Life After Graduation | Brandon - University of East Anglia

By Issy Goode - 19:32

I have to say that the thing I love most about receiving people's graduate and student life posts' is reading through an abundance of experiences, not a single one alike. Whilst some feel that the end of student life really is the end of all we know, Brandon, who studied English at the University of East Anglia and went on to do his PGCE at the University of Cambridge, shows an entirely more positive side to graduate life...

How does it feel to be a graduate?
I should premise all of this by saying I’ve just finished a PGCE, so I’ve simultaneously been a graduate, a student and a public servant. As such, I’ve been through this transformative year that started in master’s seminars and ended with my qualified teacher status. I guess I’ve graduated twice, with a third one to come in two years time after I’ve finished my research in schools. My main emotions at present are fulfillment and excitement, I know I have a career ahead and I’m able to predict with some accuracy the trajectory it will take. The future is good. 

What’s been the biggest challenge? 
It has to be the difficulty curve of the PGCE, hands down. You have twelve months to go from unskilled graduate to a competent teacher, something illustrated by the fact you need to be able to teach fifteen hours a week comfortably by the end of the course, all while producing enough paperwork to sink a freighter. Alongside this, I’ve had to do the vast majority of my master’s degree, which is a bigger written workload than the final year of my BA. I remember spending about four months on my dissertation in third year, but during my PGCE I wrote an assignment of a similar length in half the time – whilst teaching the full trainee-teacher timetable. Notwithstanding the stress all of this has exerted upon me, I feel I’ve developed as a person in the face of enormous adversity: I now believe, with great faith, that acute challenges present the greatest opportunities for self-improvement.

What’s your living situation? 
My partner and I live together in a two bedroom flat in Cambridge. Initially the plan was for me to live in college accommodation whilst she lived much closer to her work. As the move date approached it became clear that striking a compromise and living somewhere in between my school and her hospital was much better. Even though our commutes have been a bit longer this last year, the support your partner can provide is completely worth it. Obviously this is a far cry from university accommodation, dorms and shared houses can be fun from a hedonistic point of view, but are far less conducive in terms of work efficiency and emotional welfare. In hindsight, I’ve definitely made the right choice: there’s more to adult relationships than just sex and that fuzzy feeling inside, the stability and sense of companionship are unrivalled. Plus, we’re looking forward to buying our first house! 

What’s the best and worst things about graduate life?
I’ll give you my top three for each. One of the best things is escaping university politics: I find it at best puerile and at worst dangerous. My undergraduate university was the home of ‘sombrero-gate’, in which the students’ union attempted to ban sombreros on campus because of ‘cultural appropriation’. This happened two years after they held a referendum on banning Robin Thicke’s music from campus, which they lost emphatically because soviet-esque censorship has no place in a liberal democracy. Second, I love living with my girlfriend in our own space. She’s an absolute joy to have around and the graduate life has given us the flexibility to make big lifestyle decisions. We can get into just about any property as trained professionals, whereas as students we had to put up with the horrors of student accommodation and living with some rather unpleasant people. Finally, being able to earn a living is a joy. Money really does secure freedoms that are unavailable to students: with my monthly salary I can pay my bills, save half a grand and still have three or four times as much ‘fun-money’ as I did whilst studying.  I don’t dwell on the bad parts of graduate life, as there is little to nothing I can do about it. However, I do miss the vibrancy of student life. I was able to go out twice a week, play ultimate for the university, play in a football team, attend guest lectures, go cycling, visit friends and learn huge amounts outside of my degree, all whilst getting my essays in on time and still having time to spare. The number of people I regularly socialised with was much larger, so I miss that side of undergraduate life. Above all I miss the intellectual challenge, but I’m really excited to continue that part time in my master’s in education.  

What’s been your biggest achievement since you graduated? 
Qualifying as a teacher. Even if I only work as a teacher for a few years before moving onto something else, it gives me a great sense of wellbeing and accomplishment. 

Do you have any plans for the coming months and years? 
I’ll be finishing my master’s in 2018, I might even look at doctoral research after that. In 2020 my partner and I want to go to the Tokyo Olympics, we love the idea of travelling to Japan and we love the Olympics too! We’re also looking at buying a house and getting a dog – quite orthodox stuff really.

Is graduate life as you expected? 
I was ready to leave my undergraduate degree when it finished, so yes I would say so. Life is always full of surprises, but the state of not being a student is a bit of a walk in the park. If you’re in third year and you still don’t know what you want to do, my opinion is that you need to get yourself in gear. I had already applied for jobs and grad schemes when I started my third year, and I’d decided to apply for PGCE courses halfway through my second year. I’m not very sympathetic towards people that have these great existential crises after graduation; you’re responsible for your future and you have an inordinate amount of time to figure it all out whilst studying. Many people I’ve met believe this bizarre notion that by virtue of finishing university, one is entitled to a place on a grad scheme, and that they’ll come and find you. I always understood that adult life is deeply competitive and you have to carve your way through the world. Because of this, my life philosophy is built on self-determination, hard work and aspiration: with it I’ve gotten into Cambridge and won a real gem of a first job. Many of my friends are drowning in their overdraft whilst pulling pints in their Dad’s local, but claim their cocaine fuelled visit to South America has changed their lives – extended adolescence doesn’t look good on a CV.  

What did people tell you about graduate life - and has any of it proved to be true? 
Fear mongering is what I remember most vividly, particularly this idea that life is just generally a bit awful. That has proven to be untrue; my life is way more fulfilling than it was at university. More aggravating was the theory that all graduates feel the desire to go travelling as a form of escapism. I know for many people it’s a meaningful experience, but I didn’t spend four years at university to spend another finding myself abroad. I think avoiding the jobs market whilst claiming adult life is challenging is a perfect example of having your cake and eating it – I’m saving my travelling time for the summer holidays.

If you had the opportunity, would you do university all over again?
If I could go back in time and do it again I would. In hindsight I could have done even more, but I didn’t appreciate just how much free time you have as a student. I’d also do a BSc in something like evolutionary biology or robotics, they’re really interesting fields. If you mean just do another degree and not use time travel, I would say no. Four years is enough fulltime study, now I want to get on with my career and establish myself.  

What’s your social life been like as a graduate in comparison to what it was like at university?
I socialise with a much wider range of people, especially in terms of age. I often go for drinks with other teachers, play football with a group of men aged between twenty-two and sixty, and enjoy reading for pleasure a lot more! University was an alcohol-fueled series of parties that went on for too long and hung-over training sessions. My circle of close-friends is much smaller and manageable, but this is likely a consequence of reduced spare time. 

What would you say are the biggest differences between the first year of university life, and the first year of graduate life? 
At the start of university you have a negligible amount of responsibilities, but huge amounts of time to fulfill them. As a graduate, you have an enormous volume of responsibilities, but ever decreasing amounts of time to fulfill them. The nature of those responsibilities change, as deadlines for coursework only effect you but deadlines at work might effect ten, twenty or a hundred other people that then have their own responsibilities, mortgages to pay and children to feed. Someone once said to me that university is a holiday, and whilst that’s far from true it does tap into a certain sense of jovial exoneration from oiling the cogs of the machine. Like Bill said, at graduation your free ride does indeed end.  

Do you feel you’ve changed much since you graduated? 
Since finishing my BA, I’ve changed immeasurably. I’m much more conscientious and I’ve felt the weight of real responsibility in my role as a teacher. My spare time is precious to me now, and I always use it to the full extent. I still have days in which I sit around and feel lazy, but only when I need a rest. Before graduation I was quite impulsive and liable to confrontation, but in the real world restorative approaches are important, so I’m much better at ignoring invidious comments and just seeing the funny side of things. Above all, I’ve come to terms with the establishment. In my second year I was quite left wing, and I believed I had the power to change the world. Adult life has taught me that there is a complex array of forces that we have little control over, and any action will incur unintended consequences. I’m just happy to perform a valued role in society, and that sense of self-efficacy is hard to generate when you’re a student, protesting about things that are, ultimately, inconsequential.  

What advice would you give with regards to contact with your University friends? 
I strongly recommend staying in touch with those people you cherish. Equally, don’t feel too upset if a number of people disappear, they might reappear again later on or simply aren’t worth it. It’s not possible to maintain your old life whilst building a new one, accept that and move on.

What advice would you give to those soon to be graduates? 
Make sure you have a plan and, if possible, don’t fall back on your parents. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut and I’ve seen numerous people do it. A professor once said to me that having no idea of what it is you want to do is actually a liberty, as you can choose to do anything and it won’t be the wrong decision. Whatever you do, don’t acquiesce into doing nothing or elect to be static. Every summer another 50,000 or so people graduate, many of whom will have excelled in their studies and extra-curricular commitments, so you’re not quite as special as you’re rightly proud family make you out to be.

How does it feel to be considered an adult? 
At first a bit scary, but like all identity crises you will overcome it and make a place for yourself in the world. Such is life, if we didn’t kick on the human race would still be in the cave, drawing men with sticks on stonewalls and running from giant cats.  

Do you feel that going to university was worthwhile? 
Definitely. Without it I wouldn’t be able to do my job, so from a utilitarian perspective it has been essential. However, I strongly believe education has an intrinsic value and if it’s a meaningful field of study then it’s worth doing. A word of warning, however: don’t go into higher education lightly and make sure you have a goal to work towards with a realistic plan to support that journey. If you’re seventeen or eighteen and looking at going to university at the first opportunity, check you’re mature enough and able to tolerate people. University is a melting pot of different cultures, ethnicities and politics. If you’re from a state school you’re going to meet a lot of people from wealthy backgrounds that attended independent schools, and the working-class hero act is embarrassing to say the least. Equally, if you’re from a privileged background, be prepared to meet those that have overcome real adversities and be sensitive to their lived experiences. These are things I’ve learnt during my time at university in addition to my studies, but I still question the 50k price tag. 

And a some final words of advice from Brandon...
If you find yourself without any direction or a sense of purpose, just pick anything and get on with it.  By establishing yourself in an industry, profession or trade you will give yourself great self-efficacy and a higher standard of living. Whilst you’re doing this, you can try and figure out what it is you want to do and save money to finance your retraining or career move. During my teacher training I met lawyers that decided to teach English or history, ex-military personnel that trained to teach geography and people from a huge range of industries that decided to teach STEM subjects. The same goes for my partner’s experience on her midwifery degree, her best friend on that course had left the RAF to deliver babies. The common denominator between these people is that they didn’t know what they wanted to do as graduates, but picked a route and later found their vocation. 
*Photos courtesy of Brandon

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