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Playing the long game

Journalist, author, higher education professional, proof-reader, and editor...Annette Rubery (PhD English and Comparative Literary Studies, 1999) has spent the 30-plus years since graduating honing her editorial and marketing skillset. After more than ten years working in higher education, Annette is embarking on a new role with the UK Council for Graduate Education. Here, she reflects on the small stepping stones and mammoth milestones along the way.

After studying art and literature in Chester and Wales, Annette moved to Coventry to embark on her PhD in English and Comparative Literature Studies in 1995.

“I felt like I was stepping up when I came to Warwick. Focusing on American art and literature, my supervisor enthused about The Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale, which is one of the world's largest libraries devoted entirely to rare books and manuscripts.

“I feel like Warwick pushed me the extra mile, and during my PhD, I was awarded a bursary to go to the States for eight months to teach and research at the University of North Carolina and at Yale University. This was a formative moment for me, and I still use the scholarly details I learned to this day.”

Around the time of Annette’s graduation, the tabloid newspaper Metro launched in Birmingham. Thanks to the confidence she developed at Warwick, Annette approached them to pitch writing art reviews.

“I spent nine years working at Metro, starting as a freelance writer and moving up the ranks. I was a food writer for many years, and I used to take great pleasure in bringing my parents with me for restaurant reviews. My dad was a really fussy eater at first, but over the years became bigger and bolder with his food choices.

“I then did some freelance work before starting as a writer for Warwick's Knowledge Centre which brings together research, stories, and ideas from academics. I also spent some time working in marketing before landing a role at Aston University in alumni relations where I’ve been for the past nine years.”

“I’m guilty of wanting things to turn out perfectly first time, but as you can see from my career trajectory it doesn’t always work that way. Having the confidence to give things a go is an important lesson I learned at Warwick.”

Alongside working as Alumni Communications Manager, Annette has kept her passion for art and history burning in both her personal and professional life. In 2012, she published , a book comprising historic photographs paired with contemporary colour versions of the same views. Then in 2014, she began researching 18th-century Irish actress and socialite, Peg Woffington.

After completing her biography titled The Female Rake: Peg Woffington’s Scandalous Life on the Georgian Stage, Annette’s book proposal was shortlisted for the Tony Lothian Prize which celebrates exceptional work by first-time biographers.

“I’ve been working on the book for more than a decade. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. The next step is finding a literary agent to publish, but just to have completed the manuscript is an achievement I’m incredibly proud of.”

So, after a long and varied career, what lessons can Annette share?

“Old-fashioned as it may sound, the best thing you can start with is a portfolio. Start writing your own content, honing your skills, and making contacts in the industry. Content creation takes time and effort, but practice makes perfect. If you want to write, start thinking of yourself as writer. Writers write. It sounds silly, but it makes a difference.

“I would also say don’t be afraid to approach people or tackle new things. I learned HTML while I was a student at Warwick from a computer scientist who lived in the same corridor as me. During lockdown, I had time to reacquaint myself with WordPress and used the skills I learned to build a website for my freelance services. As you can guess, it’s come in very handy!”

Annette, her parents and friend Nozomi outside Arthur Vic accommodation on campus.Photo of Annette Rubery