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Arts Degrees in the Outside World

Holly Cockburn, an English Literature student at The University of Birmingham, tells us about her two-week placement with the Digital Team and gives her advice for Arts students.

Holly Cockburn

Studying an Arts subject at University is a double edged sword; we have freedom to explore the topics that really interest us and often the work load is a little less intense, however unlike our BSc peers, we are constantly reminded of the uncertainty of a career when the University bubble pops.

I speak with confidence that this is something almost all English students will have experienced. The family dinners in those month-long term breaks that are filled with the inevitable, ‘so what are you going to do when you graduate?’ alongside the incessant stresses of flat mates studying BScs, who are trying to secure internships in corporate businesses that will often lead to grad jobs. I should caveat that this niggle is no reflection of the support offered by the University, but rather a critique on how Arts degrees are viewed in general. I feel fortunate that studying at The University of Birmingham has opened me up to the range of jobs out there that, alongside my placement, have challenged my limited view that an English Literature degree would lead only to a career in journalism, publishing or teaching.

Although I can only speak for myself here, I have found that being an English student often implies that maths isn’t your strong suit, and therefore many corporate careers can seem out of reach. But what happens when you also decide that you don’t want to write for a living? Arts degrees are infamous for the transferable skills they teach, but the anxiety (for me, at least) lies in where I could place myself in the real world.

My work placement at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has really taught me that there is no reason we have to fit into these binary categories, and that ultimately, no job title has a singular required skill or responsibility. It satisfied both my desire to use the academic side of my degree, but also be part of something current and exciting. Social media is always adapting, and I find it fascinating how organisations are using it to widen their reach and achieve their goals. When you combine this with the fact that the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is a registered charity, I was enthralled with the idea that by utilising social platforms, the Trust could be even more effective in engaging individuals with Shakespeare.

Having worked in social media for the past year, I already felt geared up to use scheduling tools and to look into their analytics and the current uses of platforms (my own obsession with social media definitely helped with this!). Unlike many businesses, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s content is produced across all departments which makes it diverse and authentic, but also means that it cannot be the main focus of resources.

I got to work by learning animation skills on Photoshop, which I had no previous experience with, to create GIFs and memes to post across their social media platforms. These forms of content are widespread across Twitter and Instagram, especially in teen age groups, so the aim of this was to make the Trust’s content entertaining as well as purely educational. This will hopefully help people see Shakespeare and his work as accessible and fun and promote engagement across the board. It also made for really enjoyable days at work. Although I faced constant challenges with each GIF I created, the end result was always really satisfying and entertaining.

Martini Day GIF

I was also able to practice my copywriting skills by thinking up creative captions to go alongside the GIFs and memes, which is more complicated than it seems- it’s hard to be witty on the spot! I discovered the importance of writing to your audience, which is determined through looking at the Trust’s demographic for each platform. If the tone of the jokes isn’t right, they will ultimately flop rather than encourage interaction.

Although I already had some experience working in social media, I faced so many new challenges and felt genuinely excited going into work every day because of the larger goal of the Trust. My work felt meaningful as it was contributing to a greater cause of encouraging people to engage with and be excited by Shakespeare in the same way that I have had the fortune of experiencing through my studies. It seems crazy that a two week placement can completely alter my perspective on life after University, but I am now certain that I will find a career that suits my skills and individual interests.

The placement has given me so much more confidence not only in my own abilities and knowledge, but also in that there are many careers out there within the arts sector that aren’t the generic jobs thrust upon us by online career quizzes and out-of-touch relatives. I would urge any Arts students out there to get involved with most certainly The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, but also any other placements that you may not immediately feel qualified for; the transferable skills that we are famed to have will most definitely see you through. 

Holly's GIFs and memes will be appearing on our social media channels over the coming months - follow us on Instagram and Twitter to see more!