One thing you can never start doing too soon during your degree is building up a network of contacts in your chosen field. You don't need to do this in a regimented fashion, just be aware of opportunities and put yourself out there, you never know where a chance encounter will lead.
For example, last year I noticed on a silversmithing forum that a silversmith called Miriam Hanidwas giving away some fireproof tiles, something we use in our workshop around the hearth. I had heard her name mentioned a few times during my degree and knew of her work. She stated that she was updating her workshop so these were available, and that she would prefer them to go to a student who is starting out.
Thanks to this initial contact I have now had work experience with Miriam in her workshop, and also helped on her stall at the Goldsmiths Fair (mentioned in a previous blog). We are also discussing further work I could do for her after graduation. So you never know where brief encounters will take you.
Another amazing opportunity was meeting Gordon Hamme, who came to uni a month ago to give a talk about starting a successful business within the silver and jewellery industry. Amongst other things Gordon is the Chairman of the Festival of Silver and is also on the panel of many silversmithing competitions. During the day he said he would take my work to be part of the Festival of Silver shows this year, there are three and the first one is in Chelsea. I knew he was a man of his word but still couldn't believe it was true. I'm not longer 'going to be a silversmith', I AM a silversmith.
I was incredibly excited by having my work at such a prestigious event, these are the kind of shows on my wish list and I certainly didn't expect to achieve this prior to graduation. It never occurred to me that anybody would buy my work, I was just happy to be able to say my work was there, but on the first day of opening Gordon contacted me (I was in Munich on a uni trip - more to follow about that in the next blog - so couldn't attend this show myself) to say one of my two pieces there had sold! I was over the moon. My work was alongside some of the top silversmiths, and someone had chosen to buy my piece. I experienced and array of emotions, from shock, to misbelief, to giddiness. I then spent the rest of the day grinning and feeling proud of myself.
It just goes to show that if you are passionate about what you do, and dedicated to your career progression, people will pick up on that. If you attend everything you think will be beneficial to your development, however small it may seem, you could find yourself in the right place for opportunities when they appear. Always be polite and helpful and ALWAYS remember to thank those who go out of their way to help you - a bunch of flowers can go a long way!