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Sally Bowness

Sally BownessAlumni Profile: Sally Bowness - BSc Psychology

Creative Director, Ratchet Digital

BSc Psychology


What made you choose Middlesex University?

My family were from North London and I was quite keen to stay fairly local as I had a large network of friends. I also thought Middlesex University offered a really good opportunity for mature students. I was 21 when I started.

What attracted you to your course and made you apply?

I hadn't done particularly well during my first A-levels. I initially studied French, German and English for these. I then went on to study a further A-level in Psychology and discovered I had a passion for it. Middlesex University offered a great Psychology degree so I applied.

What aspects of your course did you enjoy most?

We had very entertaining tutors! I majored in Psychology but also studied English Literature as part of the Humanities course and this was run by a tutor who was particularly memorable!

The tutors were really inspiring. I think they really understood that the more mature students were committed to the course. The classes were also quite small so they offered a great environment in which to learn and grow.

What is your fondest memory of life at Middlesex?

The learning and the camaraderie. There were a lot of good events that involved lots of parts of Middlesex, for example trips to the Trent Park campus. There were separate campuses at that time but there was a real sense of community. The social aspect of university life was really well organised. I was the only one of my friends not in halls as I lived locally but I could see how comfortable they all felt. We were there to get a degree but we were also encouraged to spend time growing up so there were never any complaints about our social activities!

I don't have any negative memories – all of my good friends got 2:1s and one got a 1st.

What one piece of advice would you give to a prospective student interested in studying at Middlesex?

Probably take risks and try things you have not experienced before. I remember taking up French because I felt I should having studied it at A-level. After the first year I realised that others had a constant capacity for the language and wanted to build this. I realised it wasn't for me but it was good to take up the opportunity and try it.

How did your course and time at Middlesex help you to get where you are professionally today?

I ended up going into media and have enjoyed a long career in the industry. I always maintain that having a degree in psychology makes you a good manager and equips you to deal with the ups and downs of internal politics. My degree gave me a good grounding in how to deal with a variety of personality types and not be intimidated.

A degree in psychology also helped me to better understand demographics and how my writing could connect with audiences.

Why did you choose the career you studied for?

I always had a creative bent and enjoyed writing on the side, so I had a natural leaning towards creative industries. I started at BBC Radio before moving very quickly into the creative services area where I felt really at home.

What are the pros and cons of working within your professional field?

The pros are there are always different briefs and challenges. No week is ever the same. This variety is really important to keep creativity flowing. Cons? Sometimes long and unsociable hours and on occasion some big egos, but my psychology degree helped me manage the latter.

How did you get your foot on the career ladder post university?

Through a contact I had met socially. He was involved in radio and suggested I would suit a career in that industry. He very kindly got me an interview which I thoroughly messed up! It was the late 80s and I thought I literally had to turn up to the interview smile and be personable. I didn't think I needed to do any research! When I told him of my error, he encouraged me to keep looking. Ahead of my next interview I undertook thorough research and got the job.

What has been your defining career break or highlight to date?

I think there have been two or three. The first would be when I switched from BBC radio to TV - everything became much more complicated but brilliantly challenging. 

The second would be as Creative Director for Red Bee Media for the BBC News and Current Affairs team. We had a great combination of talent on both the creative and marketing side and lots of awards as a result.

The third would probably be when I left Red Bee Media, where I was running a small to team, to join BDA Creative, where I was running a team of 30. I went from a fairly safe environment to the commercial world and I think I probably learnt more in my two years there than I had in the previous ten.

What does the future hold for you?

I set up Ratchet Digital with a colleague in March this year. He had been in digital for 16 years and I had been in creative services for 25 years. Over that time, I had moved more towards delivering impactful creative content online as well as on air. We decided that our combination of skills were very complementary and useful for brands keen to create compelling and shareable content. For me it felt like the right time to consolidate all those years of experience. We have been working really hard to get our name out there and build our client list, and so far so good.

What are the top three career tips you would give to current students and recent graduates?

Research until you are blue in the face! Don't make the mistake when going for an interview of only researching the company you are applying to join. Make sure you take a thorough look at their competitors too so you come equipped with a rounded picture.

Don't make enemies. People come back into your professional life at various stages of your career so it is very important to be respectful and professional at all times.

Find something you enjoy doing as you are going to be working for a long time! Equally if you start out in something and don't enjoy it, don't be afraid to change paths. You need to make sure you are fulfilled so make the leap!

One final thing I would say is that if you don't feel comfortable in an interview situation, practice with people. Understand and embrace your weaknesses and work on them.

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