BA History - Alex Fensome
Years at UEA
Media Manager for Parks Victoria.
Alex Fensome graduated with a History BA from UEA in 2008.
Since then, he’s moved to New Zealand and worked in journalism, politics, and now works as a Media Manager for Parks Victoria, in Australia. We caught up with him to see how he found his time at UEA and how his career has progressed since.
Could you give us a career overview?
My first newspaper job was in a small town called Oamaru, which was a great grounding as I had to do almost everything on the paper including running the website and social media.
Then I moved on to the Southland Times, based in Invercargill, which is as far south as you can go before you hit Antarctica. I stayed there for a year and a half before getting a shot at working for the Dominion Post, a major metropolitan paper in Wellington. I covered property and consumer affairs there, then was assigned to run the paper's 150th anniversary series in 2015 - a great use of my history background.
After that, I worked for Maggie Barry who was the Minister of Conservation for three years through to the 2017 election in New Zealand. Then Jacinda Ardern won the election, and I took a position with the Department of Conservation doing policy advice for them around tourism and economic development. I was also seconded to the new Minister’s office in the early days of the Ardern Government, to cover a vacancy for a month or so.
Working for DOC was really enjoyable for a couple of years and then my partner got a great job opportunity in Melbourne. I came over here with her and took a communications role in the Victorian State government. I just recently became the Media Manager for Parks Victoria, which is basically the equivalent of the Department of Conservation for Victoria, so it fits me quite well.
When you were considering universities, what drew you to UEA?
I grew up in Devon, but had family in Essex. So I always felt close to East Anglia and I had been to Norwich a few times and I liked it as a place.
Obviously, the History course at UEA is really good and so became my first choice for university. I went on an open day and I really enjoyed that. It seemed to fit really well so I was pretty pleased when I got in.
Did you know for a while that you wanted to study History?
I've always been a history geek ever since I was in primary school.
I read history books and things and so it always really appealed to me. I did consider doing Law for a bit. I did Law at A Level, but I just felt if I was going to spend three years studying something, I wanted to study something I really enjoyed and I wasn't sure I wanted to be a lawyer. I liked the fact History gave me a lot of options.
Did you have a favourite aspect about the History course at UEA?
I hadn’t done a lot of Medieval history at school and I had never really considered that I would find it interesting.
I always thought I'd be a modern historian. I like the fact that there were options to study different periods of history, and I've always been drawn to sort of slightly more unusual histories, like even now I read histories of Paraguay and places like that.
Medieval History really jumped out to me not just because of the content and learning more about the Middle Ages but also the quality of the teaching at UEA. The medieval people were just amazing with their passion. Nick Vincent was honestly a big inspiration for me and I'm very grateful to him.
Did you do any extracurricular activities at UEA?
I played cricket for the UEA cricket team for three years on and off.
I was in the second team but that was how I got out of the issues that I had with socializing and made friends and got out there. I've always got really fond memories of the guys and being in the team and some of the trips that we used to do. It was great. I really enjoyed that. I also used to play squash pretty regularly, which is great for fitness, and I was on the University Challenge team in 2006.
Did you use any services at UEA to help you think about your career?
I did attend a session with a professional journalist in my third year, which piqued my interest.
I think he was from the East Anglian Daily Times and he talked a lot about the training that you have to do to be a journalist. I had been thinking about it as an option, and so it was good to explore that, and it did lead me to find the course in New Zealand that I did in the end.
How do you think your History degree prepared you for stepping into that world of work?
I think Medieval history is actually really useful for journalism.
Nick Vincent actually said once about how most of the heads of MI6 have Medieval History degrees. You have to piece together a story and make inferences from incomplete information and unreliable sources. A lot of the time I found that was really useful. Learning how to approach things with a bit of scepticism and analysing the source, thinking about an issue more deeply.
History taught me to refine my writing style. I always enjoyed writing and it did teach me a lot about how to refine your thoughts and put them on paper in a fairly concise way. That was part of what appealed to me. History is like writing the story and telling the story. Writing essays is a bit wordier than being a journalist, but it did help that I had that ability to put thoughts down on paper and then be able to edit it using my journalism skills that I developed later on.
What do you enjoy most about your current role?
I really like the fact that I'm working for something that I believe in and am passionate about.
I was able to leverage what I did in politics in New Zealand into a role like this where I deal with media enquires a lot and tell the stories of Parks Victoria, which are great.
I’m also very passionate about making that broader case for conservation as an essential part of government or a state’s life, like with making sure the Department of Conservation was involved in conversations about New Zealand's economic future.
I also enjoy managing. I’ve got two great people in my team here so I've enjoyed stepping up to management.
Do you have any words of advice for people considering a BA in History?
Don't be worried or afraid if you don't know exactly what you want to do after you graduate.
If I'd known after I graduated that within six years, I'd be in the New Zealand Parliament advising a government minister and meeting the Prime Minister of New Zealand, I wouldn't have believed it.
After you graduate with the skills that you develop, find something that you believe in and you care about a lot. So, conservation for me. The skills that you get out of History will open up opportunities to do things that make a real difference.