what I wish I could tell first-year me

When I was a first year BCM student, I thought I knew who I was and what I wanted from life. Looking back at that girl who used to be me, I realise that she was adorably naive. If I could tell her a few things, some gentle words and hard truths, then maybe she would have more effectively used her time at university.

Alas, I can’t do that. But, what I can do is share my advice with the newest crop of BCM students who may be just as in need of help as I was.

Don’t get intimidated 

If you don’t know how to do something then thats okay, you’re here to learn. Nobody expects you to know everything about graphic design or film editing from day one. If you’ve never done it before then TAKE THAT SUBJECT. I can’t blame you for thinking that everyone else will be better than you because they might have done it before, but that’s their journey. You’re here for YOU. First year subjects are designed so that even the most novice of beginners can learn from the ground up. Over time you will get better – so much better than you would have been if you just let the opportunity to learn pass you by.

Try something different

Variety is the spice of life. A diverse skillset on a resume will add some spice to your job prospects. So use those electives to try something new. It might be outside of your comfort zone, it might be something that you would never have thought to try… but you might absolutely LOVE whatever it is. Even if you don’t then you will have gained a new skill that will give your resume an edge.

Get help with your resume (the one you wrote is way worse than you think)

There is so much conflicting information out there about how best to write a resume. It is very important that your resume makes a great first impression because thats your ticket to a job interview. As soon as I got help with my resume my luck with getting internships changed. It was like a switch had been flipped and I was suddenly a desirable candidate. There are so many people you can ask for help with your resume – a careers adviser, industry professional, an older student or graduate – so please, please, PLEASE ask one of them as soon as you can.

Get involved with everything and anything ASAP

Opportunity is everywhere at university for a reason. It is important to understand that university is not all about study and good grades, everything that happens in-between also matters. Your best chance at getting a graduate job is to have experience doing something. Getting involved with volunteering, clubs, UOWx, and special events shows recruiters that you have initiative and a great work ethic. These experiences can also often be tailored to your professional interests and are a good starting point for networking. On top of all of that, they are so much fun and you can make some great friends. 

Attitude matters

The truth is: the more effort you put into your studies, the more benefits you will reap. There’s no shortcut to get around it – hard work pays. The first step to get the most out of each of your subjects is to have the right attitude. Each time you enter a classroom you have to be primed and ready to absorb new information and level yourself up. Even if you think that the subject is not relevant to your future. Besides, being enthusiastic makes even the most challenging or boring of classes a little bit more bearable.

Be an advocate for yourself

There is a lot of stigma around the field of communications and media. Many see us as inferior or insignificant, and this has been reflected by the Australian government in the recent price hikes of BCM degrees nation-wide. But they don’t understand. They don’t know how important our contributions are to Australian culture, arts, commerce, news and so much more. They also don’t know that there is a crap-tonne of money to be made in our field. So don’t EVER let an engineer or a lawyer or anyone else walk all over you because their degree was “harder”.

Things don’t always go to plan

Finally, you need to know that things won’t always happen according to your well-laid plans. Life is irregular and so too will your journey be. So stop bloody stressing and enjoy this beautiful, hectic time while it lasts!

thank you, and goodnight

Every student will tell you that the worst part of university is the group work. But, in my time as a communications and media student, I have found that I dislike reflective tasks in near equal measure. They have always seemed so empty and pointless. A checkbox item, tacked onto the end of an assignment, existing purely for lecturers to tick off and say “yes, I’ve critically engaged the student” or “yes, I’ve made sure the student is accountable for their work.”

Studying BCM313 has enlightened me as to more productive and interesting ways to use personal reflection. Instead of merely learning about the future of work, this subject has taught me how to probe deep within myself—my memories, my values, and my hopes. It has encouraged me to take interest in the stories and experiences of others, so that I may draw out lessons that are applicable to my own life.

These reflective practices, facilitated by narrative work, are no shallow feat.

From this subject I have learnt how to take ownership of my career identity. To understand what I want to do with my professional life and how to actively pursue it in a way that fosters my values and considers my preferences.

The most memorable part of a narrative interview I conducted with social media specialist Jasmyn Connell, was a lesson she uncovered through the progression of her own career. Since then, I have reminded myself a number of times that I am not my work. My value isn’t derived from the quality of my work. And, I am not a lesser person in that face of my professional shortfalls.

I was also surprised to discover that the future of work is not as bleak as I had first thought. I often find it challenging to avoid getting caught up in the doom and gloom of the political, social and environmental failings of the Australian government. I have always thought that these shortcomings would spell disaster for my future-self. But, an examination of Industry 4.0 has shown me that the possibility for a good, prosperous future does exist.

Finally, I have learnt that nobody has a perfect career story. I’ve always been afraid of failure, which has often held me back. After hearing so many different career stories from individuals of all walks of life, I feel renewed with the confidence to put myself “out there” more. A lesson from my first year classes that I am reminded of in this moment is that learning requires one to be bold enough to “fail early and fail often.”

I’d like to conclude by thanking my tutor, Giverny Witheridge, for always engaging my peers and I with thought-provoking and often challenging questions. It was a pleasure to be a part of Giverny’s class as she created a positive, welcoming and encouraging environment.

I’d also like to extend my thanks to the effervescent and ever-understanding Kate Bowles, subject coordinator and lecturer for BCM313. It was truly a joy to participate in this subject.

With only two classes remaining in my degree, here’s to what I expect will be my final blog post.

Credit: Ava Gomez and Janika Gaona, January 2020

my experience interning in Spain… (minus the ‘S’)

The problem story

Last January, I transitioned from retail assistant in Wollongong to intern at a digital media start up in Spain, in the space of a few weeks. In this new role, I undertook digital marketing activities for the growing brand, We Love Martha. Conditions were not ideal; I was forced to work in what barely qualified as a co-working space, in the dead of winter. This “co-working space” was a half-converted factory with no windows, no heating, and no joy. Worse yet, my “mentor” knew nothing about the area in which I was supposed to be gaining experience. 

Needless to say, after weeks of the blind (mostly just myself) leading the blind (also myself) through research and analysis projects, a rewrite of the website’s copy, and the creation of a rusty social media plan, I was frustrated and annoyed. It didn’t help that my roommate snored all night, which meant I fell asleep at about 4-5am every day (lucky me!), but thats another story.

I had wanted to write about this aspect of my time abroad for months, but was always halted by my bitterness toward it. More than that, I felt so lost that I simply did not know where to start. However, when I came upon late Australian social worker, Michael White, and his work on what he terms ‘narrative therapy’, my internalised story began to unfurl.

You see, in White’s practice of narrative therapy an individual is encouraged to ‘seperate themselves from their problems’ (Walter 2018; Edwards & Walker 2019); and oh boy I had a problem—it clung to me like a parasite. My time in Spain was supposed to be a life-altering, self-reinventing experience that I would look fondly upon as the start of a successful career. Instead, it morphed into a memory of festering resentment that made my stomach churn.

White’s ideas are built upon by his contemporaries and successors who will also be referenced in this abridged version of a narrative reflection. The work of Carey, Walther and Russell (2008) is drawn upon frequently; two of whom were faculty at Narrative Practices Adelaide, the offspring of the Adelaide Narrative Therapy Centre opened by White in 2008 (Carey, Russell & Hall n.d.).

Narrative development

‘Every expression of life is in relation to something else.’

(White 2006)

The concept of the ‘absent, but implicit’ pervades White’s method of narrative therapy. It encapsulates the thinking that it ‘is not possible to talk about anything without drawing out what it is not’ (White 2006). For example, my problem experience interning in Spain was not one that catered to my preferences for structured, relevant skills learning in a positive and supportive environment. This hidden story of preferences and values is what Carey, Walther and Russell (2008) term ‘subjugated meanings’. 

To identify these subjugated meanings, a process called ‘double-listening’ must be employed (Carey, Walther and Russell 2008). This listening process gives attention to both the visible and invisible layers of the problem story, probing at the veiled ideas implicit in an individual’s self-expression (Freedman 2012).

According to Fleming (2003), by examining subjugated meanings an individual can ‘broaden their frame of reference, develop new meanings about their life, and become aware of new possibilities.’ Freedman (2012) expands on Fleming by describing this aspect of narrative reflection as a ‘gateway into that realm of experience where people’s most cherished hopes, aspirations, and commitments live and breathe.’

Thus, in surfacing the subjugated meanings which underlaid my problem story, I created fertile ground to re-author my experience for my future self (Courtois n.d.). I have revealed not only my preferences and values, but also possibilities as to where I can take my next steps forward (Walter 2018).

Upon further reflection, I had already been unconsciously attempting to re-author my professional identity since my problem experience occurred. This is evident as I relentlessly vied for another internship for months after my return, and I recently volunteered as the Vice President of the Digital Media Society. All of these experiences are ones that unconciously embody my values of positivity and creativity, and my preference for a comfortable working environment.

However, since I have now consciously deconstructed my problem story, I am better equipped with the awareness to answer a question that started rattling around my head when I left Spain in January…

“Where to next?”

Carey, Walther & Russell (2009) identify this moment as the final step in scaffolding narrative development because it connects a ‘person’s actions and experiences across the dimension of time.’ This step allows an individual to craft forward momentum in their life, and gives rise to an ‘experience of personal agency’ (Carey, Walther & Russell 2009).

Header image credit: photo of myself shared with permission from Ava Gomez and Janika Gaona, January 2020

Please find references on page two.