Across the Decades: Life After Uni with Lauren Webb and Tillie Corlett
In the third instalment of our series of MA student interviews exploring the exhilarating spirit of learning, awakenings and a rich diversity of routes to the Professional Writing MA and careers in writing, we delve into the journeys of Lauren and Tillie which brought them to our institution.
Lauren, as a mature student, began her university experience with a Foundation Degree in Arts and Humanities at the University of Bristol. She went on to complete a BA in English Literature at the same university in 2015 to 2018 before undertaking the MA in Professional Writing at Falmouth University.
Tillie did two years of a Creative Advertising degree at Lincoln University from 2012 to 2014 and completed the course at Falmouth University in 2015/16. After a few years working in digital marketing and travelling across Asia, Tillie came back to Falmouth to progress her learning.
Here the two of them discuss their university experiences.
Describe your first week at university
Lauren: For my foundation course, I had to move to Bristol at the last minute because I was working in London. It meant I didn’t have the time to settle in before I started so I was nervous. There was only about 30 of us; we were all different ages and came from different backgrounds. I found that really comforting because it meant I wasn’t the only one who had taken a break from education.
The first week of my BA, however, was completely different. After I had been going to the university for a year, I felt more confident about what to expect but it was still a shock to go from a really tight-knit group to being one of 250 students.
The first lecture on my BA was so different too. It was in a huge lecture hall with all the students, and that was intimidating. I think it was on Wordsworth. I remember being really excited and thinking I was definitely in the right place.
What about you?
Tillie: It’s interesting that we had such varied starts to education despite the fact we are so similar in age. I had wanted to take a break before going to university to travel, however, after my A levels, my family thought a break would discourage me from going altogether.
My first week was just your stereotypical student experience. I remember packing up the car with all the belongings that it could possibly hold and driving about seven hours from Devon to Lincoln on a surprisingly sunny September day. I lived in halls with about six other people. The first week was an awkward experience for us all, trying to get to know each other and figure our way around a new place. I think being thrown together with a bunch of people you may not necessarily pick to be friends with has a surprising way of opening up new experiences to you.
The first week of university was centred around introductions: to the course, to your classmates and to the campus. I remember it being really exciting, even though I was anxious. I was never really one to go up to strangers to introduce myself or be talkative at a party, and I think the uni lifestyle brought that out in me.
Why did you decide to go to university later?
Lauren: I wasn’t engaged when I was at college and I didn't know what I wanted to do afterwards, so I wanted to take some time to decide which route to go down. Instead, I moved to London and after a few years, I did some work experience at a couple of radio stations. I loved spending time learning the ropes but they told me if I wanted to come back for an internship that I would need a degree. That was when I started thinking more seriously about higher education.
You’ve taken some breaks from education too. How come?
Tillie: My second year was difficult. I was a long way away from home and I had got into a controlling relationship. He convinced me to leave university, and rather naively, I went along with it. After that relationship ended, I felt like I had failed by leaving uni early and not seeing it through to the end. I wanted to go back, but I also wanted a fresh start. Falmouth was originally one of my options after A Levels and I decided to enquire about completing the course here. Luckily, I was allowed to start in the next academic year to complete my final year.
Graduation day came with a sense of relief that I had finally finished the course. I went back home for a little bit, and worked in a digital marketing agency. I had been there for a year or so when I had caught the travel bug again. Writing day-in, day-out about travel has a way of doing that to you! With my boss’ blessing, I became a remote worker and I booked a one-way ticket to Bali, then to Thailand, then to the Philippines and back to Thailand again. I worked in a dog centre and actually ended up bringing back a rescue – he’s now the subject of my final project for the MA.
When I got back, I felt like my education journey wasn’t quite complete. I was coming back to Falmouth anyway as my partner had another year left in his degree. I thought to myself it would be the perfect excuse to come back to education but also help progress me as a writer.
Why did you pick your courses?
Lauren: The Arts and Humanities Foundation was recommended to me by a friend, so I really have a lot to thank him for. The foundation itself was perfect because I’m really interested in the other humanities subjects, especially Philosophy and History of Art, so it allowed me to learn more about those subjects too. It was also the ideal gateway to the English degree.
Tillie: I always loved Media Studies throughout school and A Levels. I always knew I wanted to work in media. Advertising felt like a natural fit for me because it combined my love of media and psychology as well as allowing me the freedom to be creative and solve problems.
Is there a book that reminds you of your undergraduate experience?
Lauren: Probably The Norton Anthology of English Literature because we had to carry that round with us for three years! Things Fall Apart by Arundhati Roy was one of the books we had to read and it’s still one of my favourites. There were so many books I loved that I would never have discovered had it not been for the degree.
Tillie: I think I would have to say It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be by Paul Arden. This little book was easy to take around with you, it’s lessons not only applied to advertising but to life. I still have my copy because it’s been an invaluable resource throughout the years.
What were the challenges and benefits of taking breaks from academia?
Lauren: The challenge was feeling like I was going to be really rusty, having not learned in that way for such a long time. It’s a different way of using your brain. I couldn't remember how to write an essay!
It was challenging to be older because it meant that I couldn’t relate to everyone else in quite the same way. The positive side to that is I took it more seriously than I would have done at eighteen. Because I didn't think I would have been able to go to university without A levels, I have been grateful for all the opportunities I was given and have always took advantage of the facilities available, like all the literary journals and databases. I will miss those when I graduate!
Tillie: I think I had some apprehensions about being rusty too, but not just with the work but with the lifestyle as well.
When I went back to uni for my third year, there wasn’t just a need to make friends in a class that already had two years to get to know each other. But the course encouraged working in partnerships to mirror the traditional creative team structure, so it meant finding someone who would be willing to work with me. I was quite lucky to find that person, but I remember it being a big concern for me.
I think, however, the breaks allowed me to put things into perspective and bring some of my life lessons into practice with the courses I’ve been on.
University in Context
How did political changes impact your undergraduate experience? Have they also impacted your MA?
Lauren: I remember going to the student protests in London in 2011. It felt good to be part of something and to show support, however, they soon got out of hand and it was so much more violent than what I was expecting. The experience was overwhelming with all the kettling and the damage to the buildings. It made me feel resentful of the whole thing.
The 2018 higher education strikes happened in my final term of my final year at university. Both of my tutors for my modules were on strike, so I didn't have any lessons for the whole month. Even though we supported our lecturers, it felt like an anti-climactic way to end the course and it was a shame to have missed out on the insights those lessons would have given us.
Tillie: I don’t think politics has had a major impact on my studies; if anything, the changes have provided me with more opportunities. I went to uni the first year they increased the fees from £3,000 a year to £9,000 a year. Lincoln were fantastic with this transition and offered some lucky students (myself included) a year’s free accommodation which allowed me to purchase a Mac.
Also, with the introduction of support for Masters courses, it actually opened up uni as a possibility for me once again. I don’t think I would have been doing a Masters for a couple of years yet if Student Finance wasn’t available.
What are your ideal careers in writing?
Lauren: Good question! At the moment I’d love to find an editorial role with a literary journal, or with an independent publisher. It’s really important to me to feel part of something after so much independent studying. I’d really like to keep writing alongside that in the areas I'm interested in.
Tillie: I would love to work with charities and ethical companies who support causes. I’ve always been involved with charity work, in one capacity or another, since I was young.
How has the MA set you up for your career path?
Lauren: It’s given me a much better understanding of the publishing industry, and it’s made me feel a lot more prepared for the professional world. The MA has also given me more confidence in my own abilities.
I look at the publishing industry in a different way now. Whenever I buy a new book, I'll look to see who's published it and research them. I'll think of them as places to contact and that I’d like to be part of, which I didn’t think would be possible before.
How do you feel?
Tillie: For me, the MA has offered an in-depth look into other forms of writing that steers away from the business writing I had become so accustomed to. Its allowed me to tap into my creative and analytical mind after a long time of doing the same types of tasks and projects for work. The skills I have learnt will certainly open up a lot more doors for me now.
To end, talk us through a book, text or author you love and why?
Lauren: I would have to say Richard Brautigan who is the subject of my MA final project. My discovery of him was almost accidental. I've always liked books about counterculture, and about people who are living outside of the societal norms, and I found his writing really refreshing. The language he uses is so abstract and amusing but there is a depth and insight that I can connect with.
Tillie: It’s not a book or author per se, but I’m an avid reader of National Geographic. As a kid, I wasn’t naturally gifted in science and so, for a long time, I had cowered away from learning anything that felt too “scientific” for my brain. I revelled in the arts, media studies and English. It was in an art class when I picked up my first copy of National Geographic to look at the images. It was then, after reading a couple of articles, that I discovered a passion for science, geography, and travel. They really opened my eyes up to worlds beyond my little bubble.
by Lauren Webb and Tillie Corlett