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James Harris


Things I learned completing a Bachelor of Design during a global pandemic (in the most locked down city in the world at the time)

Although these are all pretty negative points, I do not regret my studies. I had some amazing teachers and did learn a great deal about my craft (sound design and music composition primarily). I am hopeful that I will be able to forge a career in this area, even if it takes longer than anticipated.

On a side note - If anyone reading this requires audio editing or sound/music work done for their podcasts or other digital media related projects, I'm your guy! I'm set up remotely here in Western Australia and would love to connect.


    1. Burnout is real.

    The better part of my final year of study was done under strict lockdown conditions in Melbourne. I remember feeling so depleted at the end of the first semester. Somehow, I had completed all of my assignments while cooped up in a small room, right next to a train station that was blasting Covid information from distorted loudspeakers every ten minutes. To cope, I was excessively drinking and smoking way too much dope. It was a relief to get through this semester and there was a brief period where lockdowns eased, but little did I know things were about to get so much worse.

    I was excited about getting back to campus for the second semester, however during the break, Covid case numbers kept rising and the Victorian government decided to introduce even harsher isolation restrictions, with an additional 9pm curfew. It was not permitted to visit other households and we were only allowed one hour per day to leave the house, for exercise or to visit the supermarket. When I found out I would be trapped studying in that room again, I felt so defeated. I really didn't think it would be possible to sit through another Zoom class. Making it worse, I was not allowed to visit my psychologist in this time and my substance intake and depression increased drastically.

    My passion for music, field recording and other creative projects was replaced with a deep sense of anger and dread. This is something I am still working through, but now, having completed my studies and migrating back to my home city of Perth, I am able to regain some healthy routines and am immensely grateful for my basic freedoms. I am on a sober path and am regaining my love for creative pursuits.

    2. Zoom classes suck.

    There are some exceptions to this. If it's just a basic class on professional management, Zoom is just fine and I'd rather not have to commute to campus. But for most learning, Zoom is stifling. I loved the collaborative and social class environments on campus and it was exciting to learn collectively. On Zoom, most students had their camera turned off and were not in any way engaged. I know this was the case for me, because I didn't want the teacher seeing me sipping on a glass of whiskey, or multi-tasking on various other unrelated projects. I felt sorry for the teachers. Mostly, they were talking to themselves. They seemed aware of the fact that the Zoom lesson format was totally ineffective, which meant they were less enthused and unable to teach properly.

    It's sad that it seems a lot of universities have embraced the Zoom lesson format. It makes sense. Why wouldn't they want to cut costs on campus facilities? I can't help but feel cynical of these institutions when money comes before education.

    3. Campus social life ain't what it used to be.

    Even before the lockdowns, I didn't feel much of a vibe on campus. At least, this was my experience. Students would split off into small groups and there was a real divide between local and international students. Admittedly, I was a mature age student and maybe I just wasn't aware of social events. There were the typical university social groups, but those gatherings seemed pretty lame to me.

    Many years ago, I studied architecture and the social atmosphere was incredible. We would all go to the tavern after class and there were great parties every weekend, even the mature age students would come along. Perhaps this was just the nature of that course. Or maybe I am just jaded and out of touch!

    4. There's no time for celebration.

    Unfortunately, I barely felt a sense of accomplishment after completing my degree, even though I received great grades. I didn't bother with the graduation ceremony, as I was more concerned with the 'what now?'. The final year of the course had an unpaid internship component, and I was excited about the prospect of gaining industry experience in an audio post production studio, working in film or television. I seemed spoilt for choice, having confirmation from three well regarded studios in Melbourne.

    Then lockdowns and curfews intensified. Obviously, these studios were greatly affected. No filming could happen in Victoria and as I remember, even when non-essential workers could leave the house, workplaces were limited to three employees. When restrictions eased slightly, I managed to get some experience at an immersive technology company as a support engineer. This was not an area I had any experience in, but it was the only opportunity I could find due to the limitations still impeding on sound studios. Despite it being unfamiliar and an unpaid internship, I did really enjoy aspects of this role, and learned a lot about audiovisual configurations and IoT networking.

    5. The piece of paper at the end means next to nothing.

    I don't get the impression that having my Bachelors Degrees listed on my resume gives much of an advantage in finding employment. Every job application I fill out asks for around three years experience, working in the role's field. For audio post production roles, it is incredibly difficult to gain this experience, because I need the experience to get the experience!

    6. In order to get paid, there is an expectation of doing a lot of free work.

    After completing my studies, I began networking with a range of audio related professionals. I kept hearing the same thing: that to make sound design or music composition a full time career, it takes about a decade of working on projects for free (at least for any kind of interesting creative work in film/TV or the like). I found this incredibly depressing. I feel as though this should have been a disclaimer we heard while at university. For most of the students in my sound design classes, I can't imagine they will ever find work in that field! Most didn't seem passionate enough. And even with the passion, it's a long difficult road.

    This has partially been the catalyst for me moving into new areas such as 360 video and VR. Although this seems equally as difficult to break into, if not more so! It's also a relatively new area, and I am hopeful that my hard work will pay off in the future. The grind continues! But I love what I do and wouldn't have it any other way.

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