Monday, 7 October 2013

Alex returns to academia

Alex Grebenar graduated from UCLan in 2011 with a First Class Honours degree in Event Management. He has just returned to UCLan to study for a PhD in Dark Tourism, so we took the opportunity to catch up with him to find out what he has been doing since graduation.

What were the highlights of your time at UCLan?

"The whole process was a highlight; meeting new people, discovering new things; quiet evenings spent with my housemates and study sessions with classmates as well as big nights out and academic achievement.

"I represented UCLan with my team-mates at the Isle of Man Easter Athletics Festival in 2011 which was a particularly memorable culmination of sorts coming at the end of my final year. Also, my graduation day – sharing in success with my family, tutors and the wonderful friends I made over the course of my studies."

You did a placement with Team Spirit – how did that benefit you?

"Primarily it gave me hands-on experience working on events and the opportunity to translate my academic learning into the workplace across a huge range of event settings. Furthermore, I learnt the importance of attention to detail – lots of little things you could never really hope to learn solely from studying.

"Of course, I made lots of friends and enjoyed sharing the perks of the job with them. I can’t recommend a placement enough to undergraduates – it will transform you personally, academically and professionally."

What was the most interesting event you did?

"Each event is interesting in its own way, and it’s amazing to think how many venues, delegates and event briefs I’ve encountered. I worked on an annual conference for the Government Finance Profession in Brighton, with 400 delegates and Michael Portillo as the guest speaker.

"But I got just as much of a buzz and insight holding a Christmas team-build for 30 NSPCC childminders in Oldham, my hometown. Indeed, the smaller ones tend to be more fun as you generally interact with delegates more, and that’s the essence of working in Events – enjoying seeing the (hopefully positive) reactions of your customers."

What have you been doing since graduation?

"Since I graduated I’ve been working for Team Spirit in the summers, continuing in the roles I had whilst on placement and accruing more and more experience. In the two winters, I worked for a market-leading ski holiday provider in La Rosiѐre, France, enjoying the lifestyle that living in the Alps gives you.

"It gave me chance to experience life outside the UK and to evaluate my future options whilst growing as a person away from university. I always knew I’d return to academia, it was just a question of when; after two years away I felt the time was right."

How has what you covered on your degree helped you?

"It’s given me a broad understanding of many aspects of the T.H.E. industry, managerial techniques and planning processes. That, combined with my practical experience of placement, has enabled me to feel well-rounded in my capabilities."

Why have you chosen to do a PhD in Dark Tourism?

"I studied a final year module under Dr Phil Stone and it struck me as a very interesting domain with many questions yet to be answered. As I gestated on what area to research at PhD, I considered the potential for publishing, the prospects on my future career and the enjoyment and stimulation I’d get whilst studying.

"I think coming into a domain which is relatively new as an academic subject means there’s great potential for me to push new theory and gain a good reputation rather than in something that’s more established."

What’s it like coming back to UCLan?

"It’s great to return now, even though it’s completely different from when I started my undergraduate degree. Rather than having the nerves of an 18-year-old, I feel confident as an academic after gaining lots of experience doing many things.

"I was walking through Preston on my first day back and I was listening to songs which were popular back in 2007. It made me think about the person I was back then, the views I had on life and the people I knew – I’m still the same person in essence, but my life now is different in many ways. PhD is when the student becomes the master – and I’m so glad to be back now and embarking on my biggest challenge yet."

What advice would you give to new students?

"Do as much as possible to improve yourself. Join a club; get involved with things, read lots – and not just academic texts relating to your course. Awaken views on the world, sample things you haven’t before – whatever you do, don’t leave feeling like you haven’t progressed more than if you hadn’t gone to university. You have access to a network of thousands of people like you probably never will again - unless you come back as a postgraduate of course.

What are your plans for the future?

Lots of writing. My ideal career post-PhD would combine publishing academic and non-academic work with teaching in some capacity at university level. It would marry together my love of creativity with a responsibility of inspiring others to do the same in the future. I harbour a completely pretentious desire to be described as 'intellectually formidable' so I’m working on that.

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