Seventeen months ago I walked into the Maglab ready to start the first day of my MA degree in Magazine Journalism at Cardiff University. I’d soaked my new white Vans in a muddy puddle on my way to the journalism school, failed to even switch on my Mac computer and left with my confidence muddier than my shoes. Getting my head around the media world was a steep learning curve. The course was vocational not academic, tested my non-existent digital literacy as well as my self-esteem. I don’t know what I was expecting, but what I walked into was a lion’s den. A year and a half later and I’ve made it through the other side having passed my Masters with a High Merit, and my features-based dissertation with a Distinction. I even learned to roar a little louder.
If you’d asked me in September 2015 if achieving this was possible, I’d have told you I was more likely to marry Prince Harry than make it to the end of my course. In the first few weeks alone we were made to phone strangers for information, bombard people in the streets for quotes and pictures and were given a crash course in Photoshop. I was already in over my head. Up until that point I only phoned the GP if I felt I was at risk of meeting St Peter, I suffered from debilitating social anxiety and the closest I’d come to PhotoShop was applying an Instagram filter. So far, so scary. I just about managed to calm my nerves enough to call the WI for my first story, photographed and interviewed family friends and somehow achieved the small feat of not giving my images the Anne Boleyn treatment.
As the weeks passed tasks became more demanding and I began to seriously doubt if I was cut out to continue with the course. The technical side of things didn’t come naturally to me, I failed to speak up in press conferences and started to question my strongest suit – writing. Many an afternoon was spent hiding in the toilets as I cried on the phone to my mother. But no matter how difficult things were, or how stressed or inferior I felt, my ingrained pride and will to succeed wouldn’t let me give up. I still knew that regardless of our tumultuous relationship, journalism was my passion and this was the place I needed to be.
By Christmas I had interviewed scientists, school teachers, charity workers, zoo keepers and everyone in-between. I’d been part of a team that’d created a mini magazine about crime in Cardiff, shot and edited a handful of video clips and had achieved my first Distinction grade. I was starting to feel more confident.
Come springtime things were revved up and really tested my abilities, patience and how long my body could run on insomnia and soya lattes. But it was finally time to put my passion for feature writing to the test. I wrote an eclectic mix of articles about UK rhino farming, a profile piece on rugby player Shane Williams and a long-form article about social anxiety. Along with my friend, I had also pitched a home décor and craft magazine which was aimed at trendy city people. This alone was a defining moment of the course for me. Having always gotten teary-eyed and flustered when it came to public speaking, being able to articulate anything that resembled coherent sentences was a success. Being told my ideas were as red hot as my face was just the cherry on the cake.
It was incredible to see the concept come to life in print, as a website and an app, but boy was making a magazine hard work. Working in a small team to commission images, interview designer/makers, write articles and edit videos was nothing short of a mammoth task. Factor in individual coursework, trying to maintain a rudimentary social life and time to inhale oxygen and it became a task which would have daunted the most formidable of prehistoric herds. But I made it to the finish line clutching the last embers of my frazzled brain and a product I am extremely proud of.
With only a work placement at Mollie Makes and History Revealed magazines, exams and the major project left to complete, I was past the halfway mark. Yet some of the most challenging and rewarding parts of the MA were still to come. Core modules included learning about public administration and media law – alien worlds about which I knew nothing, unless you count binge-watching Love Actually and Suits. While I enjoyed giving my inner Elle Woods some airtime, learning about the workings of local and central government was like trying to understand the plot of Inception and having to receipt it backwards in Mandarin.
Then came the fun stuff, the part of the course I was most looking forward to – getting to write a features-based dissertation on any topic which took my fancy. I chose modern masculinity, having been extremely fascinated by Reggie Yates’ Men at War documentary series. I chose to write a profile piece about a transgender male model, an article about men subverting the norm and investigated the more sensitive side of professional rugby players. The end result was being reminded of my passion for writing, getting to indulge my interests in gender and underdog voices and earning a Distinction grade for the project.
Last week I received an email from Cardiff University congratulating me on achieving an overall High Merit in my Masters. I was genuinely thrilled. My elation didn’t come so much from being able to add a few more lines to my CV, but from having battled with my inner daemons and won. Before walking into the Maglab I had avoided pushing myself outside of my comfort zone for fear of failure. When walking out of that same door twelve months later, I left with fewer fears having looked failure in the face. I had at times failed to perfect my skills, to ask the right questions, to live up to my own expectations, but I persisted. I’ve found that forward is something failure can’t feed on. And it’s one giant leap forward I’ve taken in confidence this year. I might not be the smartest, a tech God, possess the widest vocabulary or have the nerve to ask the most burning questions. But I’ve learned to play to my strengths and compare myself only to the person I was yesterday. I’ve learned I am ambitious. I am passionate. I am smart. I am proud. I have been able to conquer a few castles I never thought I could. I am now a journalist.