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May 31, 2013

From Castrations to Communications

Having recently joined Companion Consultancy, Lizzie discusses the trials, tribulations (and ultimate elation!) of embarking upon a career in communications, which many perceive as an unconventional route to take straight out of vet school.

After qualifying as a veterinary surgeon, many people wonder why I made the bold (some say mad) decision to veer off the nicely signposted route into general practice and pursue a career in communications, straight out of vet school. Some assume that I must have applied unsuccessfully for hundreds of general practice jobs, whilst others conclude that I must be too scared of the well-recognised scary first year in practice. In truth, neither of these scenarios applies as I decided relatively early on in vet school that there might be something out there which would fulfil me even more than a career as a traditional vet.

Apart from my love of literary larks (which you’ve probably gathered from the shameless rhyming intro), quite simply, I didn’t see my career choice as “crazy,” or akin to “chucking oneself out of a plane without a parachute,” as one of my friends so eloquently exclaimed. As far as I was concerned, a degree serves to widen your horizon, not limit it. It just so happens that I don’t envisage my horizon adorned with scrub top and thermometer.

I was going to discuss the complexities of career change and discuss the momentous move into ‘industry’, but my colleague here at Companion has beaten me to it with her wonderfully written ‘Moving on from practice’ (see link at the end – well worth a read). It is comforting to know that I am not the only one who went through the, “There must be something more” and, “I miss being creative” thought processes, and that there is in fact life at the end of the tunnel. A good life at that! Instead, I’ve turned my attention to the reality of bypassing general practice altogether and pursuing an unconventional veterinary role; the good, the bad and the ugly.  To continue the theme of unconventionality, let’s begin with the ugly…

The hardest thing I found about embarking upon an alternative career was ‘coming clean’ and actually admitting to myself and others that I thought I would be happier elsewhere other than general practice. Years were spent answering, “So, do you want to be a small animal or large animal vet when you graduate?” with a non-committal, “Oh, I’m keeping my options open,” whilst secretly thinking, “No animals!” and feeling like a fraud. In fact, it was only after graduation that I felt confident enough to answer the question truthfully. Once I had come out of the closet as a ‘non-vet’, it astounded me to find how many people had experienced the same thought processes and actually admitted to being jealous that I was brave enough to venture into territory that they had secretly been tempted by but were too afraid to approach.

The second hardest thing – let’s call this ‘the bad’ – was finding out what alternatives are out there and what they truly entail. You don’t tend to get much careers advice as a vet student as your destiny is supposedly clear from your title – VET student. I’d hear people talk about this magical place called ‘industry’, whilst not truly really understanding what working in it involved. Upon questioning, it seemed that few others did either. I knew I loved being creative and that I wanted to apply my degree in some way, but I had no idea what job I would be ideally suited for. I attempted to tackle this by interrogating anyone and everyone I met, on details of their job and how they had got there. I recommend this for assessing career and life options, but not for making friends.

The hurdles of actually beginning a new job in communications are probably applicable to most new job scenarios, especially the first job. Whole conversations can be had without actually understanding much of what is said, feeling like more of a fool with every question you ask and being terrified of breaking the computer system as you try and teach yourself how to work it. For me, remembering how to form sentences and use the correct grammar has been no mean feat, after having essentially written scientific fact in bullet points for five years. The learning ‘curve’ of a new role often seems like more of a vertical climb, with scary consequences if you teeter off course, but, I imagine, with wonderful rewards upon summiting.

So, on to ‘the good’ aspects of braving an unconventional career choice. In brief, being able to directly apply the veterinary degree whilst also satisfying creative cravings is worth enduring ‘the bad’ and ‘the ugly’ multiple times over, even if there is no sign of Clint Eastwood. The variety of the work, being able to get stuck in to the heart of topics that affect a profession I care deeply about, whilst being able to work with like-minded people, makes for a contented work-life.

There’s no doubt that pursuing what others perceive as an unconventional route is a challenge, and that starting a new job can be even tougher, but vets and vet students should embrace their many talents and varying aspects of their personalities to realise that the cringe-worthy, clichéd line, “You can do anything you like with a vet degree,” is actually true!


To read Emily’s blog, ‘Moving on from Practice,’ please visit http://www.companionconsultancy.co.uk/2012/10/moving-on-from-practice/