How to approach a Journalism degree

April '18

Bachelors of Communications (Journalism)

& International Studies

Double Degree // 5 Years Total



By Sharon Jiang


Halfway through my degree, I was having a conversation with a stranger on the street. We got to the subject of what I studied and when I replied with ‘journalism’, he burrowed his brows and said ‘why would you do THAT?’ 


I understand that with the rise of citizen journalism and the public’s increasing distrust in the media, it can seemingly be a ‘useless’ degree. You’ve probably seen those ‘went to journalism school for 3 years and am writing about Justin Beiber’s new sneaks’ memes floating around. But throughout my five years at uni, I’ve realised the importance doesn’t just lie in the content but in the way of thinking and critical analysis that journalism school teaches. 


Unlike degree where students learn ‘text book’ skills, a Bachelor in Communications is more nuanced. Perceptiveness, creativity and research is favoured over a one-track way of thinking. This degree trained me how to perceive the world from all possible angles and recognize how bias plays into people’s perspectives whether it be the Government, or a representative of an NGO. For the naturally curious, it pushes you to question the existing myths around a subject, forcing you to do your own research to get closer to the truth. 


The irony is, many graduates didn’t choose to become journalists. Communication skills are highly useful in other fields such as marketing and PR (public relations). Many graduates work in the communication department of unrelated industries such as medical, automobile or finance. I was a content creator for a cosmetic surgery clinic but the technical skills I gained studying journalism such as video editing and camera work, how to conduct interviews and aliasing with talent/clients came into play. 


One thing you should know about journalism is that it trains your personality and could potentially change it. On the first day of uni, our intimidating subject coordinator said shyness is a trait that will be slapped out. At the time the subject coordinator was frightening but I soon realised that many of my journalism teachers became the best mentors. Their blunt feedback helped me develop a thick skin for my career. I have to agree that being withdrawn on the job is an obstacle. You’re constantly communicating with people with different perspectives to yourself, those on a higher level of hierarchy or controversial figures in order to complete your task. 


Socially, in my experience, the other students are extremely outgoing, open-minded and easy to the talk to. When you first start uni, try and be as bubbly and friendly as possible and others will reciprocate. This sounds like really obvious advice but journalism is one of those degrees where you’re less likely to find reserved, competitive or disinterested people. Academically, my main advice is to make sure the subject coordinator and tutors knows who you are as the teachers are all immersed in the media industry and can provide you heaps of internship/job opportunities. Being a ghost and slipping through uni is not a good idea in journalism. 


Along with my journalism degree, I also studied International Studies. I chose this as a tack-on to my communications major to enjoy the study abroad opportunities. Unlike International Relations, it focused less on legalities and politics but more on globalisation of commerce and economies. I had to pick a foreign language in which I picked one of the most romantic ones, French. First year involved taking language and culture classes to prepare to you for second year. And there’s the golden advantage of International Studies. In the second year, you live in a foreign country, studying in the local uni, in their national language for an entire year. 


I was pushed into the deep end when I arrived in the small French town of Montpellier for my ‘In-Country Study’ (technical word not to be confused with exchange). I had to adjust to the lack of my usual support system as well as the culture shock such as geography, food and most of all, language. In France, I realised just how much I took English for granted since having the simplest conversation to buy groceries was difficult in a foreign language. However, as you may have heard from every obnoxious exchange student who came back from overseas and boasted how much it changed them and how they ‘found’ themselves, that much is also true for this program. I developed more independence, resilience and open-mindedness in this one year abroad than I did in my entire young adult life. 


My main piece of advice is to research the city you’re going to. And I mean Google everything; from hobbies, to public transport, to way of living as it’s extremely important to know if you’ll enjoy the city’s general vibe. While I have no regrets, choosing a different city in France is what I would’ve done differently. I learnt that some cities are too far from your preferred lifestyle and assimilating is difficult if the culture of the town is not too welcoming of foreigners. For example, Montpellier is great for a short holiday but it was small, slow-paced and had little to offer in terms of my preferred hobbies. But each person and city is different so my point is to research, research, research. 


On a light note, I almost forgot the best part of the year abroad – the summer break. If you picked a country in the Northern Hemisphere, you’re likely to have a long 3-month summer break in which you’re free to gallivant all around your continent (which is exactly what I did – I have videos to prove it). Who doesn’t like an awesome travel opportunity disguised in a uni degree?  

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