Guest Blog: Finding career opportunities in unlikely places

Guest blog from James, SOAS student, BA Religion (Graduating summer 2018)

Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert careers@soas.ac.uk

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I am just about to start my second year studying religion as an undergraduate and although I love my course, it isn’t vocational and I sometimes worry about where my degree will take me. Like many other students who have chosen to study at SOAS, I want a career in international development, but how? And doing what?

At the start of the summer I worked for SOAS on the alumni calling campaign to raise money for scholarships. When you make these phone calls you cross your fingers and hope for the best. Unsurprisingly, we hear “no” a lot but occasionally you have a great conversation and we were encouraged to chat to alumni about careers and our hopes for the future.

That’s how I first got talking to Tara Carey, the Media Relations Manager for Farm Africa, an international development charity which supporters smallholder farmers across eastern Africa to grow more, sell more and sell for more.

During our chat Tara described what her job at Farm Africa involved and mentioned that they run a volunteer placement scheme in the communication team. When she suggested I send in my CV I jumped at the change, eagerly emailing it over to her before even putting the phone down.

Emails often get buried in people’ inboxes so a week later when I hadn’t heard anything I decided to drop off a hardcopy of my CV at Tara’s office. Looking back now it seems out of character and even pushy but I really think it made the difference. As I was waiting by the elevator to leave, Tara came dashing out to catch me. We had an impromptu interview and she offered me a work placement then and there.

Before I started, I imagined making lots of tea but it’s not been like that. Right from day one I’ve been included in the work. I’ve done research, picture editing and copywriting, I’ve even placed a couple of stories in the media. Throughout the time, Tara and the rest of the team have taught me tons about how a charity works and they have helped me develop a range of new skills.

Prior to Farm Africa I’d volunteered at two other charities but neither placement gave me much of a sense of what it would be like to work there, and I came away still unclear as to what type of job I would like to pursue.

I’d always had an intangible idea about being a writer, but when I became interested in international development I didn’t know how I could combine it. I’d never considered charity communications before but I’ve really enjoyed my Farm Africa placement – it’s a real buzz to see a piece of writing you have worked on appearing in a national newspaper or for an editor to take a story you have pitched. Beyond the skills and experience I have gained, I’ve gotten a new outlook on what my future career could be…

For more information about Farm Africa please visit www.farmafrica.org or follow us on Twitter @FarmAfrica. Farm Africa also has a society at SOAS for more information email: community@farmafrica.org

James, SOAS student, BA Religion (Graduating summer 2017)