Graduate stories: Starting a creative career with my neuroscience degree

Anna graduated from Bristol in 2021 with a BSc in Neuroscience. Having leaned away from scientific research, she currently works in copywriting and content marketing. Read her post to find out why she pivoted to a creative career, how she got relevant experience and her advice for those who decide against pursuing a career directly related to their degree.

Deciding on my career

I studied Biology, Chemistry, Art and Design and Business Studies in sixth form, in an attempt to keep my career options as open as possible. I flipped between these different options many times before applying to university, heavily considering art school before making the U-turn to study neuroscience. This seemed like the more sensible option in terms of career prospects, and I knew that I could still keep up with art in my spare time. 

I think I realised pretty early on in my degree that a career in scientific research wasn’t for me. Luckily this realisation coincided with the first COVID lockdown, so I had the time and space to rethink what I wanted to do. I often get asked why I didn’t just drop out of university and start over, but I still loved the course, the university, and Bristol as a city. Plus, dropping out would’ve just added to the panic of not knowing where my career was headed.  

“I have always thought I’d explore a few more creative avenues so as not to confine myself to one box.”

Pursuing writing

I think I always felt that I wanted to end up doing something creative, and realised I was excelling more in written assignments, so I decided to pursue this further alongside my studies. I started doing a lot of research on the kind of experience I would need to start a career in writing. I used the Do IT Volunteer website to find online magazines with openings for new writers and companies in need of help with their content marketing.  

I struck lucky finding a magazine that gave me full creative control over what I wrote, giving me the space to explore what I enjoyed writing about most. I started off bridging the gap between my university course and where I wanted to go by writing about neuroscience and psychology at first, before moving further away from the niche. I also completed a few online courses in writing and marketing through FutureLearn, which was a really easy way to bulk out my CV. 

“Don’t underestimate the skills that you gained through your degree … a data analysis project could demonstrate your ability to plan well-informed, targeted content.”

What next?

I’m trying not to think too far ahead. I have always thought I’d explore a few more creative avenues so as not to confine myself to one box. For instance, I kept up my love of art throughout university and have recently taken up tattooing. If I stay in the copywriting and content industry, my goal would be to become some kind of creative director for a company, or editor in chief for a magazine.

My advice

Work for free while you’re in university

For the creative industries, you often have to do a solid amount of working for free just to build a strong portfolio and CV, even if you have a directly relevant degree. I started doing this during university to get a bit of a head start.  

Once you graduate you might not be able to afford to work for free, and you won’t have access to a lot of opportunities from the university (ones that have minimal, or no entry requirements). A lot of courses or university groups will have a blog, magazine or research journal which you can easily sign up to in a writing or editorial role. The work I did, such as for writing for online magazines, was also a great way to make contacts. I used some of them as references when applying for jobs after I finished my degree. 

A different educational background can work in your favour

I’ve found that many employers are intrigued by my alternative route into the creative industry. Don’t underestimate the skills that you gained through your degree. As a candidate, I can offer a unique insight and the ability to do in depth research is key for many writing roles. For example, a data analysis project could demonstrate your ability to plan well-informed, targeted content.

If you’re interested in a career like Anna’s, check out our sector guides on careers in writing and publishing, or advertising, marketing and public relations. You may also like to read a related blog post: Want to get into marketing? Here is what the professionals had to say….

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