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Regulars / The Graduates 2017

Is it possible to shift disciplines after your degree?

It is no news that graduating from university is a very daunting experience, but can be even more so if you have an aching feeling that you may have studied the wrong course, creatively or academically. It is important to remember that creativity, in its many realms and job roles, can easily be made to suit you.

To shift disciplines after graduating can be done simply and with courage, so don’t panic. The skills or ways of thinking you have gained on a bachelors degree can be applied to a myriad of industries. Take it from our own experience, the It’s Nice That editorial team is made up of 3D design, graphic design, architecture and english literature graduates, and our different backgrounds only help to bounce ideas and knowledge off one another. There is no fixed pathway into a dream creative job, a key element to why it is such an exciting industry to enter and explore.

If you’ve just graduated and feel a little lost, confused or bewildered on what to do next, try to trust your gut and enjoy that feeling, it is completely normal and should be met with excitement. Below, two creatives who studied alternate subjects to their current careers share insight and advice on putting the right foot forward towards a career in an unknown territory.

“There isn’t a singular model that is right for everyone, but creative output that pulls from other disciplines is really exciting for me, and sets your work apart from others in your peer group,”

– Damien Maloney

Photographer Damien Maloney consistently creates work that captures a narrative in a singular image. Across his portfolio, Damien photographs the tourists of Yosemite, portraiture shots of fellow photographer pals or musicians such as Holly Herndon, in a signature colourful hue.

This combination of descriptive portrayals stylistically approached makes you think Damien must have excelled in a photography degree, but to our surprise his background is academic. A linguistics graduate, Damien’s route into photography wasn’t a natural course to take, but below he describes his path into a creative medium from the theoretical side of the spectrum.

Please could you explain your current job?

I’m a freelance or self-employed photographer, sitting somewhere between taking assignments for magazines and companies, and making meaningful images for myself to put in books or hang on the wall.

What did you originally study at University?

I studied linguistics, under the umbrella of the english department. I enjoyed that the programme was small (15-20 people) at a large state university. Compared with other courses of english study, I like that linguistics attempts to view language as a hard science.

What path did you take after graduating to result in your current job?

I had intended to attend law school after graduating but wanted to work for at least a year first. After graduating I worked on a political campaign, moved to California and applied for a million legal intern positions but didn’t get any of them.

I worked at a bakery for a year, then later in the contracts department of a film production company. I started picking up photography jobs on the side, shooting corporate events and assisting friends who were more established on magazine and corporate shoots. I gradually moved to doing that so much that I didn’t need a part-time job, I got enough shooting work that I could be selective about the work I was taking.

What did you learn at university that helps or inspires your job now?

The motivations I have for studying language are the same I apply to the images that I make, I’m looking for small details that relate to a larger thought. Studying technical writing – the language used in manual and instructional materials – prepared me to comprehend contract language, which can be very stuffy and confusing. Being able to negotiate contracts favourably is important for anyone starting out in their own creative pursuits. The first contract that a magazine or company will ask you to sign is often bad in terms for the freelance artist, you should have no hesitation about pushing back and asking them to remove to rewrite parts of it.

What advice would you give to students graduating who think they would like to shift discipline?

There isn’t a singular model that is right for everyone, but creative output that pulls from other disciplines is really exciting for me, and sets your work apart from others in your peer group I like to think.

I’m constantly reading profiles in The New Yorker, or listening to shows like NPR’s How I Built This, because they help me consider my perspective on how I approach things. Tarryn Simon comes to mind as someone who people might describe as a photographer but is pulling from so many disciplines to create this academic work with a common political thread.

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" I was terrified of being found at as a fraud who didn’t have a design degree so that pushed me even more!"

– Ruth Costello

In Ruth Costello’s job role at Soho House & Co she covers a range of tasks and creatives to manage. As a design director, it would be customary to assume her background was graphics-based, but it was a fashion degree that guided her towards the job she holds today.

Please could you explain your current job?

I’m the design director at Soho House & Co, a group of over 50 private member clubs, hotels, spas, restaurants, and co-working spaces around the world. I lead a team of six designers covering all areas of graphic design and art direction across the company. This includes everything from branding and ideas for new concepts, two monthly magazines House Notes, menus, posters and all other printed collateral that our customer touches, as a well as photography, film and packaging. It’s a very varied role and no day is the same.

What did you originally study at University?

I studied Fashion Design and Business Studies at the University of Brighton, having wanted to go into fashion since I was a young child. While I loved the technical pattern cutting and drawing side of it, my love for fashion did wane a little bit and it all started to feel a bit shallow. My degree had a year of placements and I interned at three businesses during 15 months in London, all for no pay and very little thanks. That time really did change my opinion of the industry, sadly, and I realised that if I wanted to climb quickly in a career, then fashion was not the way for me.

What path did you take after graduating to result in your current job?

One of the companies I interned at offered me a job upon graduating, working in their small men’s tailoring design team. I was there for five years in total, and it felt like a family. I joined as a fashion designer, but quickly realised that the company needed help with their website, photography, online shop, email design, presentations and branding etc. I had taught myself how to use the necessary programs to do these kind of jobs when I was younger, and now was able to put this into practice and hone my skills as I was working.

It was an amazing break for me and one I’ll always be thankful for, as well as being the first time in my life that I felt like I was really good at something. I quickly realised that I wanted to know everything about graphic design, and spent my evenings and weekends reading and learning from the absolute basics. I was terrified of being found at as a fraud who didn’t have a design degree so that pushed me even more!

What did you learn at university that helps or inspires your job now?

One thing that fashion did teach me was how to work really, really hard, and work long hours. I worked seven days a week during the year I was interning, so now I’m not scared of putting in the hours to get results at work. In terms of skills though, I occasionally sew a button, and draw sometimes, but that’s about it. I’d love to pick up pattern cutting again when I’m a bit older with more time.

What advice would you give to students graduating who are thinking they would like to work in a different discipline, creative or otherwise?

I’d say you have to become a sponge and absorb all the information you can. Teach yourself as much as you can – you can learn anything on the internet these days. Try things out, make mistakes, see what you can do and where your skills can take you. Put in the time to learn a new discipline if you think it’s where you want to go – you are going to have to be patient.