July 20, 2020, by Emily Bateman
Alumni Spotlight: Sabrina Barr
The University of Nottingham alumni community stands at over 280,000 worldwide; many of whom were involved in sport during their time at Nottingham and their experiences have had lasting a impact on their careers and personal lives.
This week, we caught up with alumna, Sabrina Barr (History of Art & English, 2015), Lifestyle Writer at The Independent.
In this blog, Sabrina shares her reflections on her time at Nottingham, highlights of her career to date – including interviewing the likes of Matilda actor Mara Wilson, Orange Is The New Black star Laura Prepon, and radio presenter Fearne Cotton – along with her advice for students who are thinking about a career in journalism.
My Nottingham story
“It took me a while to decide what course I wanted to study at university. After finally deciding upon a combination of History of Art and English, there were a select few universities that offered my course. Of them all, Nottingham stood out far above the rest for me. I was really impressed by both the English and History of Art departments and excited about the prospect of studying one subject with a large cohort of students and another with a smaller group – the best of both worlds!
“Playing sport – lacrosse in particular – is a huge part of my life, so trying out for the club as soon as possible after freshers’ week was a top priority. Nottingham is well-known for its high-calibre sports teams, so to become a part of a team, including being captain of the 2nd Team in my final year, was a huge honour.
“Studying at Nottingham was a fantastic experience – from regular sports socials to Crisis to weekly ventures to Ocean on a Friday, lazing around on The Downs with jugs of Pimm’s after exams, half-price Domino’s at 3am, summer and winter formals, cinema trips to the Savoy and so much more. I made lifelong friends at university, some of whom I met on my very first day.
“When I graduated in 2015, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in journalism – but I was also aware that this would mean trying my best to obtain an internship that would likely pay very little, if anything at all. I began by becoming a Community Contributor for BuzzFeed, (something anyone could do for free), writing listicles and quizzes in my free time. This helped to keep my creative juices flowing while I continued searching for internships and jobs. It also proved useful when job-hunting, as my posts, most of which were pop-culture related, gained hundreds of thousands of views online.
“After doing a couple of short internships in PR, I was accepted for an internship at Women’s Fitness magazine and lifestyle website We Heart Living. Following a short hiatus after the internship, a position became available at the publication, opening up a spot for me to become employed as Junior Writer and Editorial Assistant. For my first position in journalism, the role provided me with plenty of useful skills, as I wrote extensively for the website, magazine and conducted interviews with well-known individuals, including Jessica Ennis-Hill. Just over a year later, I applied successfully to become a Lifestyle Writer at The Independent, a position I have held for over two and a half years.
“As someone who regularly left essays up until the last minute at university, working in a fast-paced newsroom is right up my alley. I write between five and seven news articles a day, in addition to working on more in-depth features on topics including fitness, love, mental health, feminism, food and fashion. Six months into the role, I reported from Windsor during Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s royal wedding, and I have since interviewed the likes of Matilda actor Mara Wilson, Orange Is The New Black star Laura Prepon and radio presenter Fearne Cotton. Some of my most recent features include a piece about how lockdown has affected people’s mental health, a feature on the new Netflix documentary Athlete A and an article on how members of the LGBT+ community celebrated Pride in London this year without the annual parade.”
“The coronavirus pandemic has undeniably had a huge impact on everyone in different ways. Although it was odd adapting to working from home, in terms of what I do for my job, lockdown hasn’t had the most significant effect on me in comparison to people in other professions. I’m able to carry on writing articles as usual, and I feel very fortunate to be able to keep working during these uncertain times. For now, I’ll make do with Zoom meetings and working solo at my desk, listening to film scores as I concentrate on the piece at hand.
“At the beginning of lockdown, the bulk of my work was – unsurprisingly – coronavirus-related. We were covering a range of news articles about the pandemic, in addition to health explainers and features for which we sought expert comment and case studies. I felt privileged to be in a position where I could provide some clarity to people who were stuck at home, trying to stay abreast of the latest news updates. Over the past few weeks, the Lifestyle desk at The Independent has published news articles and features on a range of significant subjects, including Pride Month, Cervical Screening Awareness Week and the Black Lives Matter movement. No matter what topic or story we are writing about, we always strive to make sure our work is instructive and engaging.
“I’ve conducted several interviews during lockdown and one of my most memorable interviews as of late was with Laura Prepon. Speaking to the actor on the phone, hearing her talk from New York as rain splattered on my bedroom window in London, was surreal to say the least! I feel very fortunate that I am able to connect with others through my work during a time of such great uncertainty.”
Your words of advice
“Teamwork has played a huge role in my career, both in being a collaborative worker and learning how to delegate when put in charge of certain responsibilities. It is essential that you always listen to what others have to say, a vital aspect of being on a lacrosse team. Hearing your teammates’ suggestions and putting them into action if you realise they are better than your own could help you succeed to a far greater degree than you ever imagined.
“When I first embarked on a career in journalism, I faced a fair amount of rejection, as is expected in the early stages of the industry. Over time, I’ve gained a thicker skin and am better able to take criticism or dismissal and work hard to improve. On the lacrosse pitch, it can be a tough pill to swallow when you come away with a loss, especially if there were only a few goals in the final result. But when that happens, we walk away with our heads held high, ready to learn from our mistakes and come back stronger next time. In journalism, there is a lot of competition out there, but a combination of skill, determination and grit helps you stand out among the rest.
“Another piece of advice I would give would be if you are applying for a job, to always try your best to find the details of a person in the recruitment process who you can contact directly. While your application could get picked up among the many that are submitted online, I believe you need to do your best to be memorable. If you are able to find the email address of an editor, I would recommend sending a polite message introducing yourself, with your CV and Cover Letter attached. Doing so put me on the radar when applying for my current job, and I’m fortunate that it did.
“Companies that would usually require employees to work in an office may be offering more flexibility, so there could be room to negotiate for remote working should the opportunity arise. In addition to applying for jobs, you could put yourself out there by pitching feature ideas to publications as a freelancer or starting a blog if you feel inclined to do so. While it would be so much easier if there were a straightforward formula for acquiring a job in journalism, you simply need to work hard at it with every skill at your disposal.”
Many thanks to Sabrina for sharing her story. If you’d like to share your experiences in an alumni blog, email our Sports and Alumni Relations Officer, Emily Bateman, at Emily.Bateman@nottingham.ac.uk – we’d love to hear from you!