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Jon Clayden

Jon Clayden, MA Work Based Learning Studies

Director of Graduate and Professional Education, California State University Northridge (CSUN)

MA Work Based Learning Studies (Music Business Management)

What made you choose Middlesex University?

I was at a crossroads in my life.  As a professional musician, I'd toured in 30 countries, made records for the majors, been in magazines and on the radio, etc.  However, I knew that life wouldn’t last forever, and I knew that I didn’t want it to (it’s hard to gracefully grow old and start a family on the road nine months of the year).  Once I had made the decision to step off of that crazy carousel, it was important to me to be able to parley my experience into a viable career, and not have to start over (something that I felt would have been a waste, as there were many areas of business and entrepreneurship that I had picked up on my travels that I felt could be applied to an alternate path).

My brother (who was also in the band) had just completed his Masters at Middlesex as a requisite of his then tenure as College Manager at Bristol Institute of Modern Music (BIMM).  He and his classmates had very positive things to say about his experience and so I felt that my choice of institution was clear.

What attracted you to your course and made you apply?

I knew that I wanted my choice of program to be directly applicable to my current place of business, endeavours and career trajectory in general. The Master of Arts in Work-Based Learning program afforded me the latitude to simultaneously contextualize my prior experience and also apply new learning to my chosen field (I applied my thesis directly to an opportunity for development at work).

What aspects of your course did you enjoy most?

I enjoy research, data, blue-sky thinking, and writing. As such, the thesis was the most enjoyable aspect of the program for me. Although some might find the volume daunting, I felt like I could have gone on forever if there wasn't a word limit (or a limit to the amount of my writing that my poor committee would ultimately be forced to endure).

What is your fondest memory of life at Middlesex?

Interactions with my advisor. After over a decade of hiatus from study, I greatly appreciated having someone "in my corner" on modules that were at first somewhat alien. I have remained in contact with my advisor to this day and consider myself fortunate to have added such a learned and generous associate to my post-graduate network—something that I advise all current students to actively engage in.

I also received a lot of support from my brother. To go from waking up at 12pm for sound check to working and studying again was a radical shift for me. He kept me "on the rails", so to speak, whenever work and personal life started to be overwhelming. Being able to bounce ideas off/vent to someone who had gone through the same process from the student perspective was a great comfort and motivator. I recommend that all students identify their support network as soon as possible.  And, if you don’t have one, work with your classmates/program coordinator to go about cultivating one.

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

Consider your major carefully. Be sure that the area of study meets your end goal (try a reverse-engineering exercise to determine whether you can get to the desired field/position/salary with your chosen academic award).

Also, examine your chosen industry carefully. We're currently in the era of the algorithm (big data, predictive/prescriptive analytics, artificial intelligence, etc.); but who knows what's next. Try to keep an eye on the multi-year horizon for your sector by closely following industry trends. As an example, for the higher education sector, join as many associations as you can (UPCEA/NAGAP/AACRAO/etc.) and subscribe to the daily email blasts from The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, Campus Technology Forum, EduCause, etc.—tailor your mobile news client to trawl for sector-specific articles.

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

I took a stint in artist management after coming off the road as a musician. I quickly realised, for me at least, that artist management was Dante’s as-yet-undiscovered tenth circle. I ran away from that and took a job as a career development advisor at a private music college.  Although the work was rewarding, I knew that I would never progress much beyond that position unless I sought a higher degree.  Within the space of two years of graduating, I was promoted to manager and then associate director. From there I took as position as a chair at another college, where I was subsequently given a post as Dean, and ultimately ended up running things as Vice President of Academic Affairs.  After a few years in that role, I was recruited by a private communications college to be their Director of Graduate and Professional Education.  Which, ultimately, led me to my current position at California State University Northridge (a public institution in Los Angeles with some 40K students).

It is my belief that the completion of my Master’s degree was a pivotal moment in my post-music career. Post completion thereof, I have been fortunate enough to secure roles of increasing responsibility and scope.  Albeit that inflation may, of course, account for some of the growth, I now earn over 300 per cent more than I did prior to the completion of my Master’s degree. As such, I feel that the completion of the degree allowed me to legitimise my skills and experience in a form that employers and peers could understand and verify.

What impact has studying in London had on your career?

I think that there is a certain provenance associated with study at a metropolitan capital (London, Paris, Tokyo, Madrid, etc.). People always want to hear more when you tell them that your alma mater is in London.

What made you choose the industry you work in and what are its pros and cons?

As a working class kid from North London (who is a first-generation graduate and immigrant), I am living proof of the transformational power of higher education.  As someone who went through that system without a very large village (but many thanks to my brother and graduate advisor!), I wanted to be able to help others to navigate those waters.  Additionally, I wanted to be able to continue to be a life-long learner.  Education seemed like a natural choice.


  • For the common good (the transformational power of higher education can be a social mobilizer)
  • Challenging (one always has to find creative solutions to issues)
  • Less corporate environment (healthy work-life balance, diversity and inclusion encouraged)


  • Resources (sometimes scarce)
  • Bureaucracy (unionized workforces and lots of red tape)
  • Nimbleness (market forces can move faster than higher education's ability to react)

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

As an ex-pat with no friends or family in town, I didn't have the opportunity of direct recommendations for employment. As such, I had to make my own way. I joined a slew of associations relative to my field, kept my resume up to date daily (and always had it in my cloud account in PDF format ready to email at a moment's notice), and applied for all positions for which I was qualified (I used job search sites' bots and direct email notifications to keep abreast of jobs the moment that they were posted).

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

I personally feel very fortunate to have been able to transition from one career to another and continue on a positive trajectory in an economy that hasn’t always been flourishing. As a professional musician, headlining two back-to-back nights at the London Astoria (RIP), playing main stage at Reading Festival, being drawn into the 2000AD comic were my favourite highlights. In higher education, my current post as Director of Graduate and Professional Education at CSUN is a strong highlight. In this role I get to make a positive impact to the betterment of the lives of working adults seeking to look after their families.  It's challenging work, but the personal rewards high.

What does the future hold for you?

Academically, I'd love to pursue a doctorate. I am a believer in the concept of life-long learning and also enjoy the process (I actually just completed a year-long strategic enrolment management endorsement program with AACRAO that was great).  In terms of work, remaining in higher education seems obvious; however, the working world is rapidly evolving to break free of established memes. As such, I feel that one has to "go with the flow" to some extent and keeps one's mind open to unconventional career paths.  At some point Google might take on higher education (and win)…

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

  1. Be proactive about networking: Without wishing to sound clich├ęd, a recommendation is worth a thousand interviews. We all look good on paper; having someone vouch for you to a hiring manager or committee is priceless.  As an example, the Executive Director of The Theatre of Arts in Los Angeles (just around the corner to Musicians Institute) is a Middlesex alumnus. I would never have known that if I wasn't checking my LinkedIn—he and I are now connected; he is a part of my network.
  2. Never turn your nose up at any opportunity: There is an adage that states "If you keep doing what you've been doing then you'll keep getting what you've been getting."  Explore new opportunities, even if they initially seem fruitless. I now do consultancy work—something that wouldn't be in my repertoire unless I'd decided to try something new.
  3. Think big, start small and deliver fast:  When you land a job, repeat this mantra.  Keeping an eye on the long-term goal whilst providing measurable gains in the short term is a solid "all-term" strategy.

What one piece of advice would you give to the 17/18 year old you?

Even if you’re the star sportsperson or musician, listen to your mom when she tells you that college is important. You’ll keep her happy and better secure your future; it’s a win-win.

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