Tag Archives: careers

career profile: working in the arts

This week we continue our series on career profiles. We hear from Daniel Milnes, who studied German and Russian at Somerville College and graduated in 2011. Orginally from Leeds, Daniel now works as a Curator for modern and contemporary art at the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum for Contemporary Art in Berlin. Daniel tells us how his languages have fed into his career path…

After graduating from Oxford in 2011 I completed a Master’s degree in Art History at the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg with a research period at the European University at Saint Petersburg (2011-2013). This proved to be the first step toward my current career as a curator for contemporary art. After graduation I completed a two-year traineeship in curatorial practice at the Kunstmuseum in Stuttgart where I served as assistant curator on two large-scale exhibition projects as well as curating my own exhibition with the artist Raphael Sbrzesny. This led to my next position as Assistant Curator at Haus der Kunst, Munich, a leading international institution for the display and discussion of contemporary art and culture.

Photo by M(e)ister Eiskalt, used under Creative Commons (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/) via Wikimedia.org

At Haus der Kunst I served as assistant curator for the project “Postwar: Art between the Pacific and the Atlantic, 1945-1965” which redefined the art historical canon of the postwar period from a multifocal and global perspective, deconstructing the traditional narrative that has until recently been dominated by the work of white male artists from the West. For this project I was responsible for the selection of art from the Soviet Union, liaising with artists, curators, theoreticians, and museum workers in Russia. My contact to the contemporary Russian art world was further strengthened through the development of a solo exhibition with media artist Polina Kanis, who works between Moscow and Amsterdam. In addition, I curated two further exhibition projects which analysed how models of identity have changed since digital forms of mediation have come to dominate daily life.

Since 2018 I am working as Assistant Curator at the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum for Contemporary Art in Berlin, where I am currently organizing the exhibition of the winner of the National Gallery Prize, Agnieszka Polska.

In my day-to-day working life I am constantly travelling and shifting between languages in order to coordinate exhibitions, write academic articles, proofread catalogues, give tours through exhibitions, deliver presentations and speeches, and liaise with artists. This would all be unthinkable without my training in Modern Languages and the sensibility for the nuances of language and culture that it fostered.

Career profile: becoming a lawyer

This week we hear from another Modern Languages graduate from Oxford, Elen Roberts. Originally from Cardiff, Elen studied French and German at St Anne’s College and is now a Trainee Solicitor at Marriott Harrison LLP, London. 

I studied French and German at St Anne’s College from 2008 until 2012. I spent my year abroad in Munich, Nantes and Grenoble (15 months in total, as I did not spend either summer at home) where I worked as a marketing intern, au pair and translator respectively. The year abroad was without doubt one of the most enriching periods of my life, as I got to travel all around France and Germany and meet so many new and interesting people.

After graduating I undertook a TEFL course in Cardiff (my home city) and then taught English for two years at various private schools and universities in Hamburg and Berlin. My first teaching job was actually at Hamburg’s French Lycée! It goes without saying that my language skills came in useful there, as I was switching between English, French and German on a daily basis to teach different groups of children of various ages.

I then came back to the UK and did the law conversion course, which took a further two years. I am now in my final few months of training to be a solicitor at a small City firm, Marriott Harrison LLP. Although we are mainly instructed on UK matters, some of our deals and disputes have a foreign element where my French and German skills have come in very handy. So far, I have been asked to translate email correspondence, and analyse the corporate documents of various French, German and Swiss companies and then explaining them to senior colleagues. This has saved the firm the time and expense of having to hire professional translators and getting them to sign non-disclosure agreements. (A lot of our work is confidential).

In a nutshell, if you are considering a career in the law, or any field where you would have to engage with foreign businesses, a working knowledge of European languages is most definitely an asset!

Career Profile: Working in Advertising

This week on Adventures on the Bookshelf we are showcasing another career path you can take if you have a background in Modern Languages. Sarah Greaney, from Wrexham in North Wales, studied French at St Anne’s College and graduated in 2011. She now works as a media manager in marketing and advertising. Here, Sarah tells us how the skills she acquired during her degree are put to use in her job.

Communication skills are a must in advertising (Photo by Kate Trysh on Unsplash)

I decided to study French at university because of the versatility of the degree. The language course I chose offered much more than just grammar and language tuition, covering French literature, philosophy and art from medieval to modern times.

It’s easy to see why employers value a language degree: studying grammar develops close attention to detail and structured thinking, while learning about another culture through the development of its art, history and thinking down the ages nurtures a wider and deeper appreciation of the values that shape societies other than your own. Not to mention the year abroad, which throws you into the very uncomfortable situation of having to set up an existence from scratch in an unfamiliar place!

Although I don’t directly use French in my career, the transferable skills developed in my degree have stood me in good stead in the advertising and communications industry where developing strong, lasting relationships and communicating ideas in a succinct and compelling way are both fundamental parts of my job.

Languages help you to build lasting relationships (Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash)

Career Profile: Working at the UN

This week on Adventures on the Bookshelf we are showcasing another career path one of our graduates has followed. Emily Duggan, from Taunton in Somerset, now works as a Translator and précis-writer at the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), Switzerland. Emily graduated with a degree in French in 2010. Here, she tells us about how she went from Oxford to the UN.

I studied French at the Queen’s College from 2006 to 2010. During my year abroad in Paris, I worked first as a language assistant in two primary schools, then as an intern in the dictionary department of Éditions Larousse. After graduating, I decided to take a break from studying and moved to London, where I worked as a teaching assistant in a primary school. My language skills were put to good use: I ran an after-school French club with the French language assistant and helped to organize a school trip to Paris.

In 2011, I moved to Paris to pursue a two-year Master’s course in economic, technical and editorial translation at the École Supérieure d’Interprètes et de Traducteurs (ESIT), with financial support from the Leverhulme Trust. As part of the course, I completed a three-month internship at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). I was inspired by that experience – the nature of the work, the focus on quality, the multicultural environment – to aim for a career in an international organization.

When I graduated from ESIT, I was offered an internship, then a full-time job, at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The work was fast-paced and varied; I translated a wide range of documents, including speeches, reports, press releases and blog posts. In 2015, I passed the United Nations language competitive examination and was recruited by the United Nations Office at Geneva shortly afterwards. Although the work is intense and challenging, with short deadlines and strict editorial rules, it is also very rewarding. I am proud to work for an organization that is devoted to maintaining international peace and security and to protecting human rights worldwide.

Career Profile: Working for a Charity

Adventures on the Bookshelf always tries to engage with languages beyond the curriculum and, if you’re here, you’re probably already a keen linguist. But if you’re thinking of applying for a Modern Languages degree you might be wondering what career options are available to you afterwards. In the coming months, we will be showcasing some of our recent graduates who have written profiles about their careers since leaving Oxford with a Modern Languages degree. First up is Evie Snow, who graduated in 2016 with a degree in French and English. Evie now works as a Schools Programme Coordinator for the Charity  Wings of Hope, which works to provide free education to children in the developing world. Read Evie’s account below…

Evie (right) with her colleagues at Wings of Hope

I graduated from Oxford just two years ago this summer (2016), and went straight into a Masters in Development Studies at SOAS in London. This really cemented my thinking that I wanted to be in International Development or charity work at some level, and my interest in postcolonial and world history/politics/languages/cultures had already been sparked in several of my finals papers* and dissertation. I then came out of my Masters looking for a job in which I could feel that I was making a direct difference, and that’s how I came across my current job. I manage the day to day running of a social enterprise programme for students aged 13-18, who compete to fundraise for the education of children in Malawi and India. This began as an internship, but quickly developed into a permanent position, with the increase in responsibility (and title!) that this entailed. I have learnt an awful lot very fast, and am hoping there is more to come!

Even though I am not directly using my French in my current job, I thoroughly intend to in my next or following role. One of my ambitions is to work in West Africa, where French is essential for most countries in the region. Aside from the technical use of the language, I feel that studying French helped me to spark several strands of learning which have been integral to my professional life so far. One of these was an awareness of other places, other cultures, other ways of thinking; in studying a language you are confronted by a different way of constructing a sentence, and even more so, a different way of constructing the world. Even though you may not realise it at the time, I think that this is vital to broadening horizons in the way people think, not to mention the enormous benefits of being able to have a year abroad! Another of these strands is the ability, and indeed for me now the desire, to compare and contrast situations at each possible stage. When you study a language that is not your native tongue, you are constantly faced with comparison between those, and students who study more than one language are clearly comparing between multiple languages and cultures. Learning languages gives you a mental flexibility which I think is pretty unique amongst the disciplines. This is vital when entering any kind of job, as it allows you to weigh up pros and cons and to balance outcomes efficiently.

Many languages graduates come out of their degrees and feel a sense of failure if they don’t instantly use that language in their everyday lives. I think the skills we have learnt during our degrees are the epitome of transferable skills, so even though each of us may be passionate about our language/languages this doesn’t have to be within the workplace.

I still try to keep with French news, and read French literature. Without having studied French, I couldn’t have spent a month in Italy learning Italian from scratch and pick it up so easily – I may not be fluent, but I can have a decent conversation! Plus, I now have a French housemate, so even though I may not be using my French at the office, I can still come home to chats over du vin et du fromage!

*Finals papers are the exams that undergraduates sit at the end of their degree.

Employability (Part Two)

posted by Simon Kemp

A couple of weeks ago we examined the statistics that show modern languages to be one of the best subjects to study at university in terms of the employability of its graduates. Today I want to tell you about some of the jobs my own students have gone into after graduation, to give you an idea of the range of opportunities open to people with a modern languages degree.

Let’s start with the City:

International business and finance are popular destinations for modern languages graduates, especially those who thrive in an atmosphere of high stakes, high pressure, and high salaries. Increasingly interconnected global markets need global communicators, and people with the ability to conduct business in languages other than English are much in demand. A former student of mine now works in the Gherkin, with access to the exclusive private dining under the panoramic glass dome on the top floor. What’s it like? I’ll tell you after she’s remembered to invite me.



There’s no need to stay in the UK, of course. As we saw earlier, more modern languages graduates get their first job abroad than graduates from any other subject. One of our former students now works at the Deutsche Bank headquarters in Frankfurt (above). Another, who maybe has slightly different priorities in life, headed straight back after graduation to the Caribbean island of Martinique, where he’d spent his year abroad during the degree, to carry on teaching English to local children.

Another major destination for our students is law. While it’s possible to become a lawyer by doing a three-year undergraduate degree in law, it’s also possible, and very popular, to take an undergraduate degree in another subject, followed by a one-year ‘law conversion’ course at masters level.

The combination of a modern languages degree and law conversion is a common route into the profession, with the obvious advantage that it also opens doors into international law. The reverse method, by the way, doesn’t work: you can’t top up an undergraduate law degree with a year-long modern languages course. That’s because it takes time to gain fluency in a foreign language: it’s not just a matter of learning the rules, but of letting them percolate into your brain through practice and reinforcement over a period of years.

Then, there’s the civil service.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the British Foreign Office are desperate for qualified linguists. There are posts in Britain, or also working abroad in British consulates with the diplomatic service. Plus, there is the European Union: many modern languages graduates go on to work as translators, interpreters, administrators or political analysts at the EU. And, of course, there are the Security Services, for whom languages are of utmost importance. On-screen, James Bond has to date been seen speaking fluent French, Spanish, Danish, German, Russian and Egyptian Arabic, which is quite some achievement. Have any of my students followed in his footsteps to GCHQ, MI5, MI6? Would I be able to tell you even if I knew…?

Journalism is another destination for our graduates. I now have several of my former students working for the national and international press. Not only do your language skills enable you to become an effective foreign correspondent, you’ll also learn through your degree to become an expert user of the English language, gradually honing your skills in expressing compelling arguments in clear and precise prose, as well as your skills in meeting deadlines for your copy (possibly by staying up very late and pressing ‘send’ at 11:59 pm on the due date).

Talking of writing, there are other, more creative routes into which your degree can take you. None of my former students is a famous writer yet, but give them time. My predecessor as the Fellow in French at Somerville, Dr Enid Starkie, though, made an impression on one of her modern languages students. Julian Barnes, recent winner of the Booker Prize, hilariously and unkindly immortalized her in his great novel, Flaubert’s Parrot. Other modern linguists who went on to become writers include John Le Carré, and J. K. Rowling, whose French and Latin degree clearly shows through in the made-up words, names and spells of the Potterverse. Studying culture and communication at university is a good grounding for your own creativity, and many modern languages graduates go on to creative roles, writing, composing, performing or presenting. We can’t guarantee you a media career like modern linguist celebs Nigella Lawson, Bear Grylls or Derren Brown, but we can certainly inspire the artist and performer you have hidden inside you.

Lastly, you don’t have to use your modern languages degree just to make a lot of money or have a fascinating and fulfilling career. You can also use it to change the world. Several of my former students have gone on to work for (and in one case, found) a charity or Non-Governmental Organization. International relief and development work needs skilled multi-lingual communicators, and modern languages graduates are in high demand. So if you’d like to make a difference, a background in modern languages would be a good start.

We’ll return to this topic in a later post with some tales from actual former modern languages students from Oxford. Until then, I hope this has given you some food for thought.

One Hundred Good Reasons to Study Modern Languages at University

posted by Simon Kemp

There are lots more than a hundred good reasons to study modern languages, but if I’m going to drip-feed them to you at one reason per post, and no more than a couple of posts per month on this topic, then a hundred will keep us going nicely for a while. Many of these reasons are about the pleasures of discovering a foreign culture, exploring its history, literature and film. Others are about learning to handle another language confidently, discovering how languages work, how they develop, and how your own language connects with or differs from the language you’re learning. Still others will be about the experience of meeting new people on your year abroad, getting by in an exciting, unfamiliar environment and broadening your horizons. But of course, in the age of tuition fees and economic austerity, we also need some hard, cold facts about your prospects for employment and earnings at the end of your degree. Luckily, as well as being one of the most stimulating, adventurous and intellectually fulfilling choices of university course, a modern languages degree aces the career statistics too. So let’s start there.

Counting down, then, we’ll begin with Good Reason to Study Modern Languages at University, Number 100…

The Destination of Leavers from Higher Education survey asks recent UK university graduates what they are doing six months after graduation. The most recent data is from graduates in 2012, which found that only 9% of modern languages graduates were unemployed six months after graduating. That compares with 10% unemployment rates for business studies, engineering, architecture and physical sciences, 11% in creative arts and design, 12% in media studies and 14% unemployment for computer science graduates. In fact, only teaching, law and medical/biological sciences have lower unemployment rates than modern languages for their graduates.

So modern linguists go on to many different things after graduation, but the dole queue is not one of them. We’ll delve further into these Destination of Leavers statistics later on to find out more about what these graduates are actually doing, but I thought this might be the most important place to start.