The great dream of postgraduate education is that, somehow, you’re going to do it better this time around.
Mostly, this is an illusion. You will still stay out too late and drink too much and save all your coursework for 48 hours before deadline at which point you will lock yourself in the library and cry, “Why? Why?” as you rock yourself. At least, you will if you’re me.
However, there was one difference from the first educational tour of duty, one benefit realised from what my 16-25 Railcard termed, in a triumph of hilariously snide euphemism, my “mature student” status. This time I understood, as I had not a decade earlier, that the path to fulfilling work lies in getting to know smart people doing interesting things that you’d like to do too.
Each week a parade of academics, professionals, artists and intellectuals pass through campuses worldwide, prepared to share their ideas and activities with whomever is willing to listen, and it’s only after you join the working world that you understand the rarity of that access. It’s not that universities should be venues for cynical networking, a career move that always has been and always will be distasteful, not to mention transparent. But as an undergraduate I would listen to these classroom visitors, then return to my exams and friendships and never see them – or God forbid, my professors – as even mentors, let alone potential colleagues or friends. A different attitude prevailed, though, when I arrived at City University London: I was determined that, should I meet people I thought I could learn from, I was going to latch on like a barnacle and politely refuse to go away.
It worked. The most rewarding experiences I had while earning my master’s degree resulted from introductions that wouldn’t have occurred outside the academy. Through a guest lecture I met Dominic Vaughan, c.e.o. of Hymns Ancient & Modern, a midsize religious publisher with a books division, newspaper, bookshop and distribution centre. That turned into a part-time job that allowed me to work in several aspects of the business, including coordinating a special section for the newspaper on Christian books. Later I wrote my dissertation on the UK marketing and distribution of a particular Bible edition, the thesis undergirded by interviews with my colleagues. Another example is the email from a former Bloomsbury chairman to City’s program director that gave me the chance to oversee the self-publishing of his mother’s memoir, from budgeting to editing to finalising the print specs.
In the end, my year in publishing convinced me that my home remained in journalism, a less genteel profession that offers demonstrably more opportunities to talk to (and sometimes yell at) strangers on the phone. But even here I believe the connections I made through the program will prove valuable. My smart, funny, wonderful classmates, to whom I owe so many of those riotous late nights, have been unleashed on London’s publishing scene. They’re on their way up, and in a few years, they’re going to need manuscripts. They should, as I told one of them, expect to receive an email from me, and when they do, the proper response is, “Yes, Ms Bushey, we’d love to publish it. I hope a large advance isn’t too vulgar?”
Claire Bushey covers the legal, accounting and consulting industries for Crain’s Chicago Business. She is the editor of An Irrepressible Hope: Notes from Chicago’s Catholics and can be found on Twitter @Claire_Bushey.