Graduate in Focus: Paul Fennessy – Journalism

 
 

Those who take advantage of the extensive opportunities on offer in college are far more likely to thrive in the outside world, writes Paul Fennessy

Speaking on Miriam O’Callaghan’s radio show recently, acclaimed comedian and UCD graduate Dara Ó Briain put it best when he described college as “a chance to experiment with all different kinds of activity and see which one most appealed to you.”

Having left UCD in 2011, I was one of those extremely fortunate people who walked into a paid internship that turned into a job shortly afterwards. Even more remarkably still, I landed a job in journalism; an impossible task nowadays, if anyone who has ever spoken at a student journalist conference is to be believed. It seems simply unconsciously following Dara’s aforementioned advice is how I got this position.

Back during my time in UCD, I vividly remember the words drawn on the top part of one of the toilets under the main restaurant, which wryly read: ‘Get your Arts degree here ↓’. As someone who studied Arts (English major, Psychology minor), it was always annoying when these types of jokes were bandied about, inferring that undertaking a degree in this area was somehow a waste of time, or less worthy than other academic pursuits.

However, despite for the most part really enjoying my degree (particularly those godlike lectures and seminars from the legend that is Frank McGuinness), there was often a nagging feeling that despite an impending graduation, I would not be able to find a proper job. It was a fear rivalled only by those swans at the lake. You do not want to piss them off.
After five years in UCD, including one spent doing a master’s in American Literature and one editing this paper, I was finally dragged kicking and screaming into the big bad world. One of my main initial concerns was doing job interviews, which weren’t always my strong point.

However, having thankfully spent many a previous summer attending hopelessly awkward and ultimately fruitless interviews for temporary positions that I was thoroughly under-qualified for (dog-walking being my favourite case in point), these previous unsavoury experiences put me in good stead when it mattered most.

They were valuable, if only because they taught me that failing in such situations hardly represented something akin to the end of humanity as we know it, as my hyperbole-prone younger self had initially suspected. Moreover, during my time in college, I even occasionally had the benefit of interviewing others for various positions, during sabbatical elections, for example. Among other things, this taught me that they could be just as hopelessly ill-prepared and nervous as I sometimes was.

Consequently, within days of leaving UCD, I secured an interview for a journalism job as a contributor for TheScore.ie, which is essentially the sports section of TheJournal.ie. Having spent countless hours travelling to obscure locations for hockey match reports, in addition to undertaking numerous other sports-related endeavours for this paper, I knew I had the necessary level of experience required for the job.

Nonetheless, I still ensured that my preparation before the interview was meticulous, spending several hours exhaustively studying the website and contemplating how I could help sustain and enhance its reputation. Perhaps it was my astonishing insights on the sporting world, or maybe it was myself and the interviewers agreeing that The Wire was the greatest thing since sliced bread (non-sliced bread was a thing once, right?), but somehow I managed to convince them to take me on, and I’ve been able to indulge my passion for ludicrous headline puns ever since.

Looking back on my time at UCD, I think the best decision I made was dedicating a considerable portion of my time to an extra-curricular activity. College makes certain people come close to turning into Jack Torrance (of The Shining fame), as they find themselves on the verge of insanity on account of the unwise decision to focus more or less exclusively on their academic work, or in some cases, on doing little other than getting as much use out of their Coppers Gold Card as possible.

Availing of some of the many fantastic non-academic opportunities UCD has to offer is imperative, particularly for those who have courses where the hours aren’t especially intense. I knew of many people who would sooner jump in the lake and endure the resulting tetanus shot, than bother to partake in any of the multitude of extra-curricular activities on offer. Such an attitude won’t impress your future prospective employers, many of whom will seek evidence to ensure you’re not some sort of weird hermit who does nothing but study while simultaneously cursing humanity.

Even if you’ve no interest in pursuing a career in journalism or acting, getting involved with the paper or joining Dramsoc is likely to open up so many interesting doorways. If I had opted against doing the former, I would never have had the chance to interview Tommy Tiernan, John C. McGinley or Sonia O’Sullivan, nor would I have developed so many long-lasting friendships.

Woody Allen once famously said that 80% of his success in life derived from just “showing up”. The same rule applies to college: 80% of your success there will depend on showing up for whatever it is you’re passionate about. Woody Allen also married his step-daughter though, so maybe don’t always look to him as a role model.

Paul Fennessy currently works as a freelance journalist with TheScore.ie. He attended UCD from 2006 to 2011.

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