The Perks of Being a Publishing Postgrad

Photo credit: Rick's Photo Thing

Last September, I started a new chapter in a book I had convinced myself I had long since finished. Resuming higher education through an MA in Publishing wasn't something I'd mapped out as part of any five-year postgraduate plan. Though I had toyed with the possibility as a recent graduate, this was more out of a sense of obligation than anything else. Besides, I wasn't exactly grief-stricken to see the back of late-night essay-writing frenzies and endless grade-chasing. While I went on to pursue journalism training, this turned out to be one of the most unbalanced and stressful periods of my life. Why, then, was I potentially putting myself through something like that again?

Part of the catalyst behind my reevaluation was the sobering realisation that last year marked a noteworthy tipping point: as of late August, I would have been in work for longer than I had spent studying at university. For all its stressors, university had also been a time of looking forward, possibilities and enriching myself with knowledge and experiences.

Meanwhile, despite the financial security and opportunity to hone my editorial eye my work had brought me, I had been stagnant in my role for too long and was taking 'Should I leave my job?' surveys in my spare time. Nevertheless, depressingly, I had produced more work for my company than I had while at university and for creative projects combined. Crucially, I felt like I just wasn't making a difference.

However, I didn't feel empowered to alter my course due to various factors: the job market, finances, location. But, more than that, I was afraid to pursue something new that would potentially involve more stress, less money and a host of other uncertainties.

It took a negative experience to give me the final kick I needed; after a continued lack of interest in employee feedback and support, my employer flippantly dismissed a concern I raised (after an extended period of keeping my head down and working overtime to meet demanding targets). I realised that, while I wasn't sure how I would handle any seismic changes, I couldn't continue on in a situation that made me feel undervalued. And, once I seriously looked into changing my situation, propelled in equal parts by determination and desperation, I found myself reconsidering my former aversion to further further study.

The consideration was, in some ways, a natural one. For years I've had a recurring dream – that I'm a student again, but pursuing a higher level of learning. I usually awaken imbued with overwhelming motivation to act in some way, but as the day wears on, this is displaced by the inevitable creeping doubts: What would I study? How would I justify spending so much money?

While the prospect of MA study intrigued me, I dismissed it for the same main reason I had years before – I didn't think it would realistically improve my employment prospects. The thought of investing so much time, effort and money into something only to end up right back where I started discouraged me. It seemed a luxury I couldn't afford to indulge. Even though the dream would resurface from time to time, like fragments of wreckage from a long-sunken ship, I put it down to a general desire to develop myself instead of a literal direction.

So when I found the UCLan MA Publishing course description, which hinged on a love of books and gave weight to both academic and vocational aspects, I saw an entry point into an industry that had always appealed to me but seemed like a dim prospect due to formidable competition for editorial roles. I was also in a position where I now knew what I wanted from MA study (other than an excuse to defer job-hunting).

In fact, it sounded so promising that I refused to talk about applying or attending in a definitive sense; I didn't tell anyone besides my partner that I had applied in case I was rejected or changed my mind, and I waited until the start of my first term was imminent before broadcasting the news that I'd been accepted to friends. Heck, I even decided against writing this until a whole semester had passed and I felt more secure in my position.

The truth was that I was still afraid. I had composed several half-formed doomsday scenarios in my head: I could fail. Maybe I'd been out of the academic game for too long; I might struggle to motivate myself to a terminal degree, allowing projects to accumulate and moulder, like end-of-jar mayo at the back of the fridge. I could be left jobless and considerably poorer, despite course graduate employment rates, or uproot my life only to find myself in an equally unsatisfactory position.

One of the prospects that frightened me the most, however, was having to sustain both a job and studies, potentially letting go of time for creative projects and space to breathe. Acting as though I might not go through with it, therefore, carved out my escape route in the event my new resolve came crashing down around me.

Ultimately, the motivation behind my decision to apply nudged me along; before I knew it, I was agonising over picking my favourite book for my induction day self-introduction (I ended up choosing Charlotte Sometimes). Since then, I've successfully* mock-pitched a book to a panel of industry professionals and discussed publishing issues with respected editors and authors, such as Jane Johnson, for research. This semester, I'll be writing and putting together my own children's picture book and embarking on a behind-the-scenes tour of the London Book Fair.

I still feel guilty every time I watch back-to-back 90s sitcoms with an essay (or three) on the back-burner, succumb to fairly regular bouts of imposter syndrome and have questioned my capacity to take on everything during more stressful periods. However, my schedule doesn't allow me to dwell on a single problem for long and the sense of personal growth and accomplishment from each completed project is a huge incentive. And, step by step, mini meltdown by mini meltdown, I've passed the halfway mark of my first year. I might not know exactly what the future might bring, but right now, I'm OK with that. In fact, it's kind of liberating.

*Not dissolving into a quivering pool of pink sludge is a valid measure of success, right?

Have you recently made any big life transitions? What motivated you to switch things up and how did you cope? Let us know in the comments below!


  1. I'm so proud of you for facing your fears and beginning this new chapter. And I'm cheering you on as you battle imposter syndrome (totally unwarranted but it seems to be the bane of all academics) and assignments! Whatever the future holds for you, I know you'll be richer for this experience. Be kind to yourself during the transition -- that's what I've been learning. Don't be afraid to ask for help and support. To make me time. To let yourself have moments of panic (so long as you don't stay there) and not beat yourself up.

    1. Thank you, sensei! Interesting how we've both re-calibrated our career direction somewhat recently and how many parallels there are between our latest posts. Here's to the next adventure for us both. =)

  2. Hey Sarah! We follow each other on Twitter and I’ve grown to be a fan of your blog over recent months. Hearing that you are now following your postgraduate dreams is exciting and I’m sure you’ll have an awesome career. You have always been so kind about my writing and I’m sure you’ll carry on that kind nature into the publishing world. I wish you the best of luck but you won’t need it. Everything will be fine.

    PS: I like 90s sitcoms too!

    1. Hi Hannah! So you're the other reader of the blog! ;) Thanks so much, that's really lovely and encouraging to hear. Though I've only caught a few snippets of your writing, I remember it was beautiful and left me intrigued to read more. Please do get in touch if you'd like to author anything through Inky Squiggles or join in any of our book discussions (though these will likely be somewhat sporadic given our schedules these days), it'd be wonderful to have you on board!

      P.S. Just finished a Malcolm in the Middle marathon. I have such a soft spot for Reese, his expressions are priceless. XD

  3. Oh, that's a really lovely offer from you! I'll keep it in mind for sure. Thank you!

    I loved Malcolm in the Middle! I was much more of a Dewey fan but I'll always remember Reese's antics and one liners. Plus it was the show that sealed my love of Bryan Cranston; his performance as Hal often had me in stiches.


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