Department of English
Online Community Manager at Macmillan Cancer Support
"Empathy is not something I would ever have guessed I would end up needing to use in my work, but it is - and it is hugely important."
At school, English was the subject I was best at and also the one I most enjoyed. I loved the parts of my A levels which encouraged creativity, so it was a very small leap for me to start looking for courses that would enable me to do more of what I liked. At the time, Manchester Metropolitan University offered one of the only Creative Writing courses in the UK – so I felt it was a good fit for me. Plus, the idea of moving to a vibrant city like Manchester was very appealing.
The most stimulating module was the creative writing class run by Michael Schmidt. We were a small group and I loved the challenge of getting the week’s reading done and completing a creative assignment on top of the demands of the rest of the course. We would spend a productive few hours discussing the reading, sharing our own work and giving/receiving feedback. My all-time favourite module was scriptwriting with Paul Magrs in my second year – it was tremendously fun and also really creative. As part of the course we were invited to work with students from the drama school: it was pretty thrilling (as well as useful and excruciating) to watch something I’d written come to life.
Just over a year after graduating, I went to work for HarperCollins as a graduate trainee. I had decided on publishing because I had a notion that it was all I was qualified to do, and it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. I did some work experience at a tiny publisher in Bath, then a few more weeks at Bloomsbury in London before noticing a very old ad on the HarperCollins website for their graduate scheme. I sent off my application, along with around 300 others. It included an essay about how much I like it when people make me cups of tea (I still do). I was invited in to present, and after that, invited back again to be interviewed by a panel of directors. I remember the phone call that came a couple of days after that really vividly - it was brilliant.
For the last 3 years, I have been working for Macmillan Cancer Support, running their Online Community. It is the biggest of its kind in the UK – if not the world – and it is a space where anyone affected by cancer can share what they’re going through and connect with others going through something similar. People sometimes (understandably) think it is a bit odd that I made a jump from books to cancer. At HarperCollins I was running an online community for unpublished writers: it was a part of my job that I really loved and was good at. I think one of the reasons I like working with online communities is the storytelling: people often come to Macmillan’s Community to tell their stories, which can be difficult to read sometimes, but which are often uplifting too. There’s something incredible about the connection people find with each other through a shared experience, and I like being a witness to that.
Digital literacy is becoming increasingly important, so I would urge anyone who isn’t already engaged to make sure they feel confident on computers, the internet and perhaps one or two social media platforms. Empathy is not something I would ever have guessed I would end up needing to use in my work, but it is – and it is hugely important. Finally, listening. It sounds very basic, but it is absolutely essential to be able to hear and understand what you’re being told – whether it’s an instruction or an amusing anecdote.
Be as proactive as you can. Do as much research as possible around the area of work you would like to go into: what is happening in that industry? Which are the companies you really want to work with? Use networks like LinkedIn to find out who is already working there and get in touch to ask them questions, or find out how they got there. I would also really recommend getting involved with volunteering for a charity. Here at Macmillan we offer all kinds of volunteering roles, including three intern schemes a year. It really is worth doing.
I loved being around people who not only liked reading and writing as much as I did, but thought it mattered.