Alternative Careers Fair

2006-01-29

in Books and literature, Daily updates, Oxford, Writing

Vines on a wall

The better part of today was taken up attending the Alternative Careers Fair, over in the exam schools. I attended two sessions: the one on ‘Arts’ because it included Philip Pullman and the one on ‘Environment.’ Neither was exactly what I expected. Overall, the experience was interesting – and it was good to meet Mr. Pullman – but it did not assist me in finding employment for the summer. Of course, a ‘careers fair’ is generally meant to have a longer term focus than that.

The arts panel was heavily dominated by Lorraine Platt, a painter who spoke first and for more than twice her alloted length of time. A series of disjointed observations and repeated statements, I didn’t find much that was useful or insightful in her presentation. That said, if I was contemplating a painting career, I might feel differently.

Mr. Pullman spoke last, after a musical therapist, for about twenty minutes. A bespectacled, balding man, I am amused to note that he wore exactly the same shirt as is featured in his portait on his website. His presentation was interesting partly because it seemed to portray an unusually focused life for a fiction author. While he described a number of jobs he has done over the years, none of them involved any writing or any cessation from attempts at novel writing. While you obviously can’t get the sense of a person’s life in twenty minutes, it was nonetheless a vignette of a committed person. Three pages a day, he says, has been his standard from the beginning.

Pullman spoke comfortably and with humour, quite unlike the more overbearing characters who directed the next seminar. His stress upon the importance of writing a good first page, and a good first chapter, is definitely reflected in his books: particularly The Golden Compass, which I consider to have one of the most skillful openings of any book I’ve read. As for motivational advice, he offered the following tidbit: “You need to be slightly insane, really. That’s what kept me going.”

After the session, I spoke with him very briefly and got him to inscribe my copy of Paradise Lost, since it was already signed and represents the only piece of his work I have with me in Oxford. It was amusing to note that, among the group of young women with whom I stood in order to have a book signed, more than half were past or present students of Wadham College. That said, I didn’t recognize any of them.

The environment panel, which I attended after wandering the booths upstairs for a while and speaking with Natalie Lundsteen from the Career Service, included George Marshall and John Manoocherhri. Aside from an evident shared passion for the environment and for their work, the men were quite different. Mr. Marshall spoke with skill, but some hesitation, like someone who has never really enjoyed addressing an audience. He was careful to at least bracket and identify the bits of his short autobiography that might seem presumptuous or vain. His work on tropical forests in the Asia Pacific reminded me of Peter Dauvergne.

Mr. Manoocherhri, in stark contrast, tended towards the bombastic, the arrogant, and the foul-mouthed. While he initially came off as plain speaking, energetic, and direct, over the course of his presentation he became decreasingly attractive. He had a great willingness to pronounce himself expert on a matter, as well as a general mode of speech that was saturated with an over-certainty that diminished his credibility. While he did tell people much of what they wanted to hear (about how we will all have superb jobs in the environmental field), I don’t know if he actually contributed a large amount of usable information. That said, I am still glad to have attended his talk.

Employment possibilities for the summer remain elusive. My three forays to the career service have produced starkly different pieces of advice. I was told, the first time, that I should apply for a job doing consulting or investment banking, because they would help pay down my student debt and they aren’t terribly hard to get into if you can say the right things. The next time, I was told that I absolutely should not apply in those fields and, if I did, I would just get rejected anyway. Instead, it was suggested, I should look for a job related to writing or the environment. Today, I was told that any work I did on the environment or doing writing over the summer would almost certainly be unpaid, and that I should get a job in the college or in a pub in order to sustain myself.

‘Marketing myself’ is just the sort of thing I find difficult, frustrating, and profoundly unappealing. Applying for things requires exerting effort towards no productive end, save overcoming the various obstacles between yourself and a job. It requires a certain kind of distorted self-presentation that frequently borders on being deceptive. I hope I will be able to find some sort of position for the summer without too much of that.

Anyhow, I shall be working on my core seminar essay tonight. Not the most exciting option for a Saturday, by any means, but that which is presently required. Since all copies of the readings that can be withdrawn from the SSL have been, I need to go there at a time when the confined copies are relatively likely to be free. Tomorrow should be better, if I can get a good amount of work done tonight. I am looking forward to coffee with Margaret in the morning.


  • I realize that I never wrote anything about the big birthday party in Wadham last night. This is an intentional response to how bothersome writing anything about the college has generally been. Between people who absolutely do not want to be mentioned and people who are annoyed when they aren’t, the level of diplomacy involved is just beyond what I am willing to put up with at the moment. That said, I was quite glad to meet Seth and I hope the bloggers’ gathering he has mooted comes together soon.
  • My French is seriously slipping, due to total lack of usage. Does anyone know of a good free French news podcast that I could listen to, just to have some exposure to the language? Thanks.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Seth January 28, 2006 at 6:07 pm

ARGH! I can’t believe I missed Philip Pullman! I heard mutterings about the careers fair and didn’t think anything of it. I would have gone for certain if I’d known he was presenting. I follow with interest his crusade against the rigidity of modern education, and I think he’s a brilliant writer.

Milan January 28, 2006 at 6:16 pm

His presentation was mentioned here twice: once in an entry and again in a comment. In any case, I am sure another opportunity will arise. As it happened, he didn’t have a chance to speak for very long.

Sylvia January 28, 2006 at 11:22 pm

Are you familiar with What Color Is Your Parachute?

Milan January 28, 2006 at 11:57 pm

Sylvia,

Availability: usually dispatched within 24 hours.

You usually need a parachute rather sooner than that, don’t you?

B January 29, 2006 at 12:37 am

C’est fort difficile de retenir le francais quand on n’a pas de chance pour le pratiquer. J’espere que tu trouve quelque facon pour le faire a Oxford.

Anonymous January 29, 2006 at 12:41 am

Il y a toujours Google Actualites Canada. La vocabulaire dans les nouvelles est souvent tres difficile, enfin.

snorri the goblin January 29, 2006 at 11:35 am

If you run into a painter who is also an environmentalist you could either
a) run to save your sanity or
b) stay until banking seems a good idea.

Sylvia January 29, 2006 at 5:18 pm

Heh. Bien sûr, mais c’est le meilleur livre sur la recherche de l’emploi. It will help you with your self-marketing dilemma. It’s quite entertaining as well. Vois aussi son site, http://www.jobhuntersbible.com/.

(and you thought your French was rouillé!)

Anonymous January 29, 2006 at 6:41 pm

@snorri the goblin

Milan’s from British Columbia and he used to be part of a group called Leadership Initiative for Earth.

He can handle environmentalist painters.

Ben January 29, 2006 at 9:16 pm

I also find self-marketing/promotion a chore… Depending what sorts of jobs you’re after, you may find several odd job earning opportunities available over the summer. Last year I spent a couple of weeks doing market research, a month in the University Offices on data entry duty, a few college open days and such… Plus I also saw an advert recently wanting teachers for some kind of summer school.

B July 5, 2006 at 9:54 pm

Natalie Lundsteen seems to be searching for herself on Google again. It’s funny how often people are led here that way. Of course, you could make your SiteMeter stats private and keep me from knowing, interesting as it can be.

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