By Tony Allen
UEA’s fourth annual Working With Words conference took place on Saturday 25th February.
A huge variety of panels ranged from comedy to journalism, film to publishing, giving students an opportunity to hear from successful UEA graduates and others in different creative fields, with the aim of providing information, tips and inspiration to students about what it is possible to achieve with their degrees.
Between sessions, students were able to visit several stalls in the foyer, including from student newspaper Concrete and Egg Box, UEA’s student run publishing society, where they can gain experience to fill up their CVs and try and emulate the guest speakers.
The showpiece session was reserved for last: a Q-and-A with actor, comedian, writer and UEA alumnus Charlie Higson, who is currently appearing in Broadchurch. Although contractual obligations prevented him from going into too much detail about the series, he spoke with warmth and humour about The Fast Show, his entry into the profession, and fielded questions on his career in the writing industry, sharing anecdotes of working with such comedy legends as Vic Reeves, Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse.
The day was organised by UEA’s CareerCentral. Sitting down the Monday after the Saturday before in her office, Arts and Humanities Careers Advisor Adrienne Jolly reflected fondly on the event. From the start she was quick to praise others for its successful operation: “The student helpers were ace as ever.” She also recognised the work of UEA events organiser Susi Waters for bringing the conference to fruition, plus the academics and careers staff who chaired panels and members of the alumni team who also helped.
Overall, Adrienne noted the “lovely atmosphere… a really good vibe this year.” She remarked: “We couldn’t do this event without the love of our alumni.”
On the day as well as afterwards, Adrienne enthused about the two current UEA students who chaired panels: “Megan Baynes, Editor-In-Chief of Concrete and Matt Maddison, President of UEA:TV. It just seems like such a good use of the student societies, to say, ‘you can do this’, and they were absolutely amazing, they really stepped up to the mark, and I’m really proud of them because it’s a big thing to ask, to do something like that.”
Discussing the regular location, Adrienne reflected: “Working With Words was the first event in the Julian Study Centre when it opened. I do love it. It’s a lovely self-contained space. There’s a real sense that it’s our building for the day and that’s a really nice feeling.”
This was the fourth running of the event, open to all students registered in the LDC school. Adrienne was pleased with the number of both returning students and first years, saying: “Attendance was good and people just need to keep coming back and trying new things.”
Adrienne also had this suggestion for first years who enjoyed the event and are now beginning to think about their module choices for next year: “Now we’ve got a Working With Words module in LDC, one of the option B modules for second year. This year we had the students on that module, part of their formative assessment was that they had to come and interview one of the speakers and they had to write an article about that interview.”
Adrienne couldn’t pick just one favourite panel, but said: “I think the standout panel, from what I’ve heard so far, was the panel that was put together at the very last minute which was Molly Naylor, Pasco-Q Kevlin and Lucy Farrant: Generating Ideas and Making Things Happen. I’ve also been told that the comedy panel was outstanding.
“But I think there’s something in all the panels. For me the most exciting thing is seeing Tom Monson walk into the university again for the first time in three years as a speaker and not as a student. That’s actually what I love most about the day is just seeing people come back and seeing where their careers have got to.
“We’ve got a speaker, Sophia Thompson, who when she first came, she was a production runner, the next year she was a producer’s assistant, the third year she came she was an assistant producer, and this year she’s a producer, that’s brilliant.”
Adrienne continued with further advice for UEA students looking to secure that dream internship, work experience or career: “It’s really important that you check into the work experience opportunities on My CareerCentral. It’s good practice doing your CV and submitting an application. If you don’t get it, we’ll give you feedback. So there’s a benefit in actually trying for these things even if you’re not successful first time. The more you try while you’re at university, the more help you can get from us, the more prepared you’ll be when it comes to the real thing.
“There’s so many really interesting things going on for students, using the vacancy search and work experience search. Just check in regularly, see if anything interesting’s happening.” She also highlighted the Employability Development Fund which can help UEA students eligible for financial support from the university with expenses and associated costs of a placement or internship.
Adrienne summed up: “I absolutely adore putting this event together, I adore the help I get from academic staff and colleagues, it’s very busy and it takes up most of my Saturdays in January but it’s worth it. If you don’t know what you want to do, you can try all of the different things: publishing, marketing, journalism, film. If you do know what you want to do, you’ll be able to follow a theme through the course of the day and go into a bit more depth.
“I hope [attendees] came away feeling excited about something, somebody said something and they thought ‘yes, I can do this.’”
Adrienne also revealed that the ‘identify the book’ competition answer was Anna Karenina, but the competition winner had not been drawn at the time of our interview. “We struggled so much last year to capture attendance. So [the attendance forms] was my solution and it does seem to have worked which was great and it was a bit more fun than asking people to sign in again and again.”
Plans are already well underway for the 2018 edition: “You’re always thinking about the next event,” said Adrienne. So, first- and second-year LDC students, keep an eye out for another packed conference next February!
Photo by the author