The graduate's guide to (literature and) the galaxy

10 August 2021
Sam Hammond and Owen Morawitz have a few things in common: they both studied at The University of Queensland (UQ), they both majored in English Literature, and they both have a burning passion for sci-fi and speculative fiction.

After completing her Bachelor of Arts in Semester 1 2021, Sam is currently undertaking a Graduate Certificate in Writing, Editing, and Publishing before commencing her Honours in English Literature next year – an achievement Owen graduated with in 2019 before continuing into freelance work where he contributes for online sites such as Exclaim!, Blood knife, and runs his own blog, The Pitch of Discontent. 

Owen now runs his own blog, The Pitch of Discontent.

Reading fiction and loving literature has played a vital role in their lives since they were young. “My mum has a PhD in English,” Sam says, “so I was just always kind of interested in the field since I was a kid.”

“As a kid, I was always a huge reader,” Owen says, “and I was a huge science fiction fan, but I never really considered studying it in an academic context until my early twenties.”

For both, reading science fiction has brought a much-needed escape from the world.   

“One thing I loved when I was a kid, and still love,” Sam says, “was just how weird and how out there it can be …  it's just a really exciting genre to read because there's always experimental things going on in it.” For Sam, what’s most exciting is what she calls sci-fi’s “political bend.” “The genre can take something that's familiar in our world and twist it around to see it in a completely different way.”

Sam hopes to have a research career in literature. 

Owen agrees: “I would really argue that science fiction has been at the cutting edge of pretty much all cultural movements for probably about the last 100 years.” He elaborates, “just pick a political topic, and science fiction was probably lampooning it, and writing about it 20 years before it entered the public consciousness.” This cultural push is something that Owen adores about the genre, “what I love about it is that people are really, really, really perceptive about what's happening in the world, and then writing about it.”

Reflecting on his study of literature, Owen says, “I was a bit of a late bloomer to studying at university, so for me when it came to picking a program, it was purely just what I was interested in.” Originally, Owen began his studies with a dual degree of Science and Arts. “Again, that was really playing to my interests. I was trying to do astrophysics, in my science major, because I love science fiction, but I eventually dropped the science program to focus on Arts, which I think was probably a move for the better.” Owen really values the skills his study of literature has given him, “English Lit does give you a very good set of skills that are interdisciplinary.”

For both, reading science fiction has brought a much-needed escape from the world.  

Sam, who is hoping to write her Honours thesis on representations of space in speculative fiction, agrees with Owen. “Even if you don’t directly see the career paths that lead out of it, I think it’s still really valuable just for building those critical thinking skills and the way you can think critically about information you’re getting and where it’s coming from and how it’s constructed – all of those are really valuable skills for a wide range of industries.” Sam points to the idea of diversifying in a Bachelor of Arts as a strength for employment, “you can couple up with another major to give you that flexibility to be able to have a backup plan – I did linguistics as well which offers a lot of fieldwork opportunities in Australia at the moment.” Learning to adapt and diversify her skills remains important to Sam in the context of her current graduate study in writing, publishing and editing. “I’m focusing on editing … it’s another area I’d be interested working in, so I'm diversifying my skill set.”

Both Sam and Owen have ambitions to complete postgraduate research in Literature. “I’m hoping to go into higher degree research. I’d like to have a career in academia or research.” Sam says.

Sam's bookshelf showcases some of her most loved novels. 

Owen’s dream of postgraduate studies was recently put on hold due to the pandemic. “At the end of my Honours year, my partner and I wanted to move to the UK and … I decided that I’d throw myself into postgraduate study. I applied for a bunch of universities … got some offers back, and that was in March 2020. As you know, the world kind of set itself on fire right about then, so that didn't happen.” Despite the temporary setback, Owen sees postgraduate studies on the near horizon. “I still think that's part of my path, and what I want to do, but I've learned after last year to just not make any plans” he laughs. “I really don't know what's next for me … but I'd like to do postgrad for sure.”

Amidst all the current uncertainty, Owen keeps his writing and analytic skills honed through the publication of his blog, The Pitch of Discontent. The blog features articles, or as Owen calls them, “pseudo essay-type posts” across the disciplines of philosophy, literature, music, film and media. For Owen, it’s a way to write on “particular things that I’m interested in, and really just get some content out there and keep my brain flowing.”

For future students, Owen offers some wise words of advice:

“Just do what you want to do … be honest with yourself and … [ask] what do I want to do, what am I interested in, what can I give hours of my time to without feeling like it's wasted. And if that's reading, if that's writing, if that's diving into culture and philosophy, then a literature degree is for you because you will use that time without feeling like it's wasted.”

And for fellow bookworms looking for a good read, Sam strongly suggests The Masquerade series by Seth Dickinson and the Locked Tomb series by Tamsyn Muir.

Story by Jake Allwood

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