Telling Our Stories Better: new photo exhibition at the English Faculty

Alumni photo exhibition in English Faculty Foyer
Alumni photo exhibition in English Faculty Foyer
Alumni photo exhibition in English Faculty Foyer


Photos by Karen Haines-Lea of Design Penguin.

Last week saw the conclusion of an innovative English Faculty project—Telling Our Stories Better—with the installation of a new gallery in the St Cross Building to complement the online gallery on the English Faculty website. The project, funded by the Vice Chancellor's Equality and Diversity Fund, was led by Dr Sophie Ratcliffe and Dr Ushashi Dasgupta and managed by Dr Dominique Gracia.

Stories was designed to illustrate and celebrate the diversity of our alums and their career paths post-graduation. In asking alums to tell their career stories—and students to write them in only a few hundred words—we’ve been conscious that the stories that emerge will risk sounding like considered and organised paths when, in fact, they are more likely to consist of ‘a series of snatched opportunities’, as actor, screenwriter and songwriter Sian Ejiwunmi-Le Berre put it. Every career is a matter of chance. Opportunities have to arise; you have to hear about them; you have to have the time, skills, good health, experience to seize them. Every path—even staying in a role or organisation—is, to some extent, a matter of chance.

The Stories project has tried to tell alums’ career stories in a way that shows some of these workings. Alums speak candidly about applying for the same job multiple times before getting it (Development Executive at BBC Film, Dionne Farrell), the books that didn’t sell (novelist and software developer, Anthony Good), and the experience of getting and leaving a role on a prestigious graduate scheme (current Oxford DPhil candidate, Nayana Prakash). The stories mention some of the practicalities of how people progress their careers, none of which are revolutionary, but all of which are useful reminders: networking (talent agent, Emily Rees Jones), taking a fixed-term job and impressing an employer (as novelist, literary critic, and teacher Michael Donkor did), seeing a social media campaign and taking the plunge (assistant editor and board member of two charities, Hannah Chukwu). But none of these stories are a blueprint.

Instead, the Stories project offers a snapshot of some of the English alum community and some of the routes that alums have taken to fulfil their career ambitions, with a view to inspiring people to think differently about English and where studying it can lead. Our alums talk openly about the value of studying the humanities, and English particularly, even when their ultimate career path has taken them very far from that starting point (as for critical care doctor, James Kelly).

As Faculty Chair, Marion Turner said: "Studying literature teaches students how to think critically and flexibly, how to analyse in detail, and how to grasp the big picture. These skills help graduates to take fascinatingly diverse career paths, as Telling Our Stories Better demonstrates beautifully. Many different kinds of people study English at Oxford, and they go on to do all kinds of different things in the world. We’re proud of their infinite variety".

As part of the project, the Faculty has also developed a toolkit that other Faculties, Departments, and Colleges might use to deliver their own Stories project. Those who are interested in finding out more are welcome to contact the project leaders—Dr Sophie Ratcliffe and Dr Ushashi Dasgupta—and the English Faculty Communications team (