This week I present to you the story of Philippa Watts, who I met via Child.Org Charity Apprentice Programme. I am very happy she agreed out of the lot to share her story. We happen to have attended the same university as well! I do hope you take a thing or two from it.
What is your name and what university did you attend?
My name is Philippa Watts and I attended the University of Leeds.
What year did you graduate and what course did you offer?
I graduated with my BA in French and History in 2013, and then with my MA in Global Development and Education in 2015.
Briefly describe how your university life; any extracurricular activities you were involved, scholarships, awards/ honors etc.
One of the big draws of Leeds for me was the vast array of societies on offer. I have been involved in theatre and the performing arts since I was 4, and had absolutely no intention of giving anything up, so I dived straight in. The Opera Society was the centre of my life, where I made all my friends and which (at times) took priority over my degree, but I was involved in a different dance society almost every day of the week – Modern Dance for tap and jazz, Swing during my Masters, and a brief foray into ballroom. Towards the end of my degree, I got involved in some inter-university student translation competitions and was delighted to win the French – English round of the Hello Veritas international competition in 2013.
Based on your experience in university, do you regret going to university or did you regret at a point? If so why?
It’s an enormous cliché that they are the best years of your life, and I know that they aren’t for everyone, but for me, they really were halcyon days. Socialising was easy because you knew exactly where to find people like you, I loved my course and found it challenging and intellectually stimulating, and I got opportunities that I would never have got anywhere else. I don’t think I regretted going or my choice of course at any point, I did what I loved and trusted that everything else would fall into place, which it has.
Upon graduation, did you have any plans as to what your next move was? Could you please share?
When I was about 10, I informed my mum that I was going to star in musicals. She wasted no time in telling me that I wouldn’t enjoy that because I would have no money and no stability, so I asked her what she thought I would be good at. She had a bit of a think and told I would make a great barrister, so for the next 11 years, I laid all the foundations to join the bar. As soon as I could I started filling my holidays with work experience placements and mini-pupillages, and by the time I got to my final year I had my place at law school confirmed to do my conversion course. Then, my translation and interpretation tutors started asking me if I would consider taking their Masters courses and training professionally in one of these disciplines, and I realized that I really loved languages (I had taught myself Spanish to 2nd-year degree level alongside my French studies). Plus, the rules around Legal Aid tightened dramatically and the system was hemorrhaging barristers left, right and center, so suddenly it didn’t look so tempting.
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?
So, in the midst of a minor existential crisis, I fell on another cliché and decided to go to India. Not with the hippyish intention of ‘finding myself’ (though I guess that did happen), but an opportunity to do an internship with a charity came my way via my course (I specialized in Indian gender history) and it seemed like a good chance to travel and learn another language. To cut a long and complicated story short, I spent 6 months working with teachers and youth workers to develop child-centered, games-based teaching methods and reduce corporal punishment. There I realized that the charity sector existed and would offer me exactly the kind of challenges I had been looking for as a barrister, but without the crushing workload.
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 have been very lucky so far that things have generally fallen where I want them, and I think part of that has been knowing when to jump ship and take a new opportunity, and when to stick to my guns and see what is around the corner. Not to say that I haven’t been rejected for things, when I was looking for my first paid job after my unpaid internship I applied for a job that I could very confidently tick all the boxes for and I thought was made for me. I didn’t even get an interview as there were 312 applicants. I actually met the lady who got the job a couple of months later, and it turned out she had years more experience than me and, to be honest, was vastly over-qualified. But (warning, yet another cliché in-coming) it’s true what they say about when one door closes another opens, and there will always be something else. So chin up, have confidence in your abilities, and keep an eye on how you can fill the gaps in your skill set. There are so many excellent online courses out there, often free, which are a good starting point.
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 will you give yourself? Any advice to others?
My advice to anyone starting out at uni would do what you love, first and foremost. If you don’t love it, you won’t excel at it because you won’t have the motivation to push yourself. Other than that, I would suggest that it helps to have a trajectory and an end goal as this helps you orientate yourself in the vast and complex adult world, but that you should be open to this goal changing as you discover more about yourself and the opportunities that are out there. Say yes to everything and work out the practicalities later (though I realize that is easier for some to do than others), and learn to position yourself through networking so that opportunities are more likely to come your way.
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?
In my opinion, universities will always have value for those who look for it. You can’t be passive and expect everything to be delivered to you, especially as the staff is becoming increasingly pressured and resources are under threat. Lecturers and teaching staff will always want to engage with young people who are curious, so don’t think it’s nerdy to want to chat with your lecturers outside of class time or to look into extra resources. But academic success is only one of the benefits that university brings; as long as universities remain places that create and develop a wide range of extracurricular opportunities they will have value. Whatever your ‘thing’ is, you will be able to develop vital and transferable skills around it – be on the committee of your society and you will get leadership, organization, budgeting skills and so many more. Take the initiative to start something new and you will be able to show employers that you are creative, innovative and determined. I have a lot of respect for people that dive straight into apprenticeships or business, but being at university (particularly doing an arts degree) gives you the flexibility to explore that you will never have again once you join the world of work.
What do you do now in terms of work or any other thing you are involved, care to share your social media handles so people could connect with you?
I am now Participation Development Officer for the Council for Disabled Children, where I support disabled children and young people to influence the government SEND reforms, as well as supporting professionals to improve their understanding and implementation of children’s right to be meaningfully involved in decision-making. Feel free to look me up on LinkedIn or Facebook
I hope you enjoyed her story…Stay tuned for other amazing features…