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Student profiles – University of Reading

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Student profiles

The following are quotes from both current and past students of English Literature at the Department of English Language and Literature:

Joanna Ford

Jo graduated with a first class degree in English Literature and German in 2015. She gained a place on the highly competitive TeachFirst programme, with a focus on teaching the youngest school-aged children in disadvantaged areas. She was voted Newly Qualified Teacher of the Year in the Kent and Medway annual teacher award, 2017.

What was the best thing you did while you were a student at Reading?

The year I spent working in a remote village in Germany for a year was nothing short of life-changing and breath-taking and eye-opening. It deepened my understanding of European literature and philosophy, which enabled me to have a broader context to place my understanding of English Literature. Reading supported me to pursue my love of two disciplines, and helped me to weave them into each other. I was able to create my own bespoke course.

What's the best thing about the career you have now?

Without a shadow of a doubt, the annual Christmas Nativity is the best thing about my career right now. Could you imagine anything greater than tea-towels on heads and wonky tinsel crowns? And this is coming from the girl who swore wholeheartedly that she would never ever ever, not in a month of Sundays, become a teacher. Ha! After graduation, I worked for two years with TeachFirst as a Reception teacher in a coastal region in South-East England. I went in to the two years believing it was my stepping stone into the corporate world, but the families, children and school stole my heart. I am now in my third year of teaching four and five year olds, but also lead on family outreach and adult education in my school. My ambition for the near future is to work with policy think-tanks, challenging policy makers and conducting research into how we can end social disadvantage in education. I am studying part-time towards an MA in Transformational Leadership, and I get paid to sing Little Donkey badly to a room of the happiest humans you'll ever meet. Teaching is not a dead-end, but a corridor of a thousand glitter-filled opportunities.

Do you have one piece of advice for someone thinking about studying English at University?

My advice? Do not box yourself in. And do not let anyone talk you out of the pure love you have for literature. It opens worlds and minds and philosophies that you never imagined could exist. Remember that literature is the human expression and reaction to history. History repeats itself. Books contain more wisdom than a TedTalk.


Chayya Syal

Chayya studied English Literature at Reading from 2010-2013. She is now a writer, broadcast journalist and consultant who has worked for the BBC Asian Network and The Asian Today newspaper. In 2016, she was presented with a Women of the Future media award and in 2017, at the age of 25, she was included in Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe list of influential media figures. She blogs at

What was the best thing you did while you were a student at Reading?

The best thing I did was writing for the university newspaper. It not only gave me confidence but an idea as to what a potential career in journalism could entail. In addition, all of the articles, working skills and editorial skills I learnt have been invaluable to me as I have gone deeper into my career as a journalist.

I got to know other students who were studying different degrees, made contacts with external local newspapers and got a much clearer understanding as to what was going on around me on campus, in Reading and how external decisions impacted university students.

A huge bonus about getting involved with student led media is that I learnt a lot of practical, hands on skills which have put me at a distinct advantage over candidates who don't have that practical experience. I also kept every single article I ever wrote and put it in my portfolio - it's a brilliant, physical thing for me to carry into job interviews because it shows my progression from print to broadcast and digital.

What's the best thing about the career you have now?

This is very difficult to answer because there's so much that I love about my job. Firstly, I'm just so happy and humbled that my ambition to become a journalist has become a reality - I overcame a lot of adversity to get here which is why my career means so much to me.

One of the best things about my job is the breadth of people I meet and the diverse range of opportunities which come my way.

I'm currently working on the BBC Coding Journalism Pilot Project for the Digital Pilots and Skills, where I'm currently learning how to code!

This is something I never thought that I'd ever do as a journalist - our usual skills set is communication but the industry is becoming increasingly tech focused.

Coding is a skill we associate with tech startups and people working in IT. However, it's a skill that more and more journalists (and people in general) will need to learn because of the influence that technology is having on our everyday lives and services.

Do you have one piece of advice for someone thinking about studying English at University?

Strive for excellence; not perfection.

And another one would be to take every opportunity which comes your way as an opportunity to grow, be better than you were yesterday and don't turn it down.

One of my favourite quotes by Sheryl Sandberg epitomises this mindset: "If you're offered a seat on a rocket ship, don't ask what seat. Just get on." That has pretty much described my attitude from Higher Education to now.

Develop a growth mindset, allow yourself space to thrive and don't let setbacks, other people or failures discourage you or dent your confidence. English is a degree which equips you with a universal skill set because it is all about communication - you can go into any field afterwards.

My time studying English Literature at Reading was one of the best times of my life so far because I got to study a subject I loved in depth, got to grips with skills and ways of learning which I use in my everyday career. I hope that future students who are considering to study English at Reading do so because the department is full of staff who are extremely knowledgeable, supportive and want their students to succeed.


Oliver Ratcliffe

Oliver graduated from Reading with a first class degree in English Literature and Politics in 2015. He now works as a writer for TalkPolitics, a think tank dedicated to challenging voter apathy among young people.

What was the best thing you did while you were a student at Reading?

I got very involved with extra curricular activities, throwing myself into student media and political cause societies in particular. I knew I wanted to work in politics/journalism, so I was able to host my own radio show, run my own news team and get involved with campaigns I cared about.

What's the best thing about the career you have now?

I have had a few jobs since graduating, but in none of them have I been stuck in an office! I've been President of my students' union, worked in the University of Reading's international campus in Malaysia, and in an education charity. I currently work as writer for a political think tank tackling voter apathy in young people. Communication has been key for my career, and I feel my English degree helped me with this hugely!

Do you have one piece of advice for someone thinking about studying English at University?

Try and be as career facing as possible. So try and get some experience in the "real world" through placements/ work experience, extra curricular activities while studying.

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