28 October 2022

Abigail’s BA History journey

Abigail RowlandsAbigail Rowlands graduated in 2018 with a BA in History. Abigail now works as a Fundraising administrator for the Commonwealth War Graves Foundation. She spoke to us about starting a career and her time at UEA.

As each year went by, my love for History only strengthened and still brings a smile to my face all these years later. 

When did you graduate and what have you been up to since you graduated? 

I graduated back in 2019 with a degree in History. Just one week later, I was lucky to work in France for four months on an internship with the Commonwealth War Graves Foundation (CWGF). Stationed at Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, the largest war memorial in the world, I was tasked with welcoming visitors to the site, providing tours and answering any questions they may have. This was an incredible experience to hear so many stories about the public’s relatives and their understanding of the war. I was able to build a lot of confidence in this role, as well as develop my public speaking skills and experience a new culture. 

Once the four months had passed, I then took on a job with Tesco. This role came at a very difficult time working through the Coronavirus pandemic. However, I can say that I am very fortunate to have had a job during this time, while also developing some important skills and behaviours such as resilience and team work. During this time, I also took on a few volunteering roles with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to maintain my interest in History. I also worked part-time at the Imperial War Museum Duxford, with the Events and Experience team, giving tours on the Lancaster bomber. This challenged me to learn a new aspect of History while developing on similar experiences and skills. 

Since September 2021, I have returned to the CWGF to work as a Fundraising Administrator while also completing a Level 3 Apprenticeship in Business Administration. My day-to-day tasks include answering any phone calls or email enquiries, handling donation and membership payments and providing any assistance to my colleagues during events. 

What was your ambition for your career when you started at UEA? Did you have a specific career path in mind?

When I started my degree, I knew that I wanted to work within the Heritage sector but it was hard to know which role that would be. My passion for the subject only strengthened as the years went by, which I believe can easily be reflected through choosing the modules that were the best fit for me. While I was studying, I took on various volunteering roles within the Heritage sector to get a feel for the different paths I could take, including front of house, learning or research. I found that there were qualities in all careers within the sector that were appealing to me, allowing me to keep my options open. 

Tell me about your experiences studying at UEA.

When I first visited UEA, I fell in love with the campus straight away. There was such a strong community atmosphere that made me feel so relaxed. Initially I wanted to study a different subject, but I sat in the History talk and was convinced on the spot that this is what I should be doing. The scope of areas covered by the lecturers is incredible, that I wish that I had more time to just listen to the knowledge that they have to share. The quality of teaching combined with the rich history of Norwich was the perfect setting for my passion to flourish. It really is hard to think of a best day, as every day learning in the Landscape Room brings back so many good memories. 

In your career what key tasks & skills are involved on a day-to-day basis, and what are/have been the most rewarding/challenging aspects?

Most definitely time management plays a big part in my daily tasks. At university you might just think it is work, work, work with reading tasks and assessments coming from all angles at the same time. Without even thinking about it, you are developing some brilliant time management and organisation skills to make sure that each task is given the same thought and attention. Along the same lines, attention to detail is a really important skill for me to show each day when it comes to proof reading both web and print copy, which is also developed at university quite naturally. I find it just as important to make sure you keep that passion burning. You have to find that job that you want to wake up every morning and do, just the same as the modules you have to complete. Heart and soul can take you a long way. 
The most rewarding aspects of my job have been when we have been at events, such as Chalke Valley History Festival, or those that we have organised ourselves and having members of the public share nothing but praise about the work that we do. I find that as an organisation it will always be the casualties of the two World Wars that come above anything else and that truly resonates in our work. Having a presence at the same events of the likes of Dan Snow and James Holland is pretty spectacular as well. 

Has your degree influenced your career?

As each year went by, my love for History only strengthened and still brings a smile to my face all these years later. I would say that the modules that I chose (Landscape History and Public History) definitely influenced my career choices and allowed me to get that first hand experience and knowledge in the sector before taking the jump. I didn’t think that I would be taking a business course or working for a charity, but at the end of the day all of my work is still to do with History. 

What personal or professional achievement are you most proud of?

Professionally, my greatest achievement would have to be working at Thiepval Memorial on the Somme. Like many people, I visited the battlefields on a number of school trips and for those four months I was able to walk up to that Memorial everyday and be surrounded by such an incredible yet devastating moment of History- each name with a story and a face behind it. In addition, being able to work closely with the Reburials and Exhumations team was truly an honour that I never thought I would experience. Attending a reburial service of a First World War soldier was such an emotional experience. Within the organisation, there is no other role like that internship. 

On a personal level, I would say that my best achievement would be taking on the Three Peaks challenge which was both a strain physically and mentally. Even though I didn’t complete all three for various reasons, reaching the summit of Ben Nevis was really something and I never gave up. 

What were your experiences of Norwich as a city? Is there anything in particular that you miss or have fond memories of?

I wish I could move my offices to Norwich in a heartbeat. Coming from the countryside, Norwich was the perfect balance for me in that there was enough to do without it being overwhelming. From the shopping to the museums and culture, I don’t think I will ever be bored of Norwich. In my three years living there, I don’t think I managed to do everything that I wanted! It is such a beautiful city and I always felt safe. My favourite memories would be watching the fireworks with my friends and visiting the tunnel of light as these became little traditions for us each year. 

Would you recommend studying at UEA? Why?

I would most definitely recommend UEA to anyone! UEA gave me the support that I needed across all areas. I knew straight away where to go and who I could speak with. You will not find a better department who will listen to what you have to say and give you that comfort and support to make the right steps. As a campus, you have everything you need right on your doorstep. I don’t think I can remember how many times I walked round the lake or sat in the square on a sunny day. It is the perfect little bubble you need to find your feet in the world. 

Is there any advice you would give to current students, wishing to follow a similar career path to you?

Find that right balance that works for you- don’t burn yourself out or work too hard that it takes the fun away. University will be the best years of your life to grow as a person and possibly find your calling in life. Make the choices that work best for you, and enjoy it all while you can. It is okay at times to feel overwhelmed by everything, but just know that the small step you have taken is still taking you in the right direction. 

What is next for you?

I’m hoping to the stay with the CWGF as I strongly believe in the work that they do- keeping the stories alive of those who made the ultimate sacrifice during the two World Wars. It has been a big eye opener working for a charity, but I have thoroughly enjoyed playing a small part in organising the events and improving our members’ experiences. Fingers crossed that I am on the right path towards a management position in a few years. 

Abigail Studied BA History at UEA.