Aimee Carelse

Forgive the cliché, but I am a stereotypical bibliophile who never leaves the house without a book, no matter where I go; an interminable TBR pile; and, a fanatical preoccupation with good spelling and grammar. It makes me pretty well-suited to my current job.

What no one tells you before arriving on Jammie steps as a first year is that things don’t always go according to the plan you’ve set out for yourself, and that’s perfectly OK. I came to UCT so sure of what I wanted to do, but throughout my time there, I battled internally with conflicting thoughts of what I wanted to do once I left.

UCT cultivated in me a diverse range of interests, all of which I incorporated into my course structure and research. But, while I certainly dipped my toe in other departments, I spent almost seven years as a loyal member of the CFMS, leaving in 2018 with:

  • a BA Film and Media Production in Print Media Production (Distinction);
  • a BA (Hons) in Media Theory and Practice (First Class); and,
  • a MA in Media Theory and Practice (Distinction).

Since leaving UCT, I joined the book publishing industry. I started as the Editorial and Publishing assistant at Jonathan Ball Publishers, an award-winning non-fiction publisher of current affairs, history, politics and military books that is part of the Media24 group. We also represent British and American publishers, acting as a distribution agent for their books in South Africa. In the two years I have been working here, I have since progressed to Editor. 

I definitely didn’t end up where I planned to, but I ended up where I was supposed to. My path has taken a few detours as I’ve grown personally and developed my professional skill set; I’ve worked as a content producer for magazines such as Marie Claire and ELLE, as a freelance academic editor, and as an academic writing consultant. At one point, I was focused on becoming a magazine journalist, and at another, on pursuing my PhD and a career in academia. I loved doing all these things, but I just wasn’t sure I loved them enough to do it for the rest of my life. When I completed my MA dissertation, I had to have a serious talk with myself about what I really loved about the vast and vibrant media landscape, and, at a fundamental level, what I loved about reading and writing, which is what led me to pursue a career in media in the first place. I became more self-assured about my professional goals as a result, and so my years of study combined with a lifelong love for the written word propelled me into book publishing.

It was not my degrees alone that prepared me for the world of work, but a combination of my degrees and the work experience I made sure to gain during my studies. My work in different areas of the journalism and media industry ensured I developed a broad understanding of the South African media landscape, one that goes beyond the scope of book publishing. This also helped me acclimatise quite quickly to my current company because we focus intently on current affairs and politics and often work with and interact with the news media. As for my more technical skills in copyediting and proofreading, I supplemented my studies with work as a freelance journalist, editor and writing consultant; without this, I don’t think I’d be as capable or comfortable in my position as I am now. The bottom line: work experience in any form counts for just as much – if not more – than your degree.

Book publishing is not an industry a lot of CFMS graduates enter, because very few universities, including UCT, offer degrees in this field, or cover it in their existing programmes. That doesn’t mean you can’t get to where you want to be. Your degree does not necessarily define the path you end up taking. Not knowing what I wanted to do post-UCT really worked out for me, in retrospect. To find my way, I took courses in other departments, found freelance or holiday jobs related to the fields I was interested in, read widely, and approached industry professionals with questions about their jobs. Try to do this from the outset. The key is to make your degree work for you and configure it to your goals, like I did.