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How feasible is it to build a career as a freelancer?
Now Playing: How feasible is it to build a career as a freelancer?
The group discusses freelance work and compares portfolio-working with traditional full-time jobs. They consider the importance of networking and personal contacts to maintaining freelance work, and some of the inherent insecurities. Finally, they move on to discuss how PhD students can have concerns about how to manage current or future family commitments alongside work.


Catherine: A bit of the world that we haven't really talked about is the freelance world, isn't it, and how much scope there is for people leaving a PhD to make ends meet through freelance work and whether that is a reaction against a perceived nasty world of paid employment where work is humiliation and daily grind. Or whether it is freeing and liberating and provides the autonomy that some people felt they benefited from in their PhD.  

Helen: I think it can be both, can't it? And I think it can actually be a start of a very successful, fulfilling career. A career doesn't have to have that very sort of clearly defined stretch of nine to five traditionally associated with sort of paid employment. It can be something that is more akin to a portfolio and so sort of acquiring skills and developing skills and applying that in different roles. And I think freelancing sort of lends itself to that, particularly maybe in terms of journalism and freelance writing.  

Catherine: Yes or arts worlds; a freelance archivist I can think of that left Sussex a while ago.  

Helen: Yes  

Catherine: But it is a bit of a brave step for some isn't it  

Helen: Yeah and I think this is where the sort of networking as well can be absolutely paramount. And so having an established network that can help facilitate…  

Catherine: Generate the next piece of work; where is the next piece of work coming from  

Helen: It takes a certain degree of courage I think to take that step

Catherine: And some people are naturally resourceful in that way aren't they  

Helen: Yeah  

Catherine: Or have the connections to enable them to do it smoothly  

Helen: And, again, maybe if you want to dip your toe a little bit it could be something that students could consider while undertaking sessional tutoring or perhaps fulfilling a role within the higher education structure.  

Catherine: Yes  

Helen: And so you have still got that support network  

Catherine: Yes   

Helen: And they’ve also got that fallback  

Catherine: Yes and when they get to the stage where you have to say ‘I'm an author’  

Helen: Yes  

Catherine: Suddenly that change of identity  

Helen: Absolutely having made that transition  

Catherine: Yeah, they're confident that they can carry on earning their living in that way   

Helen: I think it is trying to project that possibly; the student mindset isn't seeing themselves as a valuable individual with a lot to contribute  

Catherine: On the downside you don't get a pension, no sick pay, no holidays paid, no colleagues to say good morning to in the morning and I think some people like that. Others complain about office politics and hate the rat race feel to it  

Helen: But I think if you are a naturally gregarious person, you can sort of thrive, can't you, in that sort of office environment. Maybe if you were more sort of solitary and autonomous perhaps the freelance or consultancy roles are probably quite attractive.  

Catherine: Yes, yes   

Helen: And I think another downside, Catherine, is thinking about families and lifestyle choices that you make and how that could impinge on freelancing roles. I think it would be quite difficult or possibly more difficult to reconcile perhaps family commitment with a less stable career  

Helen: No paid maternity leave for example  

Catherine: Yes  

Helen: Yes that might well be the case. And then we are talking about people managing a career and family commitments over a longer period of time aren't we and how that fits together.  

Catherine: Exactly, and obviously that can be quite difficult  

Helen: And very individual  

Catherine: Yeah, yes. It is not uncommon for women to raise in careers consultations ‘…and of course I want to have a family’  

Helen: Yes and I think particularly given the nature of the students that we are working with obviously they tend to be that little bit older and in some cases considerably older and maybe by the time they’ve finished are thinking quite seriously about perhaps having a family and other commitments. And that does obviously sort of impinge on the decisions that they are starting to make and the options that are realistic. Because I think that is something that we need to acknowledge that while you can have quite broad aspirations you also need to consider: are these actually achievable given the personal constraints?  

Catherine: Yes  

Helen: And those are obviously going to be very unique and individual   

Catherine: Yes, yes they are.