Working in Publishing: what is it really like?

By: Nicola Timbrell, Senior Lecturer, Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies

How can students really understand the world of work in the classroom?   Lecturers can explain, seminars discuss, and coursework attempts to emulate but only being in the workplace allows students to fully understand the world of work.  Making a choice of specialisation within the industry and company is a very difficult decision for students when applying for jobs towards the end of their course, on top of the worry, in today’s economic climate, as to whether they will ever be able to get a paid position.  Publishing BA and MA students need to believe that opportunities are open to them after they complete their studies and they need to hear about them from people in the industry and, more importantly, from people like them, who studied at Oxford Brookes University.

photo of publishing studentsWith this in mind we set up a full day, extra to the curriculum, to bring the world of work to the classroom.  Publishing alumni were invited to share their experiences of both getting their first job and of the industry – reflecting on how far they had come.  Recruitment specialists shared their tips on applying for jobs and well over 60 representatives from more than 35 different Publishing companies networked with the students in an afternoon of ‘speed-dating’.  It was lovely to see so many alumni on the industry side of those tables during the latter – yet another opportunity for current students to learn from alumni.

What did the students think about the day?  It was neither assessed in any way nor marketed as a job fair.  More than 70 MA students attended as well as a good many final year BA students who were in the throes of last minute dissertation writing.

With regard to the alumni panel in the morning, students reported that it was good to hear that all of the alumni had found jobs they enjoyed, although the process might not have always been easy for them. Some were interested in the different career paths that alumni had taken.

photo of publishing eventJudging by the sign-up scramble to fix speed-dating appointments with publishers, this was an event that was prized by many.  Students needed little encouragement to research those companies and people they had made ‘dates’ with.  They were eager to find out more and get the insider information, tempered with the nerves of an applicant at interview.

“In the space of a few hours I had conversations about aspects of the industry ranging from predictions for the next big thing in YA publishing to digital developments at Faber Finds. My notebook was loaded with top tips for interviews, CVs and job searches and I had confirmed that working in publishing was the career for me.”   Zoe Caroll, MA Publishing student 

Talking to students after the event, it was clear that they had found it a rewarding experience.  Two told me it had totally upended their career plans: one now wanted to work in a small company rather than a large one; another was now considering marketing rather production. Some clever students had managed to use the day to make contacts for their classes and projects; one or two work experience placements were gained; and many had just enjoyed chatting to people from the industry.  Everyone had benefited.

The day would not have worked without those currently employed in the Publishing industry giving up their time.  Many were alumni who were willing to even take a day off as holiday to give something back – all we could give them in return was a nice lunch and our gratitude.  However, all too often they thanked us.

“It was a pleasure to attend the Working in Publishing day and to be able to reflect on how much I’ve learnt since the MA.”  An alumnus.

“I really enjoyed meeting the students. I don’t think I’ve ever talked so much in my entire life though!”  Penguin representative. 

“We were really impressed with the variety of questions we had from the students; the questions ranged from how we got into publishing to what we thought about open access. All the students were keen to know what skills are important and what they could do to make their CVs attractive to potential employers.  It was a really lively afternoon and we were delighted to meet so many enthusiastic and engaged students. We returned to London feeling reassured that the future of publishing will be in good hands “  Sage Publications representative.  

“I always enjoy talking to the students coming through and you’ve definitely got some real talent this year.”   BookCareers representative.

The Working in Publishing day allowed students to appraise the publishing world of work. It made them realise that the Brookes Publishing community extends beyond the campus walls and that there are people, who have moved into the industry and are developing and enjoying careers.  Something that we did not foresee is that our alumni are now actively offering job and work experience opportunities to our current students.   The work experience enables students to extend their learning: further engaging and contributing to classes; producing industry-related course work; and sharing with peers their own Publishing industry stories.  If students are ultimately offered a job then they are happy and our employability record remains high.

If you are thinking of organising such an event, do build up a list of contacts in the industry and ensure you keep track of your alumni. We have set up a Linked-In Alumni group, which is ever growing.   Book the date, plan the venue and invite the guests well in advance.  Involve students in the planning and arrangement as they benefit from this, as do staff.


Carroll, Zoe, (2012). Working in Publishing Day 2012 [Online]

Sage Publications, (2012). Sage Meets Publishers of Tomorrow [Online]

Posted in Short Article

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