Last weekend we had an Open Day at the university and I was there to give a talk to our visitors about how we use placements in our department. English Literature is not a subject which is usually thought of as highly vocational, but we take quite the opposite view here: we think that it qualifies you to embark on a life doing just about anything. Funnily enough, I was also contacting our alumni this week, those students who graduated with us over the last seven years and who are happy to be contacted by our current students who are seeking advice on how to get ahead in life. As one of these ex-students is now a lawyer, another is an investment banker and another is studying medicine, I feel that the case is proved!
Knowing that our students might end up anywhere, we were tempted to put in place a system of work experience placements, internships which would immerse our students in the world of work. However, we know that our Careers Service already does an excellent job of supporting our students in this endeavour, so we decided to something different. So we opened up every one of our English Literature modules for our second and third year students to select, should they wish, as a placement module. Students can do at least two of these academic placements whilst they are with us, and we work with them to ensure that the placement they undertake both reflects and enhances the learning on their module. We also know that it could help them find their way in life when they leave us.
It is exciting for me as placement tutor in our department to share this radical idea with our guests: there are always plenty of questions and I love telling them about the student who worked in an author’s museum on the moors of Yorkshire, or the student who worked with wolves for a fortnight…and if you want to know more, you can find out at http://www.reading.ac.uk/english-literature/Undergraduate/ell-academic-placements.aspx.
One of the things that often strikes me when I see our potential students and their families milling around the campus is just how overwhelming it must be. There is so much information to take in and so much to see. Looking at university websites and following their blogs can help and of course you are given plenty of material to take away, but I think I have discovered one good way to choose a university. Once you have done all of your research and made sure you are being offered absolutely the right course, then go with your gut feeling. You will be spending three years in the place, so it is very much like buying a house: if it feels right, it probably is right.
A strange thing happened to me just after my talk on placements this year. A parent of one of our visiting pupils found me in the corridor and asked how I got into my job. What, she asked, would someone have to do to become a university lecturer and, more importantly, is it worth the effort? After I had spent some time outlining how challenging it can be to become a lecturer, and how much effort it might involve to get here, I was struck by the second part of her question. It reminded me again of something I have known for a long time: for me, being a university lecturer is the best job in the world.