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Queen Mary Alumni

Alumni profile - Annie Mirza

(Comparative Literature and Linguistics BA, 2013) 

Open discussions and problem solving were essential on both courses, and without the comfort of a learning environment to get involved in discussions and figure out a problem, I’d feel anxious to take the lead. But I’ve done this at university before, so in a job, it feels less daunting.


Headshot of alumna, Annie Mirza

Why did you choose to study Comparative Literature and Linguistics and what attracted you to Queen Mary? 

I have always been fascinated by languages and English Language was one of my favourite subjects at A-Level. I also vividly remember my friend asking me why I was speaking in a combination of English and Urdu (she didn’t understand the Urdu), and I hadn’t realised I was doing that. It’s called code-switching, and a lot of bilinguals do it! It blew my mind that I was speaking two different languages, with correct grammar and pronunciation at the same time, subconsciously. How does that happen? Linguistics provided some answers! The course itself focused on a range of topics, which was exciting, because it really opened my passion for study.  

As cliché as it is, I love reading, so literature was a good fit for me, particularly Comparative Literature, which gives you a broader understanding of writing from around the world. We got to study German, French, Russian, Japanese, American literature, as well as English literature. I love other cultures and, being Pakistani, I’ve always known how limiting it is to only learn about one language’s literature and art, so Comparative Literature felt like the best option to broaden my knowledge of writing.  They both had broad options for modules which would help me in my career as well; I liked that there was no specific end goal, you could end up working in lots of different sectors and learn what you were interested in. 

Moreover, Queen Mary was in London, which is where I wanted to study. When I visited, I liked that everything was mostly in one place, because a lot of the other London universities are spread out with different schools and accommodation being in different places. The fact that accommodation was on campus was a big factor as well, it meant I didn’t have to think so hard about where I’d be living or how far it might be in the first year. No matter where I was placed, I’d be near all my classes. 

What did you enjoy most about the course and was there anything that surprised you in your studies? 

I did fall more in love with linguistics, which I wasn’t expecting, and it’s hard to pick what I enjoyed the most because there was so much! I loved learning about ancient writing systems and where languages come from, as well as discussing if Pinocchio was actually a villain and ‘if a character is murdered in a book, can you hear them scream?’ But one of the best parts was having a native speaker of an unfamiliar language come into a Linguistics class, and we had to take field notes, asking him to say various phrases; and then analyse how the language worked, why it was structured in the way it was, what the sounds were, etc. It was a lot of fun and hard work, but so amazing to get the experience of field linguistics within the course.  

The opportunities are so broad. Whether you want to stay in academia, or go out into the world, linguistics opens so many doors...

I was surprised by how much I learned in terms of improving my independent judgments, writing skills and analysis; some of the lecturers were excellent at sharing valuable feedback to really help you assess why a text does or doesn’t stand out and how to look at the problem from a new angle. Oh, and I can’t forget the surprise of how much math is involved in some linguistics! 

Can you tell us about your journey since graduation, what you’re doing now and what you enjoy most about your current role?  

After leaving Queen Mary, I wasn’t sure what job I wanted to do; part of me wanted to continue in academia or law, another wanted to explore writing or publishing. I spent some time exploring my options, with work experience at a law firm, freelance writing and work experience in a publishing house, which was extended to a full-time role. I also wanted to complete a Masters, so I applied to the University of Oxford and got in! I went on to complete my master's in General Linguistics and Comparative Philology in 2015, whilst working part time in publishing.  

A year later, I decided to quit and travel, still not sure where I wanted my career to go – but I kept up with writing and editing articles online and in print. I built up my writing portfolio and experience, working with agencies and on my own; I was working remotely between 2016 and 2019.  

I became an editor at APM in 2019, where I developed content for the website, wrote copy for social media and implemented SEO/UX strategies with the digital teams, but I will be leaving this role to start a new one in Copywriting soon. I also use my experience and knowledge to work with other people who need support as a consultant, so my freelancing days never really stopped! I also like to write about sustainability and wellbeing, so I contribute to various content hubs; my own blog is called OurThoughtfulDays

How did your time and study at Queen Mary help prepare you for your career and are there any skills you gained through your degree that you use in your job now?   

My degree 100% prepared me for the roles I have had. Teamwork, presenting, writing and editing are all vital skills I learned and honed at Queen Mary, and they’re skills I still use today! Open discussions and problem solving were essential on both courses, and without the comfort of a learning environment to get involved in discussions and figure out a problem, I’d feel anxious to take the lead. But I’ve done this at university before, so in a job, it feels less daunting.  

Both courses had so many takeaways I still use in my day-to-day role. I love to create content and share it in various formats, from blogs, to news, to podcasts, to TikTok videos – the roles require understanding language; analysing how people read; knowing what words work well together; writing to different audiences; assessing how words sound when read aloud; editing other work; and so much more. I gained a lot of knowledge from my course and honed that through my various roles. 

The university also gave me a much wider lens from which to see the world; there are so many different people, doing different things, and it was amazing to be in such a diverse crowd, so from a softer skill point of view, Queen Mary helped reshape my mindset. 

What did you enjoy most about studying at Queen Mary and what are some of your fondest memories from your time as a student? 

I enjoyed how many different students there were; international, mature, different ethnicities and beliefs. It was amazing to be part of a multicultural university where you could hear so many different perspectives. The library was probably my favourite; it was open 24 hours, and the ground floor was always the most fun place to be. And as someone that pulled a lot of all-nighters, the silent desks on the first and second floors were ideal. The seminar rooms were also really good for working together in groups, so not only was it the best place for learning, but such a good place to socialise too! 

The friendships stand out; I met one of my closest friends at Queen Mary in my first year, and we’re still really close now. The community within Queen Mary is really tight knit because a lot of the students live on the Mile End campus in their first year, so we all get to know each other. It felt very similar to school, but with a lot more freedom without parents! And of course, being on the central line and so close to Stratford meant socialising was so easy and effortless.  

What do you think makes Linguistics a compelling course to study and how can Linguistics students make the most of their university experience? 

Linguistics is the study of how language works – not just words, and written words but the sounds and how we speak. It really opens your eyes to the fact that the world is so varied. Some languages are based on sounds (like Arabic), some are based on representations of sounds (like English and the alphabet). I really enjoyed semantics (the study of meanings) and syntax (the theory behind grammar), like with the phrase, ‘a chair is a seat’; semantics would aim to understand how we define words and understand that, so… what is a chair? If you can sit on a bed, is it a chair? Whereas syntax would study the grammar, ‘a seat chair is a’ - the words are the same, but their placement renders them useless to our understanding. Why? How do we know what words need to be next to each other? 

There’s the history of language; where it came from and how it evolved; there’s the study of writing systems; there’s the study of spoken languages; the study of unfamiliar and new languages; computational linguistics; experimental...the list goes on! And the implications of study can change the way we view the world. The opportunities are so broad. Whether you want to stay in academia, or go out into the world, linguistics opens so many doors, including: 

  • speech and language therapy 
  • AI and machine learning 
  • psychiatry  
  • field linguistics and language preservation 
  • translation 
  • editorial 
  • journalism 
  • psychology 
  • law 
  • advertising 

You get the picture! The degree is so wide ranging, that it allows you to explore lots of different industries depending on your interest.  

How to make the most of it? Spend time with lecturers where you can, ask them lots of questions and get in their good books. They can support you a lot when it comes to coursework, your dissertation and if you ever need an academic reference. If you know who David Adger is, you’re very fortunate, he’s by far one of the best lecturers and mentors in linguistics. If you don’t know him, get to know! 

And ask questions, lots and lots of questions. Chances are, if you don’t understand something, others probably don’t either. The more you ask, the better your understanding will be.  



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