Queen Mary Alumni

Alumni profile - Isabel Overton

The town I grew up in and the school I went to really lacked diversity, so coming to Queen Mary and experiencing real multiculturalism and inclusivity was such a positive experience for me. Exposure to different ethnicities and religions helped me build my awareness and become a better person.

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What did you study at Queen Mary and what are you doing now? I studied History and I currently work as a Content Officer in the communications department for Imperial College NHS Trust. My job involves writing news for the organisation’s Intranet; managing the homepage; running editorial meetings where we come up with news and stories to share; writing articles for our in-house magazine, alongside editing and proofing content; helping design screensavers; writing blogs and helping with the Imperial People channel.*

However I have just been offered a job as a writer for a content marketing specialist agency, which will involve me writing across different channels, including a magazine and also writing news articles for company's intranets. 

*The Imperial People channel profiles our hardworking staff members and gives the public an insight into their roles, passions and proudest moments. From time to time we also feature patients and volunteers.

Why did you choose to study at Queen Mary and is there any advice you would give to current students or recent graduates considering their career options? My journey to Queen Mary was slightly unconventional; I remember being at Sixth Form and everyone talking about which university they wanted to attend and which open days they were going to whilst I had no idea. I knew that I had a passion for History and that it was what I wanted to study. At that time my sister was studying Fashion in London and I thought that London wasn’t really the place for me, until a friend mentioned that she visited Queen Mary and that it was a really good place to study History. After attending an open day I absolutely loved it, so I applied and then went back for an interview which I really enjoyed, and when I was offered a place, I didn’t hesitate to accept.

My advice for anyone about to study at Queen Mary is to just go with an open-mind and remember that anything is possible. It can be overwhelming at first, especially if, like me, you grew up in a small town outside of London. However, my overall experience of the Mile End campus was that it had a nice, communal feel and that everyone was very friendly. I missed the deadline for applying to live in halls and although this initially stressed me out, I found accommodation close by in Stepney Green. Don’t worry if this happens to you – I quickly made friends and it made me appreciate and get to know the local area, whilst still feeling part of Queen Mary life.

It is clear that you have a passion for writing, did you get involved with Student Media outlets or societies whilst at Queen Mary? In all honesty – no. But on reflection, I would definitely encourage students to get involved. I personally found myself immersed in my degree and my part-time job. I was also always thinking about the next step post university though; I managed to secure placements outside of studying, one being at the BBC. I would encourage students to similarly seek work experience throughout their studies. 

How did your time and study at Queen Mary help your career and development? The town I grew up in and the school I went to really lacked diversity, so coming to Queen Mary and experiencing real multiculturalism and inclusivity was such a positive experience for me. Exposure to different ethnicities and religions helped me build my awareness and become a better person.

I visited lots of friends at universities outside of London and got the sense that they were in a bubble cut off from the outside world. However, at Queen Mary, you develop strong support networks, while feeling like London is your playground to explore.

I had some fantastic teachers who gave me immense confidence, and I was able to step out of my comfort zone in a supportive space which saw me presenting in front of large groups, sharing my ideas, and engaging in debates. Although it seemed daunting at first, the encouragement and support I received, such as constructive feedback from my peers, helped me to develop a large number of skills.

In my third year my special subject tutor, Dr Thomas Dixon, helped me develop my writing and inspired the direction I wanted to go in, offering constructive advice and feedback. I am a true historian at heart and studying at Queen Mary gave me access to a plethora of new topics and inspiring individuals. It was during my time at Queen Mary that I realised I had a particular passion for biographical history, and as a result I am working towards writing a biography. At school, history is a standard subject and you typically don’t really get to focus on the aspects that you enjoy, but studying at university level really elevates the subject and broadens your options.  

Would you say History was a good way into you current career as a content writer? Definitely. Everyone thinks that if you study History, you’re going to become a teacher or historian and those are the only two options, but that’s not true! Being such a broad subject, I think History can lead you into any career imaginable. It helps you develop a range of skills from research, to analysis, to different forms of writing.

What advice do you have for current students and recent graduates who might be in the same position as you were – not knowing what career choice to make? Firstly, I would say - it’s going to be ok. I was on the biggest high when I graduated and then the overwhelming reality hit me that I needed to find a job. But stay positive and remember that lots of people are in similar positions. Don’t be alarmed if you’re not 100% sure what you want to do. Consider everything. Even if the job title isn’t exactly what you had in mind, think of what skills you have that could be an asset to the company, and what benefits the company could offer you, and make a judgement from there. A job is what you make it and as long as you can see room for progression, training and development, then go for it.

I was also lucky that an intern/graduate group reached out to me via LinkedIn and helped me decide where I could apply my skills. Do reach out to similar organisations, and take every opportunity that comes your way.

What was the most memorable experience you had whilst at Queen Mary? I actually have three!

  1. I know everyone says this, but graduation! It’s the climax of everything you do.
  2. For your History dissertation you have to select a ‘special subject’. I selected “The Lives of Oscar Wilde” which enabled me to write a short biography as part of an assignment, which I loved. But when I got the assignment back, it wasn’t the grade that I expected and I was so upset. I remember my tutor reassuring me that I was still learning and that it’s ok to make mistakes as long as you learn from them. The support I received at this stage was crucial and really did help me progress.
  3. Finding out that I got a first for both my dissertation and degree. I remember completing a 12-hour waitressing shift and logging on to discover my grade and that I’d received a special prize for my dissertation. It felt amazing.

What sparked your interest in your current career? From a young age, I’ve always enjoyed reading and spelling and English and History which are the subjects where you get the creativity to write and create a narrative. The common denominator in all of my schooling was that I wrote a lot. I felt that the power of words was really interesting and getting across a message and effectively communicating is what I’m really passionate about. I feel lucky that I have managed to make a living out of this.  

Why is your job exciting? I work for this big trust, in a major London hospital, with 12,000 staff members and I’m part of a communications team who engage with staff and patients; I feel that I’m particularly valued in this role due to how important it is to relay messages and updates. Everyone who works in a hospital does a really important job and quite often they are not recognised and valued. The Imperial People channel means I can focus on individuals and highlight the important role they play. I love doing this.

In my new role, I am also looking forward to working with clients to showcase the great work they are doing and to give them exposure.

Do you have any role models that you look up to, both inside and outside of your field? I don’t really have any specific role models as writers, but I would say that my current manager is someone I would love to emulate; she has so much knowledge, is a great writer and I can ask her anything. Navigating your career, particularly in the early stages, can be overwhelming at times, so I feel lucky to have a manager who I can look-up to and respect, and someone who respects me back and also believes in me.

Secondly (and a touch random), my secondary school History teacher Mr Barnett is a role model of mine. He was the reason I fell in love with History as he made the subject so cool and accessible. I actually wrote a dedication to him in my dissertation!

Since the completion of this profile, Isabel has now left Imperial Healthcare NHS and has started her new job as a writer for a content marketing specialist agency.