English Literature in the Workplace: The Professional Training Year

A placement year in a degree like English Literature might not seem like a natural fit at first. Other degrees pair off quite nicely with certain jobs; Aerospace Engineers do plane engineering, a Psychology student might do psychiatry, Biochemists do experiments on chemicals in the body in research institutes (forgive me if this is vague, I know nothing of science!), but what does an English student do? Well, last academic year we had teaching assistants, PR assistants, an HR compensation support specialist, editorial assistants, and me? I was a digital marketing executive for the year. None of these roles may seem inherently English Literature-related but we all found links to our degrees along the way. More importantly than all of that, what we learnt about the professional world was completely invaluable. If you are considering the placement year, please don’t think of this year like extended work experience where you make some tea, do a bit of filing and don’t really understand what everyone else is doing. This was a full time job, with responsibilities, deadlines and, in some cases, salaries. We were thrown head-first into a situation where a lot was expected of us and now I don’t recognise the person I was when I started my placement (in a really good way).

I would recommend doing the placement year to anyone – yes, you may find that it’s difficult to find a placement and, as an English student, you may not have a lot of obvious choices, but I’d argue that you can do almost anything you want to. I believe that the opportunity is so beneficial: even though I was in an industry that I know I don’t want to get in to, and I was in a role in which – at the time – I felt out of my depth, it is these things that have pushed me to define what I want to do with my career.

So, on the face of it, my placement may not have been wholly relevant to an English degree, nor to someone with a hope of working in publishing (like me), but I learnt so much about the world of recruitment and, surprisingly, of publishing in those 12 months, something I just wouldn’t have been able to do without the experts around me and my own first-hand experience. The skills I learnt there I know I can take with me; by the time I’d finished I had so much more drive, and I can already see the benefits in my University life: organisational skills and expectation management, stress management and digital skills have all already shown their usability in and out of the workplace.

It helps that this time last year I was getting ready to go on an all-expenses paid skiing trip to France with my company, so as well as all these long-term benefits, there are always extra perks too.

For further information on the Professional Training Year, see the University of Surrey Professional Training webpages.