Crafts Council Blog January 2019
I have 9 months left of my PhD and people keep asking me what I’m going to do next. I’m sure this is something final year students on craft degrees are experiencing as well. The answer, honestly, is that I don’t really know. I think it’s (postdoctoral) research but I’m still keeping my options open.
The last time I felt any real certainty about what career path I wanted to follow was during the first year of my BA - I was convinced I wanted to be a glass artist with my own studio. By the end of my final year my ambitions had changed. Since then I’ve done an MA and two years of a PhD whilst working in different jobs including sales, marketing, fundraising, arts management and research, which has mostly been an exercise in working out what I don’t want to do (just as valid in my opinion). It’s also taken until now (five years later) for me to want to really start making again, and have access to a space to make things in.
The importance of this exploration and incubation period was highlighted in my research, particularly by educators on undergraduate programmes and recent graduates. Educators, who were also practitioners, stressed that completing a degree is not enough to make you a ‘professional’, that it can take time to get a studio space, work out what it is you’re going to make and be able to make a living from that. Graduates also indicated that it had taken time to generate income from their practice and their work had changed since university in response to personal circumstances, ongoing creative development, the market, and what they could feasibly make given space/material/financial limitations.
This was positioned as counter to expectations of immediate success after graduation (held by students, their parents and policy makers in relation to employment outcomes). It also raises questions around how realistic the demand for professional preparation is from a university education, what universities should be expected to deliver and what support is really needed after graduation. These are key issues I have been exploring through my research and will be making recommendations on at the end of the project.
This situation is not unique to craft, or even creative graduates; the world of work has changed radically over the last decade and will continue to evolve. In the context of creative careers however it is important to note that employment structures and trends vary between sectors, that unpaid or low-paid work is still commonly used in the craft sector to gain entry into further employment, and that graduates often take on additional work to supplement their creative practice which is not at ‘graduate level’.
The point is, we need a better understanding of how graduate careers are non-linear, that it takes time to figure out what you want to do after university, that it’s ok to take a break and come back. We also need wider recognition of the value and transferability of a creative education to support those who decide not to pursue a creative career. This will enable us to improve careers advice, develop more representative evaluation frameworks for student outcomes and design effective support programmes for career changers.
In December 2018 the first survey of graduate destinations using the ‘NewDLHE’ framework was carried out following a review which acknowledged that the transition period into work for today’s graduates is longer, and that the previous survey was ill-equipped to capture the experiences of portfolio workers and entrepreneurs. Changes to the survey mark a move in the right direction, although we don’t yet know how this will reflect the experience of creative graduates. This will require further investigation when the first results are published in January 2020.
Over the next few months I will be finishing writing up my thesis. I look forward to sharing further thoughts, findings and recommendations with you throughout this period.