So like I announced about a week ago, I decided to profile different people across the globe’s experience and how their journeys have been so far since they left university. I posted ads on all my social media accounts to get as many people as possible to be involved in this project…I am glad to begin posting these stories on here and I hope someone somewhere takes something from it.
I present to you Victoria Princewill’s story. I connected with Victoria via the RSA (Royal Society of Arts) Fellowship as we both happen to be Fellows. She was so nice to connect with me and also did not mind at all contributing to this project. Such as sweet spirit!
What is your name and what university did you attend?
My name is Victoria Princewill and I did my undergraduate degree at Oxford and my Masters at UCL.
What year did you graduate and what course did you take?
I graduated from Oxford in 2012, UCL in 2015, I studied English at Oxford and Philosophy at UCL.
Briefly describe how your university life; any extracurricular activities you were involved, scholarships, awards/ honors etc.
At Oxford, I co-founded a series of TEDx conferences, called TEDxOxford. It drew speakers from around the world, international press and a global audience. Despite having launched it in 2011 it is still going strong, maintained by existing students 7 years on. Aside from that, I was a member of OUDS, the Oxford University Drama Society and the Failed Novelists’ Society.
Based on your experience in university, do you regret going to university or did you regret at a point? If so why?
I could not envision a world where I regretted going to university or gaining an education.
Upon graduation, did you have any plans as to what your next move was? Could you please share?
Upon graduating from Oxford I knew I wanted to write and think and I also knew I wanted I specifically wanted to study Philosophy. Soon after I graduated I applied for the UCL Masters. Whilst doing my masters I was headhunted a consulting firm, through a recruiting agency. I initially turned it down but joined later whilst writing my thesis.
Based on the answer from the question above, did these plans materialize in the short term or even long term? If it did what was the process like? If not, what happened? Did you have any backup plans?
I work now as a novelist, and intermittently as a freelance writer, so I suppose you could say my plans to ‘write and think’ did materialize fairly swiftly. I hadn’t intended to work in consulting and ultimately had no backup plans for a creative career. I left consulting less than a year after joining because it wasn’t for me and began writing immediately after that.
In the case where you faced rejections especially in applying for jobs etc, what effect did it have on your person? Care to share any experiences if you had one?
I was rejected by one company, after five rounds of interviews. It was interesting because I had prepared extensively and after the final interview, the interviewer shook my hand and promised she would ‘see me soon’, a phrase I took to mean I had got the job. Realising I hadn’t become something of a turning point for me — I asked myself why I was going for a job that on a fundamental level I didn’t want. I wanted to be a writer. I had left consulting and was doing freelance writing at the time whilst looking for another full-time position. That rejection was the impetus I needed to commit to writing full time. Not too long after that I began my novel and didn’t look back.
If you were to be that 18/19 year old going back to university, knowing what you know now (irrespective of how many years after university) what advice would you give yourself? Any advice to others?
Advice to self: work harder.
Advice to others: [N/A]* I couldn’t begin to advise other people in that sphere, it implies a one-size-fits-all approach which I think doesn’t accurately reflect the vast array of experiences that people have prior and during university and thus the difference in their corresponding needs whilst attending or intending to.
With the current state of the job market, do you think in like 10 years time, universities will still have value? Especially with the rate at which many graduates end up being unemployed or young people prefer to start their businesses or train in apprenticeships?
I am quite passionate about the idea that university is not simply a rite of passage that guarantees one a steady job. As such, I am indifferent to its relationship to the job market. For me an education is about learning to think analytically, to critically engage with ideas. One should develop the skills to question and understand the world, to maintain a strong sense of curiosity, skepticism, and empathy as they navigate it. Of course, those principles can be fostered in a liberal arts education or any specialized humanities program. Whilst degrees like STEM tend to offer more specific and in some cases vocational courses, I think an optimal degree program would offer that alongside a liberal arts course. Rarely outside of vocational courses do people truly need a university education to get a job. I think the two are actually quite unrelated and that learning is infinitely more important than the concept of ‘work’.
Indeed I think the emphasis on productivity in our society is harmful and, as our experiments with artificial intelligence continue to prove to us, soon to be pointless. As most jobs will become automated, maybe the real question is whether in 10 years time ‘work’ will have any value. It will be fascinating to see a world without ‘work’ as the central focus. Will people be inspired to return to university, to cultivate a life of learning? I’m curious and hopeful about what future generations will look like in the absence of this emphasis on economic productivity. Perhaps they will learn a plethora of languages, challenge themselves in ways they never could before. We could end up with much more enlightened generations and much more equal ones. I’m optimistic but also clearly quite idealistic and given I’m writing about this in the most general terms rather than pointing to actual feasibility and breaking down the limitations of this rosy-eyed utopia, I imagine I’m also coming off as deeply naive.
What do you do now in terms of work or any other thing you are involved in? Care to share your social media handles so people could connect with you?
I recently completed my debut novel, In the Palace of Flowers. It tells the story of Abyssinian slaves who live in Iran in the Qajar court between 1894 and 1896. It’s a work of historical fiction, inspired by the photography of the reigning Shah at the time, the autobiography of his daughter and the sole existing first-person account of an Abyssinian slave in Iran.
The novel is about how two Abyssinian slaves navigate a highly politicised world, where the imperial powers of Russia and Britain are muscling in and the Iranian public is empowered and angry. The two slaves are trying to find meaning in their lives, as individuals who are educated but owned, who live well but can never truly go home. The real Abyssinian slaves in Iran were completely written out of history; there is not a single book that focuses entirely on their experience. There are mere hints, references in chapters and a few academics doing diligent work. I hope that this novel will shine a light on that area of history, perhaps leading to more funding in the area and be the impetus that gets more people telling the stories our global history has forgotten so that we forget them no more.
My Twitter handle is @vpofrances, my Instagram is @francisnin278.
What have you learned from Victoria’s story? Don’t forget to stay tuned for more entries from other amazing people with amazing stories!