Ever since my late teens, when the question of what I do for work started cropping up at parties and on first dates, my answer had been along the lines of ‘well, my paid job is A, but what I really want to do is B.’ What A and B are has changed a few times, but that formulation never did. So, the other night, when my housemate asked me to witness her signature on some important forms, I hovered over the box where I had to list my occupation. It was a bracing, surreal moment when I realised the answer I wanted to give and the correct answer were the same. With a giddy little smile, I wrote ‘Journalist’.

I had never prided myself on my decisive nature. So when I looked into studying journalism, attended an information session for mature students and applied to Curtin within the space of 2 days in late 2012, I knew something was up. I was excited, I wanted to be there. After a few years of drift, it was quite the thing to want to be somewhere.

I quickly set about becoming the most insufferable nerd in every class I was involved in.  Being a mature student has its challenges (a dispiriting number of times I have realised I’m the same age or older than my tutor, or a classmate started high school a decent interval after I finished it), but there’s a lot to be said for having no cool to lose.  I talked to lecturers after class, did all my readings, and swiftly got comfortable with the looks I imagined people gave me whenever I put my hand up. Which was a lot.

On reflection it seems absurd that I offer anyone advice on anything – dither horribly in your early twenties doing a job you like but don’t love, try and abandon several passions before hitting a solid wall of unhappiness, self-destruction and inertia around 26, stabilising, realising an interest in words was one thing you’d not lost and then going to university seems a bit too specific, and ‘be exceedingly lucky’ seems too broad. But here goes:

  1. Take your time – news writing, crafting good interview questions, picking the right interview subject and deciding what makes an interesting news story are all part of a new language you have to learn, and not always an intuitive one. Give yourself time.
  2. Make some damn friends – Australia doesn’t have a culture like the US or UK where it is expected that you will travel to study, so the temptation is to just stick with your existing pre-uni social group. Don’t do that. People are the peg on which journalism hangs, so get used to engaging with a variety of them. Friends who understand and share your reasons for wanting to be a journalist will challenge, inspire and invigorate you when everything seems too difficult (and at some point, it will) and sometimes a post lecture pint, or a hopeless crush on a classmate is the only thing that will make life bearable. Separately, there’s a de-mystifying effect. When people you’ve done karaoke with start getting jobs in the media, you realise it’s not beyond a mere mortal’s reach.
  3. Take advantage of your teachers – (Editor’s note: there MUST be a better way to put that). Your tutors have industry experience, care about the future of journalism, and part of their JDF is ‘prepare students for work’. Ask questions and really listen to the answers. See if extracurricular projects are available. These are the people newspapers, radio stations and TV broadcasters call when they need a list of people worth hiring. Show them you’re serious and hard-working. Be on that list.
  4. Say yes to everything – every extracurricular project, every work placement, every professional event. If you can possibly go, go. And don’t wait until you feel ready. In the words of my favourite book, ‘ready’s too late’. I have reservations about giving up free labour, and I know people can’t always afford to take time off work or away from study, but within the bounds of reason, make the time. Firstly, the experience and networking of being in actual working newsroom simply can’t be replicated elsewhere. You may not be paid, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get nothing for your work. Second, it builds a certain endurance – having spent years variously juggling a busy job, university, internships and attempted freelancing all at once, the thought of starting a job where all I have to do is journalism seems hopelessly luxurious.
  5. Join the student journalism club – the first four points are just a detailed way of saying this one thing. Newsspeak attracts bright, curious, engaged and social journo students, they have great staff involvement, they get speakers from all areas of the media in and people come to us (I may no longer be a student, but you’re Newsspeak for life…) with great projects and events to attend. Whatever year you’re in, whatever kind of journalism you like, Newsspeak will be useful to you.
  6. Most of all, stick with it, guys. Something made you want to study journalism – whether it was curiosity, scepticism, interest in the forces that shape the world, a fascination with people, the thrill of investigation or the joy of a story well told. These qualities are always crucial, never more so than in the world of echo chambers, populism and unrefined hectoring that we find ourselves inhabiting. It doesn’t have to be journalism that ends up benefiting from your talents – but never abandon the qualities that made you think it might be the job for you. For one thing, they will keep dispiriting times in context.

And for another, in my experience holding on to openness, curiosity and a little perseverance is as good a way as any of ensuring that what you do and what you want to do become the same thing.