It’s been great, over the past few weeks, to be able to post about the virtual outreach work our Language Ambassadors are doing and about research and publication news, reminding us all that student and academic life continue, even in the current challenging context. In a similar vein, we’re really pleased to be able to post the following article by Agathe and Ewan, very recent postgraduate students who can give their perspective on the highs and lows of the past academic year:
‘We’ve both recently come to the end of our Master’s degrees in Translation Studies at Stirling. Although our programmes of study were slightly different – MSc in Translation and Interpreting for Agathe, and MSc in Translation and TESOL for Ewan, in conjunction with the Faculty of Social Sciences – we worked together in translation workshops throughout both semesters.
There is no denying that the past academic year was a challenging one, and probably not in the way that either of us expected. Towards the end of our first semester, there was a prolonged UCU strike which resulted in disruption to our normal schedule for classes, although we were grateful to the academic staff for giving up their time to continue giving us help and advice when we needed it. We even had a teach-out so we wouldn’t be at too much of a disadvantage.
Not long after the strike ended, the university campus closed completely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although some of our remaining classes took place online, it wasn’t the same as being on campus. It was particularly overwhelming for international students. The question of whether going home to your loved ones or staying in Scotland – in case things improved – was all we could think about for several weeks. And even when the decision of staying in Stirling was taken, it didn’t bring much peace of mind. The uncertainty of it all and the worries it brought definitely didn’t help us to put the preliminary work on the dissertation at the top of our list of concerns. Then of course, it was already the second semester exams. However, pandemic or not, things always happen quicker than you think. Our advice would be to keep this in mind, before you dive into the preparation for tests, which will leave you with very few moments to work on your dissertation.
We initially thought it would be a short-term closure, but eventually weeks turned into months, and we found ourselves with a translation project dissertation looming ever closer, with limited access to academic staff and no access at all to the university library (for either resources or dedicated study space).
Fortunately, Aedín ní Loingsigh, our dissertation supervisor, was on hand to provide as much support as possible online during the initial months of lockdown. In the early stages, working from home was difficult. In the age of Netflix and social media, and with the option to do literally anything but study at our disposal, it was amazing what we found to do to help us procrastinate!
We both live in Edinburgh, so in the latter stages, as freedom of movement increased again, we were able to meet up for coffee and help each other. We found it was particularly helpful to be able to bounce ideas off each other and clarify linguistic issues with someone who is a native speaker of the source language we were working from. During these latter stages, Aedín made a couple of trips to Edinburgh too in order to give us some face-to-face (socially-distanced!) consultation time, which was particularly helpful. She was able to point us in the direction of useful e-books to use in the continued absence of the university library. We are genuinely beyond thankful for her, because she didn’t necessarily have to do it; but she knew it’s much easier to raise issues face-to-face rather than by emails or zoom calls.
We were initially a bit pessimistic about obtaining our Master’s degree under such circumstances. We were scared of what it would mean for us, professionally speaking, for the years to come: would our diploma be of less value? Would that mean fewer professional opportunities for us?
Eventually, and after the stress of the dissertation being behind us, we came to realisation that we should actually feel quite proud of ourselves for having completed our programme of study in such a turbulent year, because we’re now certain that if we can succeed even in the face of a global pandemic, then there is no telling what we can achieve in the future. Additionally, our teachers reassured us that the diploma will still be of the same worth.
To that end, we are now starting to form a plan of how we want to proceed now that our degree has come to its conclusion. We both joined the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) as Affiliate Members and intend to make full use of their training resources and networking opportunities. Ewan is in the middle of setting himself up a website to market himself as a freelance translator, and he’s starting to send out his CV to translation agencies to try and get a foot on the ladder. Agathe is on the same process, although she is more turned towards literary translation, which involves constant research for new material to translate, contacting publishing houses, while also keeping up with interpreting training.
The last thing we should mention is more of a warning than a piece of advice. Getting started as a translator is quite confusing and blurry. Despite many interesting classes about working as a translator or interpret in daily life, where we had the chance to meet with professionals, some aspects of the job remain a bit obscure. The financial aspect of it for instance: how much should we charge for a translation? Or what exactly do we exactly to do to go freelance, especially when you just graduated and have no experience? Regarding literary translation, how do you approach publishing houses, knowing that you need to be in contact with both the English ones and the French ones (in Agathe’s case)? Especially since there can be several publishing houses for one book: should you contact the author then? Their agent?
That is the one thing that we are both worried about; a shortage of time to discuss career prospects with professionals from the industry. Although we had the chance to attend lectures with people who have been in the industry for a long time, we realise with hindsight that we didn’t take the opportunity to ask them meaningful questions about starting out as freelancers and about even some of the most basic things (such as pricing ourselves, initially finding clients, etc.).
However, we are aware that the answers for those questions are part of what we will have to figure out along the way. We know it won’t be an easy journey to begin with, but we’re optimistic and feel that studying a Masters in 2020 of all years has more than equipped us for the challenges that are to come.
As a final point, we would like to say that we’ve both really enjoyed our respective programmes of study, so we would both highly recommend them to any prospective students.’
Many, many thanks to Ewan and to Agathe for having found the time to put together this post, among all of the other demands on their time, and we wish them all the very best for a successful future in Translation and Interpreting. Keep in touch!