouldn't be obtainable without a degree, a dream job, a graduate job. But is that really true, and what does that really mean? Your university experience is your own, your degree is your own, and your ambitions are your own. You are a graduate, but that is not all you are. You went to university, maybe, to get a job; or maybe to study something you loved; or maybe to experience something and somewhere new; or maybe because it was a better alternative than actually getting a job. And, as much as we all like to pretend it does, it doesn't end there. 

Just because you are a graduate, that does not entitle you to the ideal job, or future prospects. You have a degree, but so does everyone else, and you have a 2:1, but you're not the only one. You've still got to go out and get it. The idea that it's virtually impossible for graduates to get 'graduate jobs' receives a huge amount of media attention, but it isn't necessarily true. For a start, what determines a graduate job? Secondly, what determines a graduate? Anyone with a degree in any discipline? Does that make us all qualified to go and jump on a banking grad scheme, or wander into TeachFirst? No. It's the realistic, rounded, resourceful, hard working, interested, well-connected and experienced graduates who are rising to the top, in whatever field they choose. The ones who have used their own initiative, spent their time at university getting work experience (whether it's relevant to your potential job or not), volunteering, travelling, being involved in societies and clubs and teams are the ones that are going places. Simply being a graduate is not always enough; but being a sensible and determined one, often is. 

So who says that being a graduate is just about getting a job? I, for one, had ambitious gap year plans, beginning with a post-exam month in South Africa. However, different and exciting opportunities presented themselves, and gap years require finances that I don't have, and things are taking a different course. However, if travel is right for you, and it's what you're passionate about and desperately want to do post-uni, then go and do it. If you're not ready to leave academia yet, and if being a graduate would only be improved by being a postgraduate, then go and do it. If you need a bit of me time, to chill, to think, to recuperate, to explore different avenues, and work out what you're doing and where you're going, take it. When I finished university, one of my lecturers told us all to take at least three months off, to sleep, to have time to ourselves, and to go and do something that didn't involve the library. It was excellent advice, temporarily removing the guilt and fear of post-exam freedom, and justifying the free time we all needed and deserved. 

When I look around me, at all the successful, interesting graduates I know, doing their things and rocking them, I realise how powerful and diverse and nondescript the graduate experience is. Some of us have known what they want to do since they were ten, and have spent years developing the means, the contacts, and the skills to achieve it. Some have worked it out along the way, discovering new ideas, paths and ways of life. Some are making it up as they go along, seeing what's happening and where it's going, and making decisions based on what feels right to them. Everyone's path is different, and I'm excited to introduce to you a variety of lovely, talented and ambitious graduates, all doing their own post-university thing, in their own way, and owning it. 

The Graduate blog series will see interviews with a range of graduates, talking about what they're up to and why; how they got there; and some words of advice. Not all graduates are the same, and being a graduate isn't always easy - but I hope you can take some inspiration from real life grads, telling it how it is, and demolishing the media myths. 

image source: Huffington Post 


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