Donald Lush graduated from the Polytechnic of Central London (as the University of Westminster was called then) in 1984, with a BA (Hons) degree in Film, Video and Photographic Arts, going on to gain a Master’s degree in Counselling and Guidance from the University of Durham. Most of his professional career has been spent in education: from working in student services in sixth form college to various roles within further education and universities. Donald has also been self-employed as a consultant and is currently studying Philosophy. He is now a Careers Consultant at King’s College London, supporting PhD students and research staff.
Offering interesting insight from beyond Westminster, we asked Donald the following questions to help give careers advice to Westminster students and alumni.
A Media degree is very different to what you are doing now, how did you get here?
It’s not that different! I realised, when I was studying photography, the aspects I enjoyed most were building relationships with people and getting things happening. To a great extent, this is what I do now but in a different context. Also, even in the mid-1980s, it was obvious the impact technology was going to have on employment in photography and film, and that earning a living would become hugely competitive. I wanted to do valuable work that I enjoyed but where there would also be plenty of opportunity.
If you could go back in time and give your 21-year-old self some advice, what would it be?
If someone offers you an interesting opportunity, try to say ‘yes’. You can contribute to it in your own way and you’ll learn a lot as well as stretching yourself. If I have any career regrets they’re probably about passing up opportunities I should have taken, whereas I look back fondly on the ones I said ‘yes’ to (but was a still bit scared of!). To give one small example, this is how I found myself cross country skiing in Sweden after an international conference!
In your experience, what is the biggest barrier facing University graduates today in gaining suitable employment and what is your advice in overcoming this?
There’s never been a better time to be a graduate. Rewarding, highly skilled employment is open to you and there’s a shortage of advanced skills in almost all industries. My advice would be to ignore the myths about unemployed graduates that you see repeated over and over in the media. Although some sectors are highly competitive, there are plenty of great jobs out there. However, it’s helpful to understand that a degree is a qualification, not a guarantee of a job. Any work or voluntary experience, internships or placements you get will greatly increase your skills and employability. Instead of thinking about job titles, ask yourself what sort of life you want to lead and what contribution you want to make. Then look for an employer who can offer you the chance to do that as you’re more likely to find this approach satisfying and rewarding. Your careers service can help you with this kind of thinking. (Yes we agree with Donald!)
What’s been the biggest surprise to you about your career so far?
How non-linear it’s been! In 1981, when I was a first year undergraduate, I believed my future was all about photography. I couldn’t have been more wrong! Your own needs and wishes change and the world around you changes. Many of the technical photography skills I learnt were redundant within a few years of graduation as the industry introduced digital technology. In any case, as I progressed through my course, I realised that I didn’t want to be a professional photographer anyway. I’ve had a huge variety of jobs since I graduated, although they’ve always had that core ideal of helping people move forward in them somewhere. You’ll be at work for decades and it’s impossible to know what will matter to you in twenty five years or what kind of work will be available in the future.
What’s your advice to someone who is graduating now?
In my job, the thing I hear most about is fear. Fear that you won’t get a job; fear that you will but you won’t like it; fear that you’ll miss out on better opportunities than the one you’ve got; fear that you’re stuck with the one choice you’ve made forever. Relax – these are all understandable but they probably loom larger in your mind than they do in reality. Your degree has equipped you with advanced thinking and planning skills so you should put them to work. Figure out what you want out of life, what you love doing and what you are good at and then go looking for it. If you are persistent and adaptable there’s a very good chance you’ll find it.