Why do the Professional Track?

Many students have already completed The Professional Track by the time they begin their final year at University. I spoke to third year students Phaidra and Megan to ask why they completed the scheme and what they gained from it.

Phaidra Robinson:

I really enjoyed completing The Professional Track because I got to do courses on Journalism, Social Media Marketing and Publishing, which have allowed me to progress on my career pathway. I discovered through my work on the courses that I want to have a career in publishing, not journalism, as well as develop my social media marketing skills.

The Social Media Marketing course allowed me to gain a business placement position working as a social media intern for the English Literature department, while the Publishing course gave me the opportunity to network with industry professionals. This resulted in me getting an internship at Holland House Books.

I converted my second year module ‘The Business of Books’ into an Academic Placement, where I worked as an intern at Paper + Ink, an imprint of Momentum Books, for two weeks. This gave me the opportunity to work at the London Book Fair and gain more experience in the publishing industry. I replaced my coursework on the module with a placement report, which also counted towards my degree.

Megan Siarey:

Upon choosing a University to study at, employability was one of my key factors to look out for. The Professional Track demonstrated to me that the department is heavily involved in making sure students can utilise their skillsets in non-academic environments, and has continued to demonstrate this since. The opportunities that I have been able to partake in have been diverse, allowing me to test out different career paths. I am now able to demonstrate practical skills and provide employers with evidence of practical and theory based work within their field. This has been invaluable, as more and more recruiters expect students to have spent a significant amount of time within a professional environment. The Professional Track has enabled me to undertake this experience alongside my degree, making it less stressful as an undergraduate juggling a variety of jobs and responsibilities.

In my second year, as part of a placement module – Literature, Language, and Media, I undertook a two-week Academic Placement at the Head Office of Marks and Spencer in their Brand and Marketing Department. Under the guidance of the Assistant Manager of Menswear, I was able to complete tasks that were demonstrative of the job and linked to my report question. I undertook ‘comp shops’ (analysing competitors marketing campaigns in store) and fed back to the department any improvements that could be made from my findings. I also attended the A/W 17 season review, learning about the analytics used, as well as having informal meetings with people within the department to learn more about their jobs such as copywriting, digital marketing, and SEO amplification.

An Academic Placement forces you to think critically about the job and work environment at hand. This transfers into later jobs, in which you are able to take that critical thinking and apply it to your independent work. The placement not only contributed to my degree, but also provided me with a wealth of knowledge that I can draw upon to demonstrate my ability in interviews and internships. Ultimately, my placement influenced Reading UK to take me on for a summer internship. Across three months I was the social media account holder and ran a social media marketing campaign for the Reading-on-Thames Festival. Within this internship I also got to produce print material for the Heritage Open Days, further leading me to take part in the Publishing course this year and undertake an editorial position for a book produced within the department.

Publishing: From Laptop to Bookshop

The publishing industry is legendarily tough to enter – but thanks to a collaboration between The Professional Track and Creative Writing lecturer Shelley Harris, Reading Uni students have just been given a leg-up.

Over a hundred students from across the School of Literature and Languages attended ‘Laptop to Bookshop’, a course introducing them to Publishing which brought together a bestselling author, a top literary agent, and experts in editing, marketing and consumer insight.


Week 1 – Julie Cohen (Author) and Diarmid Thackery (Consumer Insight Manager)

The first week opened with bestselling author Julie Cohen in conversation with Shelley Harris. Julie spoke about her career as an author and her experience of the publishing industry from a writer’s viewpoint. She also talked about the creative writing process and fielded questions from students.

The second hour featured Diarmid Thackery from Penguin Random House. Diarmid spoke about book market segmentation and how consumers of books are split into certain sections depending on the quantity and type of books that they read. Diarmid focussed on his role in this aspect of publishing and how he aims to give consumers what they want through a more targeted approach, without compromising the innate creativity of writers.

One student commented on the ‘really useful and insightful speakers. I feel that I’ve had a great introduction to the course and the industry’.

Diarmid delivering his talk on consumer insight


Week 2 – Jo Unwin and Milly Reilly (Literary Agents)

During the second session, Jo Unwin and her assistant Milly Reilly spoke about Jo’s role as an agent and being the go between for authors and editors. The second half of the session involved students carrying out an exercise in which they re-wrote a blurb in a different genre after choosing from a selection of books. They then had to pitch this idea to Jo and the rest of the room. The most interesting pitch was perhaps the one that turned The Very Hungry Caterpillar into an erotic romance novel. Finally, students were given the opportunity to pitch their own book ideas to Jo and Milly at the front of the room.

Students relished the interactive nature of the session. Comments included ‘Fantastic session! I have learnt so much and feel more confident in a potential future in publishing’ and ‘I feel really inspired after this’.


Week 3 – Andrew Wille (Editor)

We welcomed Andrew Wille, a freelance editor who has worked with all the major publishing houses, to our third session of the course. Andrew firstly spoke about the processes involved in editing, then focused on the editorial skills required to take a book from its first draft to a publishable state. Finally, he got the students to undertake a practical, real-life editing task on a single page of a novel, before showing them how he would have edited it himself.

One student remarked that the session was ‘very inspiring! But realistic, as it showed how hard and intense the editing process is’.

Andrew and publishing students carrying out an editing task


Week 4 – James Spackman (Marketer)

The final session of the course was led by books marketer James Spackman. Shelley once again led a Q&A session with James, before opening the floor to our students. During this part of the session, James spoke about his career, explained how books are taken from the editor to the reader and how publishers make their books stand out. Inevitably he also ended up speaking about his role in marketing the Harry Potter books. The second part of his session got students to have a go at an authentic marketing and publicity task – one that James himself had been working on for the last couple of months. Students had to come up with a marketing and publicity plan for a very niche cycling book before feeding back their ideas.

One student ‘loved the exercise today. The whole course was insightful and it helped hearing from experts’.

James discussing the marketing task with students


Other comments about the course as a whole included:

‘This course has been absolutely fabulous! From meeting the author to agent to publisher to marketing, it has been great to see how the industry not only works, but how to get into it and do well.’

‘Applied to the course on a whim, had no idea what I wanted to do and had heard about publishing; now find myself passionate about it and eager to apply for experience! Fully enjoyed all the speakers.’

This is exactly what we wanted to achieve with this course; each session was designed to give insight into a specific aspect of publishing and offer advice about breaking into the industry, as well as encouraging the development of industry-specific skills through interactive tasks. Students left with a portfolio of authentic exercises that will give them an edge on their CVs and in job applications and interviews.

The Professional Track – An Introduction

I am incredibly excited to be taking on The Professional Track this year. For anyone new to the school or anyone else who may not be aware, The Professional Track is our school’s professional development scheme that supports our students in becoming as employable as possible upon graduation.

Students need to complete three courses, two placements (one of which is an Academic Placement that links to a module), one university scheme and a reflection report to complete The Professional Track. Students then receive a professional development qualification and a list of all the activities they completed alongside their degree transcript.

The list of courses that we will have running during the spring term (weeks 7-11) are as follows:

  • Publishing
  • Journalism
  • Translation
  • An Introduction to Marketing
  • Social Media Marketing
  • Report Writing
  • Essential First Aid
  • An Introduction to HR
  • British Sign Language
  • Professional Presentations

The posters are on the Professional Track Blackboard page, but I will also be putting them on social media throughout the term. Do feel free to mention these courses to any students interested in relevant career paths or who you think would benefit from a course. We also have a series of careers workshops running early in the term tailored to each of our departments.

I am based in Edith Morley 103a and will be holding office hours every Wednesday between 10:00-11:30am up to week 6. During weeks 7-11 I will have office hours between 2:00-4:00pm every Friday. Once I have a room set up I am also hoping to be in Miller for a couple of days each week.

What can I do to help?

If you are running any events or hear of any placement opportunities that you think would be relevant to The Professional Track then do let me know and I can help advertise them and have them count as part of the scheme.

Equally if you have any ideas for courses or are willing to run a session as part of a course then do get in touch. Thank you so much to everyone who has already volunteered to lead a session (or more!) this term.

If you have any students interested in The Professional Track or in carrying out an Academic Placement then feel free to send them my way. My email is g.payne@reading.ac.uk.

George Payne