Where joining a student society can take you

Where joining a student society can take you

There is no doubt that attending COP26 as a delegate of the University was a fantastic opportunity. There were so many people to talk to, such a huge volume of workshops to attend and so many interesting organisations to hear from that it would be completely impossible to have done it all. The beauty in the breadth of discussion was that you were able to decide what you wanted to learn about and who you wanted to hear from. As a careers adviser, I was interested in discovering opportunities for young people to get involved with new projects and finding out what they needed to do to succeed in the ever-expanding job market. Whilst I was unable to produce a tick list of sorts (please see my other article for further discussion about what I felt was missing from COP), there was no denying the importance of getting involved.

Simply showing up to an event like COP26 you are met with an enormous networking possibility. As a careers adviser for arts, humanities, and social science students, I am often asked about job prospects in NGOs, think tanks, and policy, among other sectors. In attending COP26 I was keen to find out more about opportunities in these areas, and I didn’t have to try very hard to be successful. In one session I was sitting next to a man who works for a think tank and had conducted research into decarbonising the oil and gas sector in Aberdeen. Whilst waiting to attend a session on gender justice I started chatting to a woman who works for an NGO dedicated to advancing climate policy through decision-makers and researchers. In attending another session, I heard from five different country representatives about the work they are doing to engage citizens in urban climate action. Whilst I didn’t follow up on every interaction I had, just speaking to people on the ground and hearing from other nations gave me a wealth of new resources and organisations to research, and with that, the prospect of job opportunities across the globe.

Another fantastic networking opportunity COP26 provided was to meet other University of Aberdeen delegates. I have forged connections with members of staff whom I would otherwise never have spoken to, as our lines of work are unlikely to cross. I have found out about new opportunities to get involved at the University which will allow me to collaborate with staff and students alike as we work towards achieving the University’s 2040 commitments. One person I was especially interested to meet was Anttoni James Numminen, Editor-in-Chief at The Gaudie. A fourth year Politics and IR student, Anttoni started writing for The Gaudie in first year but wasn’t particularly interested in journalism as a career. Fast forward three years and Anttoni attended COP26 as a journalist, representing one of only two student newspapers to attend the conference. With a press pass Anttoni had more access to the conference than any of us observers, sitting in on plenary discussions from day one, as well as press conferences and briefings throughout the two weeks. I sat down to chat to Anttoni about his time at the conference as I was interested to hear more about how the opportunity arose, what he took away from it and the real-life experience being part of a student society can afford you.

How did you first get involved with The Gaudie?

When I came to university, I wasn't interested in journalism at all, but I went to The Gaudie’s general introduction meeting in freshers to see what it was all about. I went to News and International meetings, started writing and was hooked! In my second year I was Deputy News Editor and in my third year I was News Editor and then became Editor-in-Chief. Before I joined, I’d never thought about journalism as a career and had never written for any student paper. I wasn't a huge fan of writing in general, but I did like politics and current affairs.

Looking back, I’m impressed and positively surprised that I’ve been able to make changes at the University through articles I’ve written. At one point the orchestra was practising in the Butchart Recreation Centre but there was no heating, and the lights weren’t working, even in winter. I interviewed a member of the orchestra about the situation and, two weeks later, the University had fixed the problem.

What are your career plans now and has your involvement in The Gaudie influenced them in any way?

I am hoping to go on to find a job in journalism after I graduate and it's mainly because of The Gaudie as that’s how I first became interested in the sector. Through the student newspaper I’ve managed to get a lot of experience writing for other publications. It started off as voluntary writing for free publications on topics that interest me, from politics to aviation, and I’ve since obtained a fair bit of paid work writing articles. I wrote a features piece about student journalists for the National Union for Journalists magazine, then I’ve written a few pieces for the Press and Journal and the Evening Express, among others.

Over the years I’ve been able to make contacts, even during the pandemic, by following people online and going to events and seminars. There are a lot of really helpful journalism groups and resources for people starting out in journalism, including Facebook groups and Instagram accounts. In general people have been very approachable, too. If you ask someone for help, chances are that they’ll point you in the right direction, whether it's about your CV or how to write a pitch.

What prompted you to apply to attend COP26?

I knew that COP26 was meant to happen last year, and I'd already been planning to go as I knew it would be great for The Gaudie. Obviously, it was postponed so I decided to apply in the summer and sent the application early, in June or July.

What was the application process like?

It was fairly straight forward. I found the application form online and was eligible to apply with my press card. Any student who writes for a student newspaper can join the National Union of Journalists as a student, which I recommend to all student journalists because you get a swanky press card and the support of the union if you need it. The application process took a while and I had to have a letter from my Editor-in-Chief. As there’s two of us, Amy wrote it, but I could have written it myself. In my application I had to link three or four relevant articles I’d written on the topic as well. I received confirmation of my attendance in August. The media applications closed three weeks early because all the places were full, so it was good to get there early.

What access did your pass give you to the conference?

I had access to almost everything right from the start, including all of the press conferences, and I managed to get into the some of the plenary discussions. On the second day of the World Leaders Summit, I went to watch the Finnish President give a speech. That was fun because, with the press card, I was allowed very close, essentially right next to him, to take pictures. I knew no one else was likely to have these pictures so I got in touch with some Finnish publications asking if they would like to use them for a small fee.

On Thursday of week two I got into the press pool area in the plenary to watch the panel discussions going on, where the speakers included Nicola Sturgeon and Sadiq Khan. We were positioned at the side and every now and then we could move up, about 10 meters from the speakers on the podium, to take pictures. The speakers would change, then we would rotate again and be given a couple of minutes to snap away.

What was a highlight for you?

I wouldn't be able to say just one thing. I guess, in general, being able to go to the press conferences and speak to people, conduct interviews, forge contacts, and ask questions. At the Least Developed Countries press conference I asked a couple of questions, and even questioned the Danish Prime Minister at one point! Overall, I enjoyed being able to experience the press conference in person rather than watching it on TV.

What did your days look like at COP26? You’ve mentioned the plenaries and I saw you ran a live stream but how did you manage your schedule and plan your days?

The first day I dedicated to figuring out what was going on, and I wrote down what I wanted to see, including a mix of plenary sessions, press conferences and pavilion events. In between I went to the press hub and did the live stream or wrote articles. The press hub was great as we had a massive amount of workspace and free tea! 

Were you able to meet other journalists in the press hub and network?

I didn’t want to disturb people as everyone was very busy, but yes, I did say hello to some fairly recognisable people in the International Broadcast Centre where ITV, Channel 4, the BBC, Al Jazeera and other international broadcasters were based. I also met up with the Editor-in-Chief of the Glasgow Guardian, the University of Glasgow’s student newspaper, which was interesting as we were the only two student newspaper represented at the conference. 

Is there anything else you’d like to say about your experience of attending COP? Perhaps something you’ve learned from it?

Yes, a couple of things. In general, it was a great place to network, meet up with people and find out what's relevant right now, what people are talking about. And it wasn’t just the world leaders. Whether they’re executives in climate change-oriented companies or they work for the UN in Geneva, so many people who attended had a wealth of information and ideas they were eager to share. If you just add them on LinkedIn, then you can follow what they’re up to and maybe get in touch someday. I was chatting to someone yesterday who told me about job opportunities in a UN department and how they are always looking for people. So that was good to know.

Something else that I learned in the press conferences was that if you think you have a stupid question, ask it anyway because it's probably not that stupid. In one session, I had a question I decided not to ask, thinking it was a silly question, and then someone from Associated Press asked almost exactly the same question! Then I had to figure out a new question to ask. My advice, therefore, is to just go for it. You're not going to lose anything by asking and you’re no less informed than anyone else, whether you’re a student journalist or not.

How do you think this opportunity has affected your career plans?

It looks good on my CV to have attended such a major event and to have reported on it. I wrote quite a few articles, took lots of photographs and did the live stream so there's content to show for it, as well as all the contacts I made. I can highlight this experience to employers to demonstrate my commitment in attending various conferences and my experience with multimedia journalism, live stream journalism and political interviews.

I would say it also demonstrates that you have the right attitude for the job, you’re a self-starter, making opportunities happen for yourself.

Yes. I think it goes back to what I was saying about believing in your questions but also believing in yourself. You know, ask someone for an interview, the worst they're going to say is no or I'll get back to you and maybe they will, maybe they won't. Send an email asking whether it would it be possible to get press pass, or get media access, or do an interview afterwards, or get a comment from someone. It's always worth doing.

I was at the labour conference for The Gaudie in Brighton in September and that was fun. I interviewed quite lot of politicians there, including John McDonnell and Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Manchester. I saw Andy again at COP, reminded him that we had met before, and asked if he had time to answer a few questions for me. He was happy to!

What advice would you give to other students thinking about a career in journalism?

The best thing you can do is get experience. Just start writing. Whether it's for a blog or, ideally, for a student newspaper. You don’t have to be a confident writer as we have editors who can help you improve your writing. Try and meet up and connect with other journalists as well, especially student journalists or people your own age. Twitter and Facebook are great for that.

What sort of commitment is writing for The Gaudie?

There’s no commitment as such, you can simply write one article and it’ll be printed and appear online, there’s no need to write for multiple publications if you don’t want to. Whatever you do will allow you to start a portfolio. If you feel The Gaudie is missing a section, we can instigate it, you can be the editor, organise the writer’s meetings and get people to contribute. It's also not just about news writing journalism. We have students working on production, graphic design, photography, marketing, external relations; practically everything you’d expect from a newspaper team.

Where can we find your coverage of COP and what should we be looking out for?

You can find all of our COP content online at gaudie.co.uk. Relevant articles are covered in the News, International and Science and Environment sections. You can also find full editions of the paper at issuu.com/gaudie. If you’re interested, you can find more content on my own Twitter account and portfolio.

My colleague Isti, the International Editor, conducted a fantastic interview with the Chief Operations Officer of the Ban Ki-moon Centre for Global Change and they shared it on Twitter this morning which is very exciting!

Excellent, thank you. I appreciate you speaking with me as we’re always emphasising to students the value of their university experience when looking for jobs. Before we wrap up, is there anything else you want to add?

On your point about student experience being valid experience, if you’re pitching an article idea to a newspaper, you’d like to ideally have written about the topic before, or in general. It doesn’t matter if it’s for a student publication, it’s about the quality of the writing. The Gaudie has a lot of very successful alumni, we've got people working for Al Jazeera, CNN, The Guardian, The Mail, The Sun. Most of the main newspapers in the UK are going to have Gaudie alumni working in some capacity, so it’s definitely very good for your career.

I’d also like to say thank you to the Development Trust for the equipment and funding which allowed us to report on one of the world's most important climate conferences and represent the fine tradition of student journalism at the University of Aberdeen.


Image credit: Isti Miskolczy

Published by Research, University of Aberdeen


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