5 Things Being a University of the Arts London Grad Student Taught Me
Updated: Aug 26, 2020
I've just completed a Master of Arts in Media, Communications and Critical Practice at UAL's London College of Communication. My undergraduate degree was a double major BA in International Development Studies and Political Science at McGill University. After graduating from four of the most exciting, challenging and growth-filled years of my life, I set out for a career in development. After working for 5 years, I realised I have a lot more work to do in the third sector— but it wouldn't be fulfilling if I didn't do this work while marrying it with the field that I am equally as passionate about—the creative sector. Nothing makes me feel complete like bringing to life a story or art that creates space, dialogue and action for impactful policy and/or social change.
So after almost two years of training in the creative, connected and critical world of UAL— smacked down in the heart of the ever-evolving, ever-dynamic and ever-loving city that is London, here's what I've learned.
1. Choose a trade specific MA course
I chose a very broad MA because I wanted to learn a range of skills within media and communications that stretched from strategic marketing to art direction and filmmaking. However, the broadness of this course meant that I learned a lot about a lot of academic topics. Most of you will do a postgraduate degree in the creative sector because you need hard technical skills to put on your CV in order to land a job in something specific like photography, script-writing, filmmaking, digital marketing and analytics, or digital design. UAL has a MA for all of those specific courses and more. There are literally courses called MA Screenwriting, MA Strategic Fashion Marketing, or MA Photography. If there are 3 topics you're most curious about, pick the top one. Take a Masters course in that one. You can easily explore individual classes, workshops, or projects in the other topics whilst at UAL. The grad students I've met who took a specific MA, were all super satisfied with their degrees. Myself and my classmates felt that our course was quite broad and academic, and we had to leverage the free and/or affordable tech classes in UAL to get our hard technical skills that all employers and/or our personal projects required.
2. The person sitting next to you in the canteen could be your next business partner
UAL colleges offer a range of free and/or discounted courses, spaces and resources/software like Adobe Suite for students. So if you end up in a course that you find is too heavy on the theory, you can always head down to the workshops or digital blocks and take a class in Premiere Pro or InDesign. LCC also has the Kit Room where students can borrow literally any camera, lighting, microphone, or zoom kit. The campuses also have the coolest rooms for production from photo developing, to shooting studios, 3D and block printing, fabric tailoring and weaving, textile weaving, sewing and more— literally think of an art and what you would need to create it, UAL has a room for it.
However, I found that the biggest resource UAL has for its students, is other students. UAL has a 60% international student body (I'm pretty sure its 90% but lets just go with the reported figures). I also think of that number, about 60% are Chinese and Southeast Asian, 15% are American, 15% are EU students and the last 10% vary. This is only interesting because most international students have travelled around the world quite a bit and/or have super cool experiences having worked in the creative sector or otherwise in super cool environments. They have a lot to share and offer you. It could be collaborations on projects that turn into 6-figure start-ups. It could be that museum they took you to, or that multilingual TV show they put you on to. Being exposed to creatives from around the world could change your life.
3. Work on your own project as much as possible and/or join projects happening around you
You're in London. There's definitely a museum, gallery, webzine, weekly event, or movement that literally resonates with every fibre of your soul and being. And if there isn't, then you and many people like you are looking for it. You have access to all the media kits, tools, software, skilled friends and/or classes to do something great. So do! At the the end of the day if you need to get a job, or apply for grants—the best way to make an application stand out amongst the competition is to say "look at this amazing thing I created". It doesn't have to have 5 million followers and be verified account. I once started a social media platform that had just a few hundred followers and was super niche. However, whenever I wrote about it on any application, I got a wealth of positive replies praising my project—because the idea and intention behind it were original and exciting. In the creative sector, having your own project is the best way to stand out and get you that thing you're applying for, because your competition will always be super tough.
4. London is one of the most amazing creative hubs in the world— explore it!
This point needs its very own blog post not just a point in this entry. But listen, here's all I'll say for now. Don't just club and party. Go to music concerts you love and concerts of strange genres you've only just heard of. Go to the parks. Go to other unis and meet people. Write poetry and submit it to online journals that are looking for new work. Bike everywhere. Take a science or language elective at an independent institution. It doesn't matter, what or how you do it— just explore London! I promise you this city has so many pockets, communities and worlds that are just waiting to show you the deepest colours inside of your own self! Discovering London means discovering you!
(1) with friends on the music video set for Go All the Way by Dyo ft Mr. Eazi (2)winter wonderland 2019 (3) London Road
5. Do everything with the intention of excelling at it
When I did my undergraduate degree, my goal was simply to learn to be an adult. I focused on becoming smart with money, cooking proper meals, and finding the right work-life balance while having fun with friends. I finished my undergrad with good grades and some work experience. However, I could've graduated with phenomenal grades and a wealth of experience. It is definitely possible to do both, you just have to set your intentions. You can indeed get amazing grades, master adulting, and kick-start the career of your dreams— while having lots of fun with friends in London. You just have to have excellent planning, organising and time-management skills.
Buy a journal or notebook for 'life planning', buy a white board for your room (pretty affordable on Amazon), and make lots of calendars and to-do lists, while setting lots of alarms and reminders! Seek the help you need! Every uni has academic support counsellors or assignment assistance. At UAL, they're free and they're called the 'Academic Support Unit'. Go to them before every new type of assignment. Every essay or assignment has a proper structure which academia calls for. Once you learn the system, you simply work the system. You can even work the system whilst working to enhance it for you and/or future generations.
When doing my MA I decided to soak up the intrigue that is academia—and how this can lead to strong skills in critical thinking, problem solving, project design and effective monitoring, evaluation and adjustment of projects. I ended up falling in love with media theory to the point where I considered a PhD and even becoming a professor. I graduated with; a distinction; a job offer from the BBC; a wealth of fun life experiences; and more life-long friends than I can count!
If you're a creative, do a MA at UAL— work your butt off and live your best life and promise you can and you will have it all— just think, I must embody excellence!