Stepping out of Academia’s Comfort Zone: Sophie’s Pursuit of a Career in Journalism

A blog banner written 'Stepping out of Academia's Comfort Zone: Sophie’s Pursuit of a Career in Journalism'

Sophie Carlin describes her initial uncertainty about what would follow her graduation with an English degree in 2023, and how a ‘brave choice’ took her outside her comfort zone, ultimately leading to a rewarding next step in her quest to follow a career in journalism.

At the start of my third year of my English degree, I began getting the dreaded question: ‘what are your plans for next year?’. It quickly got me thinking. In a bit of a panic to know what was coming next, I applied for a few English Masters courses, and one journalism course. I agonised over the decision-making process (as the number of calls I made to my poor mum in this period would attest to). I loved English, but knew I didn’t want to be an academic, so any English Masters would be for pure enjoyment. Though an entirely valid reason to pick that path, I decided I wanted to have more of a sense of progress towards a career. After a brief flirtation with becoming a barrister (which the Cambridge Careers Service assured me would still be an option in future if I changed my mind), I opted to study MA Newspaper Journalism at City, University of London.  

I’m glad I decided to push myself out of my comfort zone by choosing a new challenge.

I’m a third of the way through the course and I am loving it so far. Though it’s demanding, and stretches me a lot, I’m learning so much, and gaining real skills to bring to work opportunities I apply for. I feel vindicated in my decision to take this path. I think I made the brave choice – it would have been easy and comfortable to stay in academia for one more year, and I know I would have loved it, but I’m glad I decided to push myself out of my comfort zone by choosing a new challenge. And it’s one that allows me to still have everything I loved about academic life – writing, research, the creative synthesis of ideas, mental stimulation and challenge, and continuous learning. I enjoyed focussing on impact while Women’s and Marginalised Genders’ Officer on my college JCR, and Vice-President of my college feminism society, and I hope to do the same in my journalism.  

Getting to this point wasn’t always smooth sailing though. Facing expensive Masters tuition fees, and the fact that the postgraduate student loan (a lump sum, as opposed to separate tuition fee and maintenance loans) would barely cover it, I knew I’d have to work hard to make it work financially (especially because my course runs in pricey London). I applied to every scholarship and grant I could find but received an endless stream of ‘we regret to inform you’. I picked up as many shifts as possible at my summer job to save some money and was ecstatic when I got a £750 grant from the McGlashan Trust. Then, at the eleventh hour, I was amazed to receive a full scholarship and living costs grant from the Journalists’ Charity. Combining this with the postgraduate student loan, the books finally, thankfully balanced. I suppose it was just persistence, and a bit of luck that I happened to fall into the relatively narrow eligibility scope for the funding I received.  

There are a couple of good resources I’d recommend for finding funding. The fees/funding/scholarships page of whatever institution you’re applying to will list some good starting points, including the institution’s own bursaries. Universities also often point outwards to other, external places to look for funding opportunities, including the Alternative Guide to Postgraduate Funding, a large searchable directory of smaller grant-making organisations. Turn2Us was also a very useful database. Check back on these sources regularly too, as new scholarships do get added – the one I eventually got was one that was added (to my institution’s scholarship page) later.  

I’d also really recommend contacting your college alumni office, and asking if they have any alumni now in your desired field who might be happy to speak to you. I did this, and I was given the contact details for two journalists who I’ve kept in touch with ever since. Both have been amazingly helpful, taking an extremely generous amount of time to advise and guide me. One in particular has really been a mentor to me. She’s guided me through what can often be an incredibly confusing field to get into; been so patient with every email I’ve sent her with the subject line ‘So sorry, another question!’; and she got me a week’s work experience at a national magazine just before Christmas. I wouldn’t be anywhere without her help. 

Networking can be scary…but most people are very happy to help.

Having connections does help to make those emails you send asking if there are any work experience opportunities feel more natural. I know networking is such an annoying buzzword and it can be very scary, but it really will help. I’ve always felt slightly mystified about how to actually do it, but, though I’m not at all an expert, I’ve found from giving it a go that most people are very happy to help. All you need is a simple email saying you enjoy their work; want to become a journalist; and would love to have a 5-minute chat or quick email exchange about their experience and/or advice they could give you. Someone I contacted in this capacity gave me the email address of a reporter at Schools Week/FE Week. After a quick, polite email outlining who I was; the value I could bring to a work experience placement (emphasise how your relevant experience and knowledge makes you useful to them, rather than how having their organisation on your CV will be useful to you); and asking if there was any work experience available, I secured a week-long placement. If I can do it, you certainly can! 

If you haven’t already, subscribe to the Journo Resources newsletter – it’s incredible for discovering new opportunities. I found the ENO Response programme, which I’m currently on, via it – we attend the opening night of every show at the English National Opera; review it, and get mentoring on our writing from professional critics; get our reviews published on the ENO website; and attend masterclasses on opera, music and drama. You’ve got to be in it to win it, so you might as well fire off those applications! It’ll add an appearance of credibility and commitment to your CV (as does student journalism).  

All experience is good experience.

I’m definitely one to over-research when it comes to bigger decisions like what to do post-graduation. Information-gathering online and at careers talks, and asking for people’s advice, especially if they’re working in your desired field, is all very worthwhile. But absolute certainty about what the right choice is won’t necessarily come (at least, it didn’t for me). The right choice is the one you make. So once you’ve done your best to weigh up the options, and work out what you really think about it all, just take the plunge. Choose something, and go for it. All experience is good experience because it all redirects you to what’s best for you. I know how you feel, believe me – but you ARE going to find something that suits you. You will!  

Learn more about pursuing a career in journalism on our website.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe By Email

Get every new post delivered right to your inbox.

This form is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Skip to toolbar