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Cameron Campbell – Finding a work-study balance at university

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Working and studying is a tricky balance. The likelihood is, that while you’re at university, you're going to need to find a secondary way to fund your experience. While studying BA (Hons) Animation Production, parts of the course can get very intense and times can get stressful if you're approaching crunch periods before hand-ins, as I'm sure it is with every other course. Balancing work around this can be difficult, so I aim to outline my experiences and what I'd change in hindsight.

Fortunately, during first year, I didn’t have to worry about working. During Sixth Form, I was able to save up to give me a bit of a cushion for the first part of university, considering I knew Freshers was going to be pricey. However, by the end of first year, things were looking a little tight.

Each year, during the summer, I had the opportunity to work in a school back home, where I worked on manual labour tasks and data management. This meant that when I had some downtime in the summer months from studying, I was able to rebuild up my finances, ready for the start of the new year. I gained a lot of experience for my CV from doing this, as I ended up working different roles each year, developing different soft skills.

This actually helped me gain my first job while at university, which I had for the majority of the year. From the start of the interview, I made sure they were aware I was a student, and would have to go home every now and again. I was able to bargain my way out of this hole by offering to work extra shifts prior to my absences to help fill in any gaps and also even out any pay I would lose. The key thing that I remember specifically got me this job, was that I turned up in smart clothing (shirt and suit trousers). While the job itself was only a part-time position in a corner shop, I was told that dressing well and professionally for the role showed commitment and helped me stand out in professionalism.

Balancing this with university wasn’t too bad, as I was able to get a shift off during my final crunch time. I also only worked 13 hours a week as at the time, this is what I had budgeted could work for me – and eight-hour shift on Saturday and a five-hour shift after university on a Monday. I knew that these days I would most likely be free and so it didn’t really intrude on my studying or personal time too much, although sadly, I did miss a few parties.

During my final year, I struggled to find a new job, as I now lived too far away for me to cost-effectively travel to work. However, after some long months I was able to gain a job at Zizzi in the town centre. My housemate had already gained a position there and was able to put my name forward to the general manager. Using friends as ways into jobs may feel like a cheat but it is a reliable and easy way to get noticed by businesses. Many of my friends have benefitted from this as hiring managers are more likely to listen to the recommendation of staff that they trust over a pile of CVs, and can be the reason you end up getting seen. I was hired, even considering that I had no experience for the role, as they were happy to train me.

I have now worked at Zizzi for a few months and am looking to transfer back to my home branch after I finish university while I continue to develop my portfolio and apply for jobs in the animation industry. As shifts were sometimes only four or five hours long, they were easy to fit into my evenings and didn’t intrude on university work much as, again, my shifts were predominantly weekend-based.

As stated before, key points I would remember for balancing work to studying are to try to match shift patterns to fitting your evenings or free times that you wouldn’t normally be studying in, but also remember to keep some time for yourself if you can. Always dress to impress for interviews. Something key that I was brought up on, by a dad who hired people for a living, was that people can always judge a character by their shoes. And lastly, using people around you for your own benefit is not always a bad thing! If you can, try and ask people to suggest you to employers, even if it's for temporary summer or holiday work.

To conclude, I realise that all experiences are different and for many, it might come across that my views are from a point of privilege, so my words should not be taken as gospel. However, I hope I've given insight into what you might want to start considering if you're planning to work while at university, and always remember that you're doing companies a favour for working, and that you don’t owe them anything if they start impeding on your studies, grades or personal time, depending on your priorities.

Something to think about

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