My Postgraduate “Words of Wisdom”: Speaking at SMILEfest 2014

As Solent SMILEfest 2017 kicks off this week, I couldn’t resist digging this up. I really wish that I had a recording of this, as I know that it was recorded, but as far as I know, this diary entry is the only surviving artefact of this event.

One of the staff asked me whether I was there to help record the conference, and was quite surprised when I broke the news to him – I was there to speak. I probably had a reputation with my MA lecturers for ranting about my course. However, my groaning had a far bigger audience reach than they might have thought. For some reason, me, the biggest misery-guts of the postgraduates, was there to discuss the pros of a Master’s Degree.

Taken from the Southampton Solent University site. I was meant to be in that photo, but had to blitz across the park to a rather important lecture.

On 20th March 2014, during Solent SMILEfest, I was called upon to participate in a talk to educate undergraduate students from Popular Music Journalism and Music Promotion and a few other ‘Music…’ courses, about opportunities available after graduation. Considering how this was the kind of session that half of students take the opportunity to not go to (you know who you are!), there were quite a few people there. 50 maybe. As I have toyed with steering my career into academic territory one day, and as a relatively confident speaker, I couldn’t resist taking part. Considering how I had worked pretty damned hard during SMILEfest 2013, as producer of and interviewer for its podcast (listen here), it was bizarre to be one of the cast, rather than the crew.

Also, to think of all of the high ranking journalists and contributors to the music industry had spoken at SMILEfest (and still do), how could I turn it down?

To begin with, I admittedly felt out of place. As I was still a student at Southampton Solent University, a large chunk of the students present probably recognised me, hardly making me a special guest. Despite being a postgraduate, I was actually still working with a few undergraduates on the student run, music site Noise Cannon. One of them was my boss! As we were all introduced, one by one, the lecturer addressed this:

“And lastly, Nick Pollard, who some of you may be familiar with.”

The other three onstage were Sam Kitchen (Radio plugger at Polydor Records), James Moodie (Label Relations and Social Media Manager at Vevo) and Carly Rockett (Assistant Promoter at Communion Records), whose roles were slightly more impressive than my own. I’m still not totally convinced when seeing the event described as “a current Master’s student and three of our most successful Music Promotion graduates”. I wasn’t entirely sure that the fourth chair on the stage was for me, and not a lecturer to chat with the guests. Feeling as though I was the face of “if all else fails, there are Master’s Degrees”, I was inevitably last, and couldn’t resist jokingly opening by pointing out how I felt.

“Hi, I’m Nick Pollard, and I feel a little upstaged!”

However, as the head of the department correctly pointed out, Master’s degrees are on a spectacular rise, meaning that my talk how far more purpose than I thought at first.

I got to speak about my time at the university as an undergraduate (trying to be a little inspirational, though I’m not sure how successful I was), advice for their remaining time on the course (with emphasis on expanding their skills into multimedia, rather than just writing, as I did by taking part at Radio Sonar), what drew me to an MA degree (potentially a stepping stone to PhD, and the fact that after brain surgery, I wasn’t in a good state to delve straight into work, but could make the best of the following year with further study), the differences between BA and MA degrees, and what to expect.

After being relatively positive throughout, I felt a little bad about talking about the negative side, and was a little worried about reactions from lecturers. But since then, I have realised that when I hit this point, that I wasn’t simply putting students off. I was giving them a relatively soft warning. Lecturers seemed fine with my comments. My biggest issue was more a warning – the Master’s Degree is tempting because of the potential freedom of subject matter. More a framework than it is a barrage of lectures. However, one must be very sure that the course accommodates to your interests. While I did leave with a Merit, there were a couple of units during which it was next to impossible to make use of my field of expertise.

I’m disappointed that I couldn’t hang about for any longer for a chat with the other guests, but as a postgraduate student, there was a Cultural Influences lecture to run to.

I’d love to do this again at my old college to discuss my degree, as I have quite a few stories to tell about the opportunities that university offers. I might nag one of my college lecturers and see what they say. If not, then I’ll just crash their lecture anyway. Boo!

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