Kuba Shand-Baptiste

Comparative Literature BA

Join societies, challenge ideas, savour your free time (you will never have this much again), talk to everyone.

Describe your career path since leaving Kent?

Getting into the journalism industry only really became a priority of mine during my third year, after I’d spent a summer shadowing a freelance journalist who encouraged me to go for the one career option I’d always convinced myself was out of reach for someone like me.

It took a while but after securing some free work experience at some local London papers and blogging as often as I could, I decided that applying to do a Master’s degree in journalism was the right decision for me. I just about got a place on the course, which was incredibly daunting at first – I wasn’t as comfortable with covering news and politics as I’d been comparing and analysing novels – but the competition did help to push me. After the year-long course and hundreds of applications later, I was lucky enough to land a job at the now-defunct Financial Times Money Management magazine as an editorial assistant and I’ve been working in journalism ever since.

What are you doing now?

I’m a commissioning editor at The Independent, specifically on their opinion desk: Voices, which, to put it simply, just means I approach writers, experts and public figures to write about a specific subject and then edit their work and publish on The Independent’s website when it’s ready. I’ve been working here for nearly two years now but I also try to keep up with creative writing whenever I get the chance.

What do you enjoy about your work?

I absolutely adore the editing and commissioning process. Coming up with and shaping people’s ideas is half the fun but helping to flesh out their arguments is perhaps even more rewarding, even if you don’t happen to agree with the opinions you’re confronted with. You get to really understand what makes a piece of writing truly great. And that means giving new writers the opportunity to showcase their talents too. I have quickly learned that you don’t have to be an industry darling to produce something incredible.

Working on campaigns and series about the issues the daily news agenda often fails to highlight has also been really fun, as is writing for other sections of the website when I can. You’re pretty much free to flex your creative muscles, which is really rewarding.

Do you have a typical working day?

I do! I don’t do much reporting unless I’m writing for another desk (which is rare) so depending on who’s in on the day, it tends to be a mixture of going through pitches in my inbox (and occasionally on the phone); discussing column topics with our columnists; forward planning; going to the morning stand-up meeting or conference to discuss what we plan on publishing that day; writing columns; editing articles and working as a team to figure out what works for us and what doesn’t.

How do you think your degree helped you to find work?

Doing Comparative Literature at Kent forced me to step up my writing and analytical skills immediately. I’d always been good at English at school and college but being surrounded by people who were just as passionate and skilled really pushed me, which I appreciate.

I was exposed to literature I never would have picked up, ideas that shape the modern world we now live in and new ways of looking at things I thought I already knew a lot about.

I really did enjoy every optional and compulsory module I took but I’d say Writing In The Media was particularly helpful in terms of starting to think about how to break into journalism.

Did you take part in any volunteering activities?

If societies count, I was the Publishing Society’s social secretary, which my coursemate Farah Chowdhury founded. I also wrote for Inquire every once in a while (but not nearly as much as I should have!)

How has your time at Kent helped you in your career?

I think my time at Kent really helped to transform my hobbies (creative writing, reading and discussing literature) into something more tangible. I can now speak with authority about certain types of literature – which comes in handy in this industry – as well as socio-political ideas that I previously only had surface knowledge about.

When Toni Morrison died, for example, I was asked to quickly write up an opinion piece about her legacy. Though I’m a huge fan of her work, I’ve never read her more frequently as I did at undergrad, having written my dissertation (in part) on The Bluest Eye. And when I was asked to review Michelle Obama’s Becoming, with about a day to read the book and write up the article, it’s safe to say learning to devour a number of titles per week at Kent was incredibly helpful. My general experience at Kent also helped to burst the comfort of my London bubble, which is really important when you’re working with different types of people.

What are your plans for the future?

I love what I do now, but one of the many beauties of writing is the fact that it lends itself to so many professions and hobbies alike. I hope to return to the world of literature one day in the near future, whether that’s through journalism or writing novels. But I’d also like to do another post-graduate degree in the future. I’m in no rush though.

What careers advice did you receive at Kent?

I think the best advice I got was to put yourself out there. I knew networking was important before, but I had no idea how important connecting with others and sharing ideas with other people would be for shaping my own career. Being encouraged to get involved with the uni newspaper and reach out to editors and papers for work experience was also really helpful.

What would you recommend about studying at Kent?

Choose your modules wisely. This is your education, you should study the things you either already love or have always wanted to know more about. Oh, and try to enjoy what you’re studying too. Yes, it’s work but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring.

Any favourite memories of Kent you’d like to share?

Oh so many. Meeting lifelong friends, living off campus for the first time…the parties…the naps. But aside from that, as traumatic as it felt then, memories of pulling all-nighters in the library make me smile these days. I still remember the tang of those energy drinks from essentials (the campus shop). And the thought of looking at the view on campus whenever I was on it, or enjoying a slice of cake in the Gulbenkian café if I had time to kill before a seminar or lecture, makes me smile too.

I had no idea what I really wanted or how I was going to get there for a while, and as daunting as it felt at the time, having the privilege to figure it out in such a nurturing environment was incredible.

Any advice for prospective students?

Embrace what you love as well as the things that make you nervous. Join societies, challenge ideas, savour your free time (you will never have this much again), talk to everyone and remember, most people on your course are as clueless as you are.