Bianca Burton graduated from the University of Birmingham in 2011 with a BA in English Language. She is now Business Development Coordinator for Arup - co-ordinating all Business development and marketing activity for their Bristol office and supporting other offices in the West as well as the Regional team which looks after the UK, Middle East and Africa Region.
While studying at the University, Bianca worked at the Guild of Students as a marketing assistant and some of the contacts she made led to her first job in Marketing. She also took part in the University’s Personal Skills Award. Bianca says "The PSA helped a lot in preparing me for a career in Marketing. I chose modules, including Project Management and Media & PR skills, which were useful for developing skills that I now use day-to-day. Marketing has always been a passion of mine and I’m now working with a company that is invested in developing my skills and in my future career. I have a large amount of responsibility and creative control over the campaigns, projects and collateral that we produce, meaning I always get involved with new and exciting projects and people."
Bianca’s degree helped her to prepare for the working world as well as giving her skill such as language analysis: "Presentations, debating topics, research, time management as well as how to seek help from the right experts in that field - I learnt all of these things during my degree without even realising and only later reflected on how glad I was that I had started to develop these before starting work!"
Recalling her favourite memory (graduating in the magnificent Great Hall), Bianca offers some advice for new students: "It’s never too early to start gaining experience and looking into career paths you are interested in. The alumni mentoring scheme is a great way to speak to professionals and gain a better understanding of what you need to know, and what skills you need to work on before you enter the world of work.
"Keep developing your skills, and never stop learning. People think that once you finish your degree then the learning is over, but really that is where it all begins. Whether it’s taking photographs, drawing, or experience in different computer software, these are all useful abilities that can be learnt at any stage in your career or during your studies. Employers value people that are motivated to keep growing their skills."
Louisa Grocott graduated with a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing in 2010. She is now working as a PR Account Executive in Birmingham.
Louisa writes, “One of the positive aspects of my degree was the freedom to be creative – there were no restraints; many people wrote screenplays or short stories, but I chose to specialise in poetry, which I loved. Another aspect was the Children’s Literature module (3rd year) - I was given permission to independently study my own choice of texts rather than the recommended ones, and thoroughly enjoyed researching and writing about children’s literature of war and atrocity, reading foreign texts in translation to prepare my argument."
"I now work as a PR Account Executive at Core Marketing and Events Ltd, based in Birmingham. One of the best things about my job is the variety. From working alongside the project management team organising fundraising dinners for Birmingham Children’s Hospital, to writing press releases for national residential housebuilders, every day is different. I am also a member of the development committee at Birmingham Future, a networking organisation for young business professionals in Birmingham. Through this role, I mentor two students and organise a variety of professional development events for both members and non-members within the business community."
"One of my favourite memories from my time at Birmingham was volunteering to show English alumni around the university and talking to them about my experience. Many of the visitors had given large sums of money to the university over the years, so it was great to talk to them about what their donations had been spent on, telling them about my experience as a student in today’s society, and discuss all the great work the university was continuing to do to make it a better place for students and staff. Another was handing in the last essay of the year and buying an ostrich burger from the farmer’s market – sitting with friends on the grassy areas on campus. It reminds me of one of the only times in life when I really had not a care in the world!"
Nicola Fleet-Milne (BA Hons, English and Classics, 2000) is the owner and managing director of FleetMilne Property, Birmingham city centre’s premier independent residential property agency. She is also chair of Birmingham Future, the city’s young professional network.
“I enjoyed exploring beyond the expected boundaries of my course during my dissertation, and honing my skills in articulating a coherent and persuasive argument. I was heavily involved in the University Air Squadron – I learned to fly! I had to learn to balance that with my academic studies which also helped me to carve my own career path.
Nicola’s favourite memory of her time here? “Spending my afternoons at RAF Cosford flying aerobatics in glorious sunshine, then asking my housemates how they’d enjoyed the library that day!”
“The best thing about owning my own business is being able to make my own rules and balancing that with the responsibility of having a team of 18. My time at the University of Birmingham planted a love of the city that has developed into an enduring passion and a driving force for the choices that further my career.”
Nicola has since returned to campus to share her entrepreneurial experiences with students. She recommends that students get out and see the city!
“Seriously consider a career here, as a primary choice, rather than a fallback option. Get a summer job as it’s very easy to accelerate your career by networking in Birmingham, even as an undergraduate. Make sure that your degree forms only a part of your university career; get involved in lots of activities/ because this is what working life is like if you want to get ahead quickly.”
Jo Usmar (BA English, 2005) is a columnist for Cosmopolitan magazine and freelance writer, working for titles including Fabulous, Stylist, Heat, The Mirror, 3am.com and Look. She was even one of the first journalists to interview One Direction! She is also co-authoring a series of self-help books for women that will be published in January 2014.
Jo said “I loved the fun, inclusive and creative English course at Birmingham. It was great to be taught by experts and academics I admired who encouraged me to pursue my personal interests. I was able to indulge my obsession with Roald Dahl and fairy tales in my dissertation - and I got a first for it, which blew me away. That support boosted my confidence and gave me faith in my ability as a writer.
“Now I get to write for a living which is all I’ve ever wanted to do. Having my own column in Cosmo allows me to rant away to my heart’s content in my own voice which is a rare opportunity and a privilege I don’t take for granted. As a freelancer I have written about so many different things – from interviewing Heston Blumenthal for Heat to writing about the London riots for Stylist to interviewing psychologists on health issues for Fabulous. I love everything about my job. (Actually, that’s a lie - I hate deadlines!)”
During her studies, Jo worked on the student newspaper and radio station which she credits with helping her along the way to a successful career in journalism. She advises students to make the most of their time at university...
“I knew I wanted to get into television or magazines and so hunted down opportunities myself. Getting involved in extra-curricular activities and doing work experience during this time can really help in building your CV – but be prepafrtred to work for free and make thousands of cups of tea. And make sure you make the most of the nightlife in Birmingham as it’s brilliant. My university years were definitely some of the best of my life.”
Christine Arthur, one of University of Birmingham’s Alumni of the Year 2012, has lived and worked in Birmingham for over 25 years. Following support from the University careers network, she organised work experience in a Birmingham based public relations firm, subsequently securing a permanent role there, and within five years of graduating she had risen to Associate Director. She was then picked to head Key Communications, a top 20 UK PR company. Here, she grew the Birmingham office from a staff of just three and an annual turnover of £200,000 to a team of 25 staff and with revenues in excess of £2million.
In 2007, Christine became Managing Director of McCann Birmingham – the West Midland’s branch of the world’s largest communications and advertising network which operates in 130 different countries. She provides creative and strategic input whilst overseeing and steering the implementation of a range of PR activities. Over the years, Christine has advised a client list which includes The AA, Siemens, Bosch, RWE npower, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Stanley Black & Decker, Marriott Hotels, Nivea, National Express and Conoco Phillips.
She said: “I chose to study here at University of Birmingham because I loved the campus, the course and the sports facilities. My degree was supported by fantastic lecturers and I also worked on the Student newspaper ‘Redbrick’ and in the Film and TV studio producing the University’s own Television channel, which gave me an excellent skill set for a career in public relations.
“My experiences here, both academic and social, formed the basis of my career and family life and I have continued to support the great work of the University through guest lectures, seminars and through careers events. I have been really pleased to be able to offer placements and work experience for undergraduates from the Arts and Law College, including one UoB alumnus who is now working for McCann PR full time.”
Philippa graduated in 2009 with a BA (Hons) in English Literature and Classical Literature and Civilisation. She is now the Community Manager (MBAs & Masters) and the Programme Assistant (Executive MBA) of the EADA Business School in Barcelona.
“Through my degree I learned that preparation is at least half the work of every task, whether it's a lecture, seminar or essay. The same is true for teaching, as you can't teach grammar you don't know or invent successful learning activities off the top of your head. The degree also developed my sensitivity to language and analytical skills, which helped me to break down students' learning processes into manageable steps, and to tease out the answers. I couldn't have got my first job without my degree, not least to persuade my employer to take someone on who had no related practical experience! The fact that I came out with a 1st also showed that I was dedicated and thorough, so I think that helped too.
The best thing about both of my current jobs is the contact that I have with the students. There is a lot of energy and sense of desire to analyse and improve. I enjoy the more creative side of the job too, like interviewing guests from the business world and staff about events, writing the newsletter for future students at the school. As for life here - well, it's Barcelona! Working means it's not the party that people imagine it to be, but it's true that it's a city with everything. It's impossible to be bored here, I've discovered so many more interests and hobbies while living here. The best part is certainly the people I've met, who have opened my mind to so many different ways of life.”
Lorelei graduated in 2001 with a BA (Hons) in English and Philosophy and is now a Senior Copywriter/Advertising Creative at Beattie McGuinness Bungay Ad Agency in London. She has written two novels, Step on it, Cupid and Lost for Words.
“My first job was as an in-house copywriter at Random House Publishers. Often the new books meetings were just like going to tutorials and talking about books we'd just read! [My English degree] plays a big part in my career, in that both my jobs are about using your imagination, writing, and analysis, so three years of training in that was a big help. But also, when it comes to the craft aspect of my job - writing succinctly and expressing yourself - three years of writing essays and being able to argue a point is also very relevant. It was also very useful on paper, as it's a great solid base for any arts or media job. And getting a First meant that employers could see I had some kind of proven writing ability.
My degree was a stepping stone for my book career too. My English dissertation was all about women's romantic fiction, from Mills & Boon to the birth of chick lit. It was an interest of mine ever since studying Deb Parson's course in this subject.”
Aimee graduated in 2007 with a BA (Hons) in English and History and currently works as an account manager for Prova PR.
“Having a degree got me through the door and the fact it was in a subject which showed I could research and write articulately certainly helped. While studying in my second year at Birmingham University, I attended a session on careers in the media. Inspired by that session, I applied for work experience placements across a number of marketing and communications organisations. I was fortunate enough to be taken on for a six week placement with Kinetic Communications in Birmingham during my final year and was then offered a full-time role with the company. Throughout the next four years, I was heavily supported and helped to develop. Kinetic supported me through three qualifications with the Chartered Institutes of Public Relations and Marketing and I was promoted through the ranks to Account Manager.
After four years at Kinetic, it was time to move on and I’ve now spent just over a year as an Account Manager with Prova PR in Warwick. The best thing about working in PR is the variety of people you meet and areas of industry with which you get involved. I’ve worked with lawyers and scrap merchants, rally drivers and shopping centre managers, biofuels producers and vehicle testers. Every day is different and the pace of life is exhilarating – albeit incredibly tiring at times!”
Katie Allsop, BA English, 2009
Katie graduated in 2009 with a BA (Hons) in English. She is now a Senior Accountant Executive at McCann PR.
“Having an English degree was fundamental in securing my first job, as I was a fluent and confident writer, able to draft articles on various topics from finance to healthcare. Being able to digest a lot of information and produce a succinct and comprehensive version is also an important skill I learnt as an English undergraduate. After graduating from university, I applied for work experience at a small PR firm in Birmingham which was recommended to me by the university. On receiving my application for work experience, the company asked me if I would like to interview for a junior position as they were currently recruiting. I was offered the job as PR account executive and worked there for a year, before joining McCann PR in 2010, where I work on large national PR accounts.
As a degree, English really opens up the doors to whatever profession you want to enter. Being able to write in a focused, interesting and succinct manner is an important skill across a range of jobs, and being capable of working independently is also a key skill for employers. An English degree also allows you to be very individual – I wrote on various, perhaps unusual topics, as an undergraduate but having the freedom to write about subjects that really interest you is the best way to enjoy your course and be successful.”