school

7 successful Aussie women on what they studied after school. And what they actually ended up doing.

As the latest cohort of Year 12 students party away their exam worries at Schoolies, the time for decisions is approaching.

It’s a tricky time in a young person’s life; mentally preparing for the announcement of ATAR marks, while trying to decide what the heck to do next.

It’s hard, it’s overwhelming, and unless you’re the kind of person who has known forever what you want to be (lucky b*stards), the pressure can feel all consuming.

It feels – and correct me if I am wrong – like you are being forced to decide on the rest of your life when you’re just 18.

What we wanted to be when we were kids. Post continues after video.

Video by MMC

Thankfully, what you decide in that moment doesn’t really matter at the end of the day. Everything leads to something after all.

Here’s 7 successful women on the course they picked, versus what their career actually ended up looking like. Spoiler: more often than not, they’re pretty damn different.

Emma Isaacs, founder and global CEO, Business Chicks.

Emma Isaacs
Emma Isaacs, Founder and Global CEO, Business Chicks. Image: Supplied.
ADVERTISEMENT

I’m a proud university drop out.

I enrolled in a business degree but only lasted six months. The truth was that it just wasn’t moving fast enough for me and I knew I could learn so much more outside the classroom than I could in it. After I left uni, I started working at a recruitment company and ended up buying into the business a few months later and I’ve been a business owner ever since.

I’ve never really had the set “skills” required for a job, but I’m a big believer that the best lessons come from jumping into situations that scare you and learning as you go along.

Obviously this advice doesn’t apply if you want to be a doctor or a lawyer, but if you’re unsure about where you want to go, my advice to school leavers is to do what feels right not, not just what everyone else is doing.

There are lots of ways to learn – for some people the structure of university is very helpful and for others it's perhaps through travelling – but, if you’re like me, the best way to get ahead is by getting into action and learning as you go.

Gorgi Coghlan, TV presenter.

Gorgi-Coghlan-6
Gorgi Coghlan, TV Presenter. Image: The Project.

I completed a Bachelor of Science majoring in pharmacology and zoology. It always felt like such a struggle for me and I recall walking over to six hour physics practicals wondering why I was doing this and feeling desperately unhappy. I never aligned with academic life and I always felt inadequate. The only thing that got me through my degree (apart from alcohol) was the positive influence my studious friends had on me. We studied together and kept each other on track and this support was a huge contributor to me finishing my degree. I'm also competitive, so that helped when I had lost my mojo and realised that working in a science laboratory wasn't going to float my boat.

ADVERTISEMENT

Although I'm really proud of my science degree and I used it to step into a Diploma in Education and became a secondary teacher, I sometimes wish I had listened to my gut earlier and got out to pursue my dreams.

University did teach me structure, discipline, sticking to deadlines and working as a team, and I use these strategies all the time in my current job working in live television and running our boutique hotel. It also taught me never to give up and to push through challenging chapters in your life when you're not doing what you love.

I've worn several hats in my career - science, secondary teaching, musical theatre and now television - and my advice is to search at the very deepest part of your soul and discover what makes you truly happy. Then work your butt off to achieve that dream. Use criticism to fuel you and prove people wrong. I take these lessons with me when challenging myself in events such as the Carman’s Women’s Fun Run supporting Breast Cancer Network Australia. On the 1st of December, I’ll be taking part to join thousands of women in supporting a great cause. My favourite mantra is 'if you are doing what you love and using this passion to serve other people, nothing can stop you".

Snezana Wood, mum.

Snezana Wood
Snezana Wood, mum. Image: Instagram.

Having worked so hard as a single mum to get my degree in Molecular Genetics and Biotechnology I was sure that I’d be working full time in a space that used my degree by now but in 2015 everything changed.

Meeting Sam (on The Bachelor), having two kids together, working so closely with 28 by Sam Wood and other opportunities that have presented just means that for now it’s on hold.

ADVERTISEMENT

I chose that degree as it’s something that really interests me and that hasn’t changed and I honestly feel I will get back to it at some stage but for now it’s all about being a mum to my beautiful three girls. That’s the best and most important job in the world right now.

Natalie Peters, newsreader and presenter at Macquarie Radio.

Nat peters
Natalie Peters, journalist and newsreader. Image: Supplied.

I briefly toyed with the idea of taking a year off after year 12, but went straight from high school to university to study media and communications. At the time I was interested in public and media relations, and I was volunteering at a community radio station but journalism wasn’t really on my radar as I didn’t believe I had the skills or talent needed. I would never have dreamed of working as a radio journalist covering breaking news around the world, but that’s where my studies eventually led me.

After my first year of essays and exams I was over it, and deferred my studies to go exploring. I spent a year travelling overseas and working in the ski industry, which was one of the best decisions I ever made. My parents and advisors were worried I would never go back to uni, but the year off actually solidified my decision to study, opened my eyes to industries where I could apply what I was studying, and taught me so much about myself.

I did go back, but I wasn’t living the typical student life, enjoying the bar on campus. I worked full time, and volunteered then worked in the media department at a ski resort six hours away, racing back to Sydney for classes and to submit assignments. I finished my degree by doing several subjects by correspondence while undergoing an internship and working in America.

ADVERTISEMENT

Not long after graduating I decided I really wanted to work in radio rather than communications, so did a postgraduate year of study at the Australian Film and Television and Radio School to learn practical broadcast skills. My university degree focused on the theory which was helpful, but it didn’t teach me how to press buttons in a radio studio. We sat at a desk in a classroom and pretended we had a microphone in front of us. AFTRS gave me the practical skills to put the theory into practice. In hindsight, if I knew earlier that I wanted to be in radio, I would have looked for a more practical course. But I don’t regret studying general communications at uni, as the industry has changed so much and you need to be fluent in all mediums so that information has come in handy.

I recommend that if you do choose university, take the time to ensure your subjects and time table work for you. University may look like a rigid option, but you’d be surprised how flexible it is. You can do a year overseas, you can use online study to complete interesting units which aren’t offered at your institution, you can find an internship, and if you’re lucky you can fit your classes into three days a week. You need to research the possibilities.

Sarah Davidson (nee Holloway), co-owner of Matcha Maiden and Matcha Mylkbar.

Sarah Davidson
Sarah Davidson, "Funtrepreneur" and owner of Matcha Maiden and Matcha Mylkbar. Image: Instagram.

When I finished school, I had such a narrow idea of what a career looked like and thought it would be a permanent, lifelong decision that you had to get right the first time. But having had a wonderful start to my working life as a lawyer and then an unexpected and transformative shift into business, I can safely say that not knowing where you're going could actually be the best strategy possible.

It leaves the door open to surprise opportunities you never knew existed and keeps your mind open to change as you evolve and grow as a person. What unites your passions and your skills at one phase in your life can't be expected to suit you decades later, so it's a great thing for you to be constantly changing things up.

ADVERTISEMENT

We are so lucky to live in an age where we are no longer expected to have one single career and where the world is changing so fast that the jobs we will have in the future may not even exist yet.

I went from a predictable, corporate world with a constant five year plan to an exciting, dynamic one with barely a five minute plan. I also moved from a world I had seven years of qualifications for to a world I knew nothing about, but learning on the fly can teach you things that study never will.

Above all, the most important thing is to always be learning and to listen to what you need to the exclusion of everything the world will try to tell you that you "should" be doing instead. It's a beautiful thing this life, so don't waste it! And even if you go down a few paths you don't want to end up on, nothing is ever a waste - everything is a stepping stone to where you're meant to end up.

Olivia Molly Rogers, speech pathologist and media personality.

Olivia Molly Rogers
Olivia Molly Rogers, media personality and speech pathologist. Image: Instagram

I spent four years at uni studying my degree, but I now only practice one day a week in my field.

I was always set on studying at university to become ‘something’. I was an absolute bookworm at school - I really loved to do well academically. However it took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do, it’s such a tough decision to make especially when you think that you’re going to be locked in for the rest of your life.

I decided to study speech pathology because it ticked a lot of the boxes I had in mind. As an allied health degree, the course is science-based with a lot of anatomy, physiology and psychology which really appealed to me. I knew becoming a speech pathologist would allow me to help people, which is something I always saw myself doing. Also, whilst a Bachelor of Speech Pathology is a very specific degree it allows for a great deal of variety within it - you can work with adults or children and in so many areas in between the two.

ADVERTISEMENT

I completed the degree and did well throughout, but it was definitely challenging. I practiced as a new graduate for one year after, then I went on to compete in and win Miss Universe Australia. That took me on a completely different path and has given me so many opportunities and experiences I could not have imagined beforehand. However, I honestly believe that none of that would’ve happened if I hadn’t completed my degree. Whilst it’s a completely different area of work, the skills I learnt in my degree really set me up for life. Studying at university pushes you and really challenges the way you think. It made me more confident, a stronger communicator, improved my time management skills and my ability to meet deadlines. Completing my degree also helped me to realise my potential, it gives you the knowledge and confidence to take on whatever comes your way in life afterwards.

My advice to school leavers is to always remain open minded and say yes to different opportunities as they are presented to you. If you’re not challenging yourself, you’re not growing - so always take on the challenges.

Annie Williams, Paralympian.

ANNIE-WILLIAMS-
Annie Williams, Paralympian. Image: Supplied.

I’m really proud to have a career in law behind me, but my biggest lesson in life has been to never say ‘no’ to an opportunity.

For a long time I had ambitions of becoming a lawyer, but never did I think that I would end up balancing a career as an international motivational speaker, a diversity advocate, a sports administrator and a TV commentator.

ADVERTISEMENT

 My great uncle was a judge and used to tell me amazing stories about the people he met and the things he had done and I thought it sounded so interesting and exciting, but when I made my first Australian Swim Team, I was still in high school and it opened a new world for me.

Studying and training was a balancing act, and I had to learn to maximise my time. It instilled in me the skills I needed to compartmentalise, and also look at the value of different opportunities and the need to nurture my different interests. That’s something that hasn’t left me and it’s something that is helping me open up doors today.

 While I learnt the skills I needed through my law degree to work at a top tier law firm Allens Linklaters and then as the Legal Counsel for the Australian Olympic Committee, it has been the ability to explore my passions that has seen me become Vice President of Paralympics Australia, Chair of Paralympics Australia’s Athletes’ Commission and a member of the IAAF Disciplinary Tribunal.

I’ve met so many people along the way in my career and that has given rise to many opportunities, including commentating major swimming championships and the Paralympic Games and Commonwealth Games on TV. Importantly, where I’ve gained the confidence to take on every opportunity that presents itself is from developing determination and grit, learning from my failures, and most importantly, being fearless.

Been listening to That’s Incredible? Tell us what you think.

MMSurvey
00:00 / ???