Sunday, 26 November 2017

Musings from one month of teaching


It's just like being back at school. Though you have no option but to do the work, but at least you don't have any exams. I've realised that it would be easier to just do my GCSEs again.

I've only ever worked in offices, and working in a school is different - strange, actually. It's impossible not to feel infantilised, being given a timetable, exact timings of when you need to do this and that, and being told when you're allowed to have your lunch or go for a wee (and in my case, asking another teaching if I can go for a wee because I don't have a staff pass and therefore cannot access the toilets). A teaching timetable means that the day is weirdly divided up for you, so you can't conveniently pace your work throughout the day (as you would in a lot of jobs), instead it's hours of full-on performing, followed by a bit of peaceful printing and guillotining time. If you're lucky (if the printer hasn't run out of paper/toner, you've run out of printing credit, you're seventeenth in the queue of teachers wanting to print). You realise the end of the school day is not the end of your day, and it's worse than homework. In fact, the feeling that there's something you should, could or have forgotten to do is always there, and you just kind of get used to the fear and try not to let it become guilt. And that's only for 8 lessons a week, ask me how I feel when I'm teaching 25. 

I think everyone goes through times when they don't know what they're doing, or at least they think they don't, and they're perpetually terrified that someone's going to find out. Even though you know you've got a degree in the subject, and the kids you're teaching don't, and maybe can't identify the UK on a world map, some ask questions which require you to search for answers in the very depths of your brain...whether they're accurate answers or just made up. And then you have to praise them for asking those questions, even if and when they've made you terrified and panicked. A personal favourite is "excellent question, we're going to be touching on that in another lesson so I don't want to ruin the surprise" (i.e. I have time to Google it before next lesson). When you're starting out, you have to make assumptions about what you think your students will know; you don't want to patronise them but you don't want to ask them the impossible. What I'm starting to realise is that everything you think they'll definitely know, they won't - and the things you think might really challenge them sometimes don't. You can't prepare for all eventualities, but you hope that by preparing for some of them, you and they will find some means of cruising or crawling through that lesson, and next time you might know better. 

When I told people I was going to train as a secondary school teacher, my favourite response was "Why? You know kids have knives now..." The preconceptions about the kids you teach are far worse than the reality. The most aggressive incident I've seen in a lesson so far is someone swipe a glue stick off another student's desk in a fit of rage. Some kids are frankly a pain in the bum, but they're rarely horrible people - usually just bored or frustrated or just can't help but talk to everyone around them and do nothing you've asked them to (because they're children). On the other hand, some are wonderful. This week I had a year 7 tell me that houses should be more expensive in towns than villages, but they might not be because houses in villages are often bigger and more exclusive and people pay a premium for the peace and quiet. That's pretty impressive for an 11 year old, huh? And they love to please. They want to show you they know the answer, sometimes so much so that they can barely stay in their seat and it looks like their arm is levitating from their body because they're stretching it so high. 

After being in school for one month, I have to say that I'm enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would. I love not having to spend all day, every day sitting at a desk and sending a lot of emails. I like meeting the kids, even if I do have to spend most of the hour I spend with them a week telling them to turn round, get on with their work, stop talking; and because there are some which amaze me and air grab when they find out that I'm teaching them. Although it's still fairly early days, I'm so glad I'm doing this and I've not learnt so much since being at school myself. Every week feels like another huge learning curve, but that's what I love - and that's what makes having to spend my Sunday afternoons plan lessons not entirely depressing. I'm four weeks down and I've got four weeks 'til Christmas - let's see how I'm getting on then when I'm inevitably shattered and I've probably had eight different colds. 
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Sunday, 19 November 2017

Time for Unrest

There's an illness that affects somewhere between 15 and 30 million people all over the world.
Some can lead almost normal lives, or at least visibly normal lives. 
But 75% of sufferers are unable to work, or go to school.
And 25% of those are who are homebound are bedridden.


But no one really knows anything about it. We don't know what causes it, and we don't know why it affects some people so much more severely than others. We don't know why some people get better, and why some people don't. We don't know if it's genetic, if you're born with it, if you develop it, or if you can ever get rid of it. We don't know why 85% of sufferers are women. We don't even really know how to diagnose people with it. All we really know is that it is a "neuroimmune condition characterised by post-exertional malaise (a reduction in functioning and a severe worsening of symptoms after even minimal exertion)" and that it follows and infection. 

Jennifer Brea has created an incredible documentary about the illness that robbed me of almost two years of my life, and many more years of many other people's. The documentary tells Jennifer's story, as well as those of men and women, of different ages, in different countries, with different severities of M.E., and who are being treated in fundamentally different ways. It shows the many ugly faces of the illness, of suffering, and of relative invisibility - people who have effectively lost their lives, hidden from medical research, the outside, and wondering if they'll ever live again. You cannot tell everyone's story in an hour and a half, and it would have been easy to turn the documentary into a narrative of suffering, repetition and isolation. I thought the power of Unrest was in its ability to shine a light on the things that no one knows about and no one speaks about.

My experience of living with M.E. was that, on some days, you feel like you're alive again. You have more energy than any other day that week, and you feel foggy. Naturally, you want to make the most of it because you don't know when you'll next feel like this. So what do you do if you know that by leaving the house, walking around town, popping into the shops, having coffee and cake in a cafe will mean that tomorrow you're exhausted. And the next day, and the next day. How do you balance trying to live when you can with the consequences of doing so? And how do you manage the constant complex of working out whether things are 'worth it' and figuring out the trade-off? Jennifer's husband, Omar, puts it pretty perfectly - how can you stop doing the things that make you feel alive? Especially when you don't know whether this is just for now, or whether it's forever. 

The second thing is how it affects those around you. I was lucky that I could shower (even if I had to sit down), and I could get myself a drink from the kitchen - and whilst I sometimes needed help getting up the stairs, and when I woke up in the night feeling like I couldn't breathe, I retained some sort of independence. Unrest shows the sufferers who can't walk, who can't sit up, who can't feed themselves, who can't eat at all except through a tube, who can't stand the light, who can't bear sound. And it shows the husbands, the wives, the parents and the siblings who live with M.E. as part of their life too. One of my greatest fears about coming out of remission is who will look after me, because I don't want to have to make that anyone's responsibility...or their life. 

And I think fear is what sums it all up.
Will my M.E. come back? And when will it? If it does, will it go away again or have been too lucky up until now? Will it happen to anyone around me? And if it does, what can I do about it? Will we ever understand what causes it? And will there ever be a cure? Will some long-term sufferers continue to turn to suicide as the only way to escape? Will millions continue to be missing? 
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Saturday, 21 October 2017

Social apartheid: it's not just Oxbridge

'Nearly one in three Oxford colleges failed to admit a single black British A-level student in 2015'.

Are you surprised? Are you surprised that a minority group that is hideously under-represented across top schools, top professions, top companies, top government roles is also under-represented in top universities? Because you probably shouldn’t be.

This week’s headlines have served to remind us that black British people are fighting a system which fails to include them. And it doesn’t begin at university. I’ve spent the past three weeks working at a school in East London which, as you’d imagine, has an extremely diverse student population. Many of the students come from disadvantaged backgrounds, many don’t see university as something that is ‘for them’ and many feel disenchanted with a system that they don’t feel like they’re part of. So how are we supposed to help them become ‘elite’, and qualify for an application to Oxbridge, let alone a place?

Yesterday a student said to me “teachers judge me for what I look like, they say I’m ghetto and they don’t respect me”. And if that’s how you’re addressed by some of the primary authority figures in your life, what chance do you have of proving them wrong? Every so often we see the ‘stop and search’ statistics and the disproportionate likelihood of being approached (or accused) by the police if you’re black – and we’re all shocked, and then we change nothing. Because black people are in gangs, and black people commit knife crime, and we can blame Muslims for everything else. If that’s how you feel like society sees you, why would you want to be part of it? Similarly, if you go to a school that’s chronically under-funded, you’re not given the support you need despite teachers’ best efforts, then your opportunity to change that perception and have the voice that challenges it is limited too.

The problem is not with Oxbridge, it’s with social mobility and discrimination. Black male graduates are twice as likely to find themselves unemployed a white male graduates, and I’m pretty sure it’s got nothing to do with their degrees. In my previous two jobs, there were some excellent graduates from some top universities – but none of them were black. Lots had been to the same university, or the same school; as much as we try to ignore it, people hire ‘their own’ and those they think are similar to them. By having white men running all our top organisations, unfortunately, we are perpetuating the problem. Diversity still feels like a ‘tick box’, something which is a product of positive discrimination, and treats the symptoms not the problem. For many, it’s too late by then. No one’s been ambitious for them at school, or they’ve an intrinsic sense that school isn’t for them because college isn’t really for them because university definitely isn’t for them; and all the positive discrimination in the world cannot justify hiring a black British person with 3 GCSEs over a white British person with 10 GCSEs, 3 A Levels, a handful of internships and a 2:1 from a Russell Group university. The cycle continues, it remains ‘us’ and ‘them’ and black Brits are unrepresented in society, politics and the economy.

Next time you blame Oxbridge for social inequality, or say ‘aren’t the police awful, falsely accusing all those young black men’, look at yourself in the mirror because you’re part of the problem too.
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Sunday, 1 October 2017

Student to Teacher: Why Teach?

Everyone remembers at least one teacher from school. Whether they taught your favourite subject, or helped you conquer one that didn't come naturally to you, or supported you outside the classroom - were more than just a teacher - you remember them. 


4 year old Laura adored her Reception teacher. My childhood memory book states that when I am older, I would like to be a teacher and I love literacy; and if that fails, I'll probably work in the Post Office. Over my next 13 years of education, I met lots more teachers - good and bad - and I remember and am so thankful to a handful of them. The one who introduced me to drama, and became the focus of my extra-curricular life for at least 9 or 10 years. The one who came to my house when I was too ill to go to school, just to offer some support. The one who I may not have made it through my Maths GCSE without. The one who taught me how to channel all the things I wanted to say into Public Speaking and Debating. The ones who inspired my love of literature, and pushed me to read more, think more and write more. One day I hope to be one of those people. 

But that kind of idealism didn't seem like reason enough to teach.

So what was? A genuine interest in education: a belief in its it incredible value, what things are taught, how they're taught and how people learn. A fear for the education system, and wanting to try my best to give people the opportunity to have an education as rounded and engaging as my own. Feeling like you're doing something worthwhile. The opportunity to do something different every single day. To be challenged, by the variety, the system, the students. 

But with all that comes fear and uncertainty. You can't get away with having a slow day in the same way, there's a lot more that can go wrong, and you have a different kind of responsibility. Some people were unsurprised when I said I was going to go and teach - I can imagine you as a teacher and you'll be quite scary, they won't mess about with you. But others exacerbated the fear - they'll walk all over you, why would you do that to yourself, and my personal favourite, kids have guns now. And it's that kind of madness that you're getting yourself into, but that you hope will be rewarding, and satisfying, and that you'll help someone find their thing, or exceed their expectations, or really love something. 

3 weeks of university training down, I feel like I know why I want to teach and what kind of teacher I might want to be. But next week is when it all becomes real, when I go to school for the first time, and when I start to find out if I'm really cut out for this. I know why, but let's see if I know how... 
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Sunday, 24 September 2017

A night with Vitality & Michael Caines

Last night I was treated to one of the most special nights out I’ve ever had, courtesy of Vitality, Great British Chefs and the man himself, Michael Caines. As an avid competition enterer, I have huge amounts of faith in the law of averages and that for every train journey spent frantically entering competitions, one day, something excellent will come of it. And this was an excellent prize.


In the last couple of years, both my desire and ability to cook has massively developed – thanks to having my own kitchen, and realising that cooking is extremely therapeutic. So, the chance to be shown how to cook properly, as well as be cooked for, by a double Michelin Star chef was really exciting. The chance to bring one of my oldest and most foodie friends, Shabnam, along too, made it even more so.

Arriving at Divertimenti on Brompton Road, we didn’t really know what to expect but quickly found ourselves with champagne in one hand and canapes in the other. We were given the chance to browse the shop, admiring all the beautiful kitchenware that “we’ll buy when we’re old and rich”. With consomm√© consumed and beef cheek bonbons devoured, we made our way to the cookery school to be greeted by Michael and his team. I had expected that we would be making 3 different courses, eating them as we went along, but Michael had already prepared our starter which was ready for us to enjoy. I’ve made a mushroom risotto, but it didn’t taste anything like this one. It was very rich and creamy without being too heavy, and topped with roasted quail and a quail’s egg which was a delicious added touch.

Then it was our turn: steamed salmon with cauliflower and saffron couscous. Whilst Michael demoed the recipe too us, I wasn’t convinced I was going to like it. Couscous? Mayo? Cauliflower? But we got stuck in, didn’t make too many mistakes, and it was delicious. I’ve never had couscous that tastes of anything but slightly fruity dust, but this has definitely converted me. It was ready in 20 minutes, and it was great to learn a recipe that’s something I can practically make again at home.  My knowledge of wine doesn’t go much beyond “this is Lambrini, not wine” and I’d never really realised the impact of having wine that is very well paired with your food. We were given a glass or two of Domaine des Gandines Macon Peronne 2015 to enjoy with our salmon, and it was hands down the nicest wine I have ever tasted. I may be a wine convert, as well as a couscous one.


Just as we were finishing our main, the Vitality team upped their game and presented us all with half an hour and a £50 voucher to spend in store. For Shabnam and I, it was like a kid in a sweet shop. After huge amounts of deliberating and working out the best, and best value combinations, I settled on some really sleek salt and pepper grinders and a more rustic pestle and mortar – two items that have been on my (very middle aged) wishlist for some time!
Desserts are my best friend and my nemesis. I want everything but lactose intolerance means that I often watch everyone else have everything, and I have a cup of tea. Not today. We were presented with some autumn berries, icing sugar, berry sorbet, lemon and pistachio curd, pistachio nuts, meringue, edible flowers and lavender scented honey; and Michael demonstrated how we might present it, professionally. We had to make our own plates, and there was to be a prize for the most artistic. I don’t take competition lightly, and have never spent so long arranging berries, so when I was awarded a £150 voucher to use in one of the Great British Chef’s restaurants, I was over the moon!



The rest of the evening, spent enjoying our dessert, sipping one of the most unusual, smoky cocktails I’ve ever seen, smelt or tasted, and having a Q&A with Michael, was wonderful and relaxing. We felt like true VIPs, not only having sampled lots of delicious food but being so well looked after. We left feeling very full, with our chosen voucher purchases, a goodie bag including a signed cookbook from Michael, petit fours from Michael’s new restaurant and some other cooking treats, and having had a really fantastic night. Thank you Michael, Vitality and Great British Chefs for a very special evening, and I can’t wait to go and spend my restaurant voucher!
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Sunday, 17 September 2017

MIND THE...MEN


What do we want?
Not to be sexually harassed on the tube.

Where do we want it?
In which ever damn well coach we want to sit in.

I’m talking about women only carriages, the idea that’s been floating around since Chris Williamson’s proposal that they should, at least, be considered in the last few weeks. In the last year, 1,448 sexual offences have been reported on trains – more than double the number reported in 2012-13 (whether that’s more actual incidents or more reporting, we do not know). From this stems the ingenious idea of women only carriages: by segregating women on public transport, they cannot be sexually assaulted.

And the more I hear about it, the more furious I get because since when, in the 21st century, was gender segregation the answer? As a young woman, who occasionally travels on trains, alone, at night, I sometimes feel intimidated. I've been verbally abused on trains, I've received rape threats, I’ve witnessed a man openly masturbating, and I’ve been intimidated by groups of drunk men who insist on sitting as near to you as they possibly can and, quite frankly, chatting shit. I agree that it’s not acceptable. But those are a handful of instances, and I use the train and the tube nearly every day. 99% of the time I do not feel threatened, and only move away from someone because I’m too jealous of their McDonald’s to watch them devour it. By creating women only coaches, we normalise sexual assault (or verbal, or harassment or any kind of unpleasant and unacceptable experience) on public transport, treating it as an inevitability. We also normalise the idea that all men are sexual predators, and should be avoided when travelling alone. We tell women and girls that they are unsafe unless they are sitting in a particular carriage, and we obstruct their freedom to sit wherever they want. We treat men like criminals, who cannot be trusted to travel home without touching someone up.

Women are not the only people who fear and face violence on public transport. Post-Brexit vote and, more recently, post-Manchester and London Bridge attacks, there have been reports of increased racial attacks – namely Islamaphobic attacks – sometimes on public transport. What if the Labour MP had suggested that, as well as having women only carriages, we would also have Muslim only carriages? Or maybe gay only carriages? Or racist white people only carriages? Would that be deemed acceptable? No. Because, yet again, segregation is not the answer, and marginalising groups who have worked and protested hard for their right to be respected members of society, safe in their own communities, it is nothing but a backwards step. Indeed, it ignores the fact that men may also feel unsafe travelling alone – maybe threatened by sexual assault, or robbery, or from being beaten up by other angry, drunk passengers and just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

How do we enforce this is another question on everyone’s lips. How do we make sure that there are no men in the women’s carriages, and does that require having more guards on trains (a topic there is already huge amounts of discussion…and striking about)? Is it the responsibility of the woman to position herself in this carriage, and who do we blame if she is sexually assaulted whilst sitting in the ‘normal’ carriage? Is it her own fault, and are we simply reverting to a system of victim shaming? And are we saying that ‘anything goes’ in the ‘normal’ carriages? Are these carriages available at any time of day, or just late at night – because, let me tell you, it doesn’t need to be dark for someone to feel vulnerable.

Women only carriages encourage women to be afraid of men. They act to demonise thousands of innocent men. They fail to recognise other vulnerable people. They promote segregation as a necessary, and sexual assault as a normality.

Today, should our greatest worry to be MIND THE GAP or to MIND THE MEN? 
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Sunday, 10 September 2017

Graduate to Grown-Up: bringing it home


Over the last few weeks, we've heard from 7 graduates, 5+ years down the line about their experiences after university. I've learned that what you hope or expect to do on your graduation day won't necessarily be what you end up doing 10 years later and that, usually, everything does work out from the best. I've spoken to entrepreneurs, turning their hobby into their career, or creating their own job because the right one wasn't out there for them. I've discovered that people do jobs that I never really knew existed, and heard from people juggling their jobs alongside parenting, charity work, travel, blogging and...other jobs. I am always astounded by what people manage to achieve in such a short space of time, and thrilled that people have managed to make their jobs work for them, and are living happy, fulfilled lives. 

So to finish it all off, I thought I'd bring it back to me. Part of my reason for doing both The Graduate and Graduate to Grown-Up blog series was to help myself. This time last year, I was curious what other recent graduates were up to, and realising that others were doing a huge range of things helped me qualify my decision. A year later, I feel a teeny bit closer to grown-uphood, but I wanted to better understand how I would get the rest of the way there. I wanted reassurance that, over the next few years, things would probably fall into place and that, hopefully, I'll work out where I want to be and what I want to do. 

Luckily, that's kind of what's been happening. I graduated not really knowing what I wanted to do and, since, have had a go at a couple of things. But it wasn't really right, and every time I came back to thinking about what I actually wanted to do, I kept coming back to teaching. I am really interested in education, I like learning, but I don't want to be an academic. So, at pretty late notice, I applied to go back to university this September and study for a PGCE in Secondary Geography. It's been a bit of a whirlwind few weeks of tests and prep and interviews and having to make a super quick decision about whether this was 100% what I wanted to do, and accept my offer. And here I am, no longer writing marketing material, and desperately trying to understand what these oil field maps are, but buying stationery and getting back into academic reading. 

In all honesty, I'm pretty terrified. I've spent too long reading about people who haven't had more than 3 hours sleep a night since they started their PGCE and have spent 9 hours prepping every lesson, and I'm wondering if someone's invented a way to stockpile sleep. I am lucky enough to have some good friends who are excellent teachers, providing me with reading and resources and tips, and who are bringing me back down to the reality of teaching. I'm trying to work out if there's any outfit that will make me look 10 years older so I won't be mistaken for a year 9 (at a push), and how much stationery I'm reasonably going to need (can justify buying). But I'm also excited. I'm looking forward to learning again, and not just about really theoretical things that don't really exist. I'm looking forward to having a job that isn't just sitting at a desk and doing emails, and I'm looking forward to meeting loads of new classmates, and students, and teachers. What I loved about school was that you're part of a community - more so than in an office - and I'm looking forward to that again. 

I don't think it's going to be easy, but I hope it's going to be worth it.
I'll be a student again, then a graduate, but hopefully it'll be one step closer to becoming a grown-up. 
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Thursday, 7 September 2017

Graduate to Grown-Up: Olivia

Olivia, age 28.
Studied English at the University of Exeter,
graduated in 2011. 


On the day that you graduated, how did you think the next 5 years would pan out?
For pretty much my entire third year of university, I was of the ignorant assumption that because I wanted to go into some sort of creative role/industry, I didn’t need to plan ahead. While others were filling out grad scheme applications, I was starting my blog and using any spare time to go out for a drink with friends. I’m not sure why it didn’t occur to me that seeing as I didn’t know which industry I wanted to go into, it would be worth doing some research to find out.

That being said, working on my blog has opened doors and is something I would big time recommend to anyone who is looking to write in the future. I’ve been noticed and offered jobs because of it, I’ve been nominated for awards because of it and I’m certain it makes me stand out when applying for jobs, but it's debatable whether that’s perhaps a little more to do with the fact I write about sex all the time, but who knows?

Anyway, back to your question. I didn’t think that grad schemes were how it worked when it came to publishing or editorial. If I had done an ounce of research, I might have realised that wasn’t the case at all and it would’ve been really valuable. Basically, if I’m honest, I couldn’t see past my nose at the time, let alone 5 years away, but I did have a genuine inkling I might be famous (FAT CHANCE) or that I would easily get a job in a magazine…. (hilariously naive of me) so I wasn’t worried.

Answer to your question: I really hadn’t considered how the next 5 years would pan out. Would go back and plan a little harder, but it hasn’t been detrimental to my life in any way!

What are you doing today, and how did you get there?
Today, I am a freelance digital marketer and copywriter, but I have one major client who takes up three days of my week, then two minor clients who I look after on a Monday and Friday. I basically help small businesses get their voices heard online and help larger business maintain theirs.

I got here by doing lots of different jobs. You name it, I have probably done it. Lots of experimenting has led me here, as well as taking a mahoosive pay cut to do an internship in digital marketing at 26 years old! That role, which led into a full time permanent one within a month, led me into meeting lots of good people and gaining experience in order to allow me to do what I do today.

What's it like being a freelancer?
It's tricky because I'm not totally freelance - I'm sort of part time with freelance on the side. The two days I do a range of freelance work, so I work from hot desks, coffee shops and at home. I am a people person so I need to be around humans as much as possible. Motivation is easy - if I don't get up and work, I don't eat! There's no more turning up and having a lazy day knowing you'll get paid at the end of the month!!

Do you feel like you've found your 'thing', or is there still a lot of experimenting to do?
Totally. Although that could change, I actually love what I do now. I get to be really creative, am in charge of my work load and life, and get to meet lots of great people whilst doing it. An aspect of my role consists of writing chunks of copy, which isn’t for everyone, but that’s the part of my job I probably enjoy the most.

What have been your biggest achievements and greatest regrets of your working life so far?
My biggest regret - turning down a job at a huge retail brand because I had already accepted a job elsewhere. I felt indebted to the other job as I had known the boss for years. I should’ve opted for the retail brand, but whatever! I met some really great people there, which is what life's all about. Greatest achievement - striking up a partnership between a client and MAJOR retailer in my first week of a new job. Good first impression, that was.

If you could do any job in the world, what would it be?
I would be a fashion stylist or a rockstar, obvs.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years' time?
Well, I’ll be 38. Fuck… that feels so old. I used to think that about being 28 though in fairness and now I’m here I still go out constantly and feel about 16. In all seriousness, I hope I have a baby by then, which feels crazy to say. Not fussed about marriage. Living in London. With a kickass business I’ve grown from scratch. Watch this space..!

What advice would you give to someone struggling through their early twenties?
Say yes to things. Even if it's scary. Even if you're not sure it's 100% what you want to do. All experience is good experience, no matter how random or how old you are. I interned at 26 and did work experience at 24. Also - pursue something you love on the side of your 9-5, you never know, it might turn out to be your full time job one day!


Check out Liv's blog at:
www.thelondonladybird.co.uk

and find her on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram
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Saturday, 2 September 2017

Graduate to Grown-Up: Lisle

Lisle, age 27.
Studied Geography at Plymouth University,
graduated in 2010. 




What did you want to do when you graduated from university?
Originally, when I finished my undergrad degree and left Plymouth University, I wanted to go deep into academia, with a Master's and PhD being the jump off points. So, the aim at that point was to make my way into academia via, ideally, field based research in conservation / zoology. 

What did you actually do?
I'm now an international bird/wildlife and photography tour leader for two of the best natural history tour and expedition companies in the world. Both roles involve leading tours (usually 2 or more weeks in length) with a focus on either seeing as much wildlife as possible, or coming away with as many exceptional photos as possible. One of the companies, Heritage Expeditions, runs ship-based expeditions through the Pacific so I work predominantly in the Russian Far East, Melanesia, the Subantarctic Islands of New Zealand, and the Ross Sea region of East Antarctica. For the main company I work for, Tropical Birding, I lead tours in places like South Africa, Namibia, Australia, Papua New Guinea, India, Morocco, Ecuador and Costa Rica, to name just a few. Typically I travel 300+ days a year. 

How did you get there, and what's the journey been like?
I began guiding by getting a job on the Portsmouth to Santander (Spain) ferry, showing passengers whales, dolphins and whatever other wildlife I could. I was then awarded a Masters scholarship at the Percy Fitzpatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town. During my time at UCT I discovered that I didn't want to be office-based, I didn't really enjoy scientific field work, but I did want to go birding and photograph all day every day. That was the beginning. Next I applied for an Enderby Trust scholarship which each year allows a couple of young people aged 18-30 to join one of Heritage Expeditions' flagship expeditions. I joined the one-off 'South Pacific Odyssey' for which we sailed from New Zealand to the Solomon Islands, visiting various islands in The Kermadecs, Tonga, Fiji and Vanuatu along the way. The trip was heavily wildlife and photography focussed, and it was here that I met one of the owners of Tropical Birding. He invited me out to their lodge, Tandayapa, in Ecuador for a 3 month stint and said to treat it as an 'on the job interview'. I did just that, and at the end of my stint I put my balls on the table, so to speak, and told one of the other owners that I was looking for a job guiding. I was offered a job on the spot and I've not stopped travelling since. 

If you could do anything else, what would it be?
To be honest, my current situation is perfect for me and I wouldn't do anything else. I get all the travel I could possibly hope for, and more for work. In between jobs I can book in stops anywhere in the world along the route for personal travel. I get to stay at phenomenal lodges that I wouldn't otherwise be able to, and I get to see some of the most spectacular places and beasts on the planet. I also avoid the trap of paying rent because I'm never in one place for too long, so financially it's a good situation too. 

What's been the highlight of your graduate life so far?
I've had many many highlights but this year I managed to step foot on all 7 continents in the space of 10 weeks. I also crossed both the Arctic and Antarctic Circles in the first half of the year. That's something I never thought I'd achieve. Other highlights have included a night spent watching Black Rhino and Desert Elephant bathe in a dimly lit waterhole in Namibia, snorkelling with Dugong in Vanuatu, sitting with Emperor Penguins in Antarctica, discovering a new colony of bizarre Spoon-billed Sandpipers in eastern Russia, photographing the Mount Hagen cultural gathering in Papua New Guinea, and co-rediscovering a species of flying fox on Vanikoro in the Solomon Islands that hadn't been seen for nearly 100 years. 

Where do you see yourself in 10 years' time?
I don't really know, I haven't really thought that far ahead. If I'm still exploring and seeing the world, I'll be happy. Ideally with a fantastic woman to share it all with.  


Check out Lisle's travel photography at:
https://www.lislegwynn.com/

www.instagram.com/lislegwynn/
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