Uni can be tough. Scraping together enough money to afford groceries that aren't entirely carb-based, dealing with the torture that is group work assignments—let alone figuring out if you're even studying the right degree.
These six Australian creatives—a filmmaker, architect, producer, freelance writer, editor, and fashion designer—are killing it in their fields, but didn't necessarily follow the high school to uni to dream job path. We asked them to remember their days as stressed out undergrads with unpaid internships and dodgy part time jobs, and to impart on us some uni/life advice.
Founder of Filmme Fatales zine, freelance writer
VICE: Did you know what you wanted to do straight out of high school?
I wanted to be a movie writer and director. I grew up in Queensland, and got into a screen production course there, but I really wanted to move to Melbourne.
What did end you end up studying?
I moved a few months after high school, and did a media production course at RMIT.
Did you study hard?
Looking back, I didn't really work that hard. But then in my final year I got an internship at a website, and that turned into work, and eventually a full time editing job in New York when I was 21.
So you weren't seeking out heaps of opportunities?
A lot of students I meet now are more ambitious and focused than I was. If I had the opportunity again where I had cheap rent and a scholarship... I didn't really appreciate how much free time I had back then, but I definitely do now.
You've got a book deal with Hachette, work full time, and freelance. How do you stay on top of everything?
It's not good advice, but I don't do much else other than work. It helps that I'm a bit of a loner. I work with lots of my friends and get to see them during the day, but I wouldn't suggest that other people follow my example.
Nah, I think you're living the dream.
I'm lucky. I started making my zine when I was 22, and it led to so many opportunities. If you're making stuff you really care about then someone else is going to care too. You can tell when something feels genuine and when it doesn't... Our teachers at uni would always tell us to "network" with "people from the industry", and I think networking is the worst. Most of the people I know who are in good or impressive sounding jobs are people I met at a pub or a party or through being a nice person on the internet.
Apparel designer at Gorman, co-founder of fashion label Per-Tim
What were your career plans straight out of high school?
I'm an only child with an immigrant mum, so expectations were high. I started doing a philosophy degree, but I deferred my course without mum knowing and enrolled in textiles. After a year I moved to Melbourne, because my boyfriend was going. Then he decided not to go, but I went anyway.
I got into RMIT, so I decided to just go for it.
Did you work or intern while you studied?
I interned with Carly Hunter, and I was also working at a clothing shop. It was a good experience because I saw the other side of a label, the commercial side. I use that knowledge all the time.
Does your degree help you compete in the textiles field?
Yes. I learned how to handle criticism, how to time manage, how to pitch ideas. RMIT gives you so much freedom. In my grad collection, all the clothes were musical instruments. You can explore amazing ideas at uni.
How did you get a job?
A friend of someone I worked with gave me a look in. Be a nice person to everyone you meet! That's the easiest way I've been able to move forward my career.
What advice would you give to fashion students?
Know what you have to offer that's unique. Also, while you're at uni it's a good idea to have another hobby that isn't what you're studying. I got really into astrology!
Associate producer of Melbourne's MPavilion
Did you know what you wanted to do after leaving high school?
No! I got a job as press photographer straight out of school, and did that for a couple of years. Then I decided to go RMIT and study business.
What kind of student were you?
Definitely a nerd!
How about work or internships while you studied?
Definitely, I took every opportunity I could.
What skills did you pick up as an intern?
Being able to swap from being a student to being in a work environment is really hard, and can be a huge wake up call. Being an intern really helped me with that adjustment.
How did you handle a business degree as a creative person?
Business was often really, really boring, but I totally recommend it. You need to get those boring skills so you can do stuff like creating budgets for your creative projects!
Any other hot tips for ambitious creative students?
Be open to taking opportunities, and be serious when you're given them.
Find out more about MPavilion here
Editor At Large, i-D Australia & New Zealand
What did you study at uni?
I did a Bachelor of Arts at University of Melbourne straight after high school, then I went back after a few years and did marketing at RMIT.
What kind of work experience did you get while you studied?
I was writing for the street press. Interns weren't such a big thing then, but freelancing was for sure. Thirty dollars for 50 record reviews, but you got to keep the CDs.
Were you into fashion?
I was, but it was different then. I was a bit of a goth, spent a lot of time at record shops. And rave culture was starting up too. I was a part of the socialist group at uni, and we wore Docs and long skirts, lots of black, and band tees.
What advice would you give to uni students who want to pursue a career in fashion journalism?
Be passionate about it. Work hard. Make yourself valuable, and you will be rewarded. Be that person who is prepared to work extra hard; the person they can't do without.
Furniture designer, architect and former member of Sydney band Van She
Have you ended up where you thought you would?
Yeah, I had studied architecture before we formed the band, and the plan was always to become an architect by age 30.
So finished your undergraduate design degree before forming Van She?
Yep! I studied at the University of Sydney, and then after touring and traveling did a masters of architecture. Then when we finished with the band, I went into working full time.
So traveling in between your undergrad and your masters really helped your practice?
It helped a lot. When I was on tour I was an architect masquerading as a musician, almost. Even now I still sometimes look back and reflect on some of those things I saw overseas: the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin; Oscar Niemeyer's Latin Memorial Square in Brazil.
Architecture is a notoriously intense degree. Any survival tips?
The truth is—just love what you're doing. If you really love what you're doing, then an all nighter is exhausting but rewarding.
You've successfully broken into two fairly tricky industries—what's the secret?
Be super committed to what you're doing at the time. When I was doing music, I really threw myself at it. When I did my masters, I was super enthusiastic and knew what I wanted to do. I worked quite hard at it. Nothing comes easy.
Story developer and documentary director at VICE Australia, freelance filmmaker
Is this your dream job?
It's not bad. It allows me to do something inside the field while still having money to work on my own projects. Plus I have met lots of interesting people through this job and that's ended up informing my creative practice.
What did you study at uni?
I did a Bachelor of Communications in Newcastle, and then a Bachelor of Film and TV at VCA in Melbourne.
Did you feel like the move to Melbourne was worth it?
Absolutely. Moving to another place to study can be very creatively invigorating. I would encourage anyone thinking about it to move away when they study.
Was VCA the hipster art school dream?
It actually was pretty cool. Not so much hipsters, just film nerds. Filmmakers are just weird people. And it was really good because we had a very small class, so we got to know each other.
What advice would you give to a student filmmaker?
Don't listen too much to the people around you. Don't think you should be doing something because everyone else is doing it and there's some kind of expectation there.
Is there anything you wish you'd done differently while you were still at uni?
I didn't really enjoy the first degree I did. I wish I'd stopped, reassessed, and found the course I really wanted to do.
You can watch Andrew's VICE videos here
The article is presented in partnership with Captain Morgan