I’ve always liked the idea of being referred to as a ‘Master’ and I’m pleased to announce that £7,500 worth of tuition fees later, I’ll hopefully have finally earned that coveted title. After finishing my dissertation of course…
As a part-time student studying an MA in Digital Media, like the vast majority of my generation, I’ve had to juggle my studies around full-time work. When a lucky break on scratch cards never materialised, I found myself in every student’s favourite destination – the pub. Although, this time I was the other side of the bar for once.
During my first year of study I worked night shifts pouring pints and spent my days poring over academic articles – most of which made me feel as equally blurry-eyed as the pub patrons.
My time at the bar was a lot of fun, and a learning experience in its own right, but the toils of late nights and early mornings, alongside the irregularity of shift work were taking their toll. I knew it was time for a change.
Although I was pretty certain I didn’t want to clean dirty ash trays for much longer, I didn’t really have the vaguest idea of what I’d want to be doing instead. In fact, at one point I even googled ‘what job should I do?’ – after completing a confusing amount of quiz questions, the final result was an inconclusive mix of ‘party planner’ or ‘chemist’.
I was totally at a loss until I had a conversation with my course mate, Maggie – Co-founder and Director of Digital Marketing at Maven Rocket. She pointed me in the direction of The Sussex Innovation Centre and the Catalyst Programme. After doing some research, I realised the work scheme certainly seemed to tick a lot of boxes. Catalyst bridges the gap between growing companies needing an additional dynamic staffing resource and the pool of students seeking meaningful work at the University of Sussex.
I would have the chance to work with a vast array of different businesses and gain a multi-faceted skillset along the way. But first, I had to pass the interviews…
After a thorough grilling from Mike Herd (mostly revolving around my LinkedIn profile picture), I was offered a contract as a fully-fledged member of the Catalyst Team. Now, 9 months down the line, I have an impressive roster of companies to add to my CV, 17 to be precise. Catalyst not only offered me the support of a team of peers and professionals, I also gained the opportunity to immerse myself in the world of business. From account managing for Colour Me Social (a hands-free social media management service), to project managing the marketing launch of Be Street Smart’s online estate agency, there’s always a different project waiting around the corner.
During my time at Catalyst I’ve climbed some steep learning curves. The transition from preparing jaeger bombs to formatting excel spreadsheets was more welcome than I had thought, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the realities of working 9am until 5.30pm whilst having essays to complete. It takes a lot of determination (also known as coffee) to head home after a full day in front of the computer and continue on throughout the evening with University work. Luckily for me, Lucy was happy to agree to a 30-hour contract, leaving me with one day a week to keep on top of my studies. When deadlines are looming, I can arrange any extra time needed to avoid pulling any all-nighters too!
Due to the nature of work Catalyst offers I’ve gained a wealth of experience in many aspects of business from lead generation, digital marketing, project management, content curation and even public speaking. Although, I was surprised this spectrum of opportunity didn’t immediately illuminate a career path for me. Instead, it served to point out aspects of work that I definitely didn’t want to try again.
Now, I really don’t mean that as a negative comment. If anything, it’s one of the most valuable lessons I could have taken from a scheme like this. I always had the idea in the back of my mind that I would end up in a swanky London ad agency of some description. But after experiencing the corporate rigmarole one of our remote clients seemed so embroiled in, I soon realised that world didn’t suit me at all.
Being offered a short term, representative insight into different industries is invaluable. When I think of the amount of effort, time and interviews I would have sat through looking for a corporate advertising role, only to realise 5 months down the line I hated that environment? I’m grateful I had the chance to work with a (slightly difficult) client and figure out it was everything I didn’t want in a job.
Along the way I’ve also learnt things about myself I never knew. One of my first projects was conducting in-depth interviews for an academic project on Colour Vision Deficiency, I had to interview optometrists across the country and was surprised by how interesting I found learning about other people’s work lives was. The same could be said for the work I did with Do Something Different – after interviewing Health and Wellbeing professionals from corporate organisations including Unilver, Royal Mail, Nationwide, Manchester Police, Npower and NHS Trusts the findings were compiled into a White Paper. Seeing the final outcome after weeks of preparation and work was really satisfying.
I’ve also garnered an amazing network of contacts, from clients I have worked with to people I have met in both the Brighton and Croydon centres. My final few months at Catalyst will be spent with a new lead client, Long Run Works, a company delivering PR campaigns with innovation and purpose. I’m really looking forward to delving further into a business with an ethical standpoint and getting my hands dirty at their workshops across the country.
Once this dreaded dissertation is finally out of the way at least!