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‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ A question that most of us are asked when we are younger, but while some fulfil their childhood aspirations, others may still be looking for their dream role deep into adulthood and that shouldn’t be a taboo! We spoke to some of our incredible alumni about this age-old question.

Sam MacGregor (BSc 2020)

Sam currently co-presents the Weekend Breakfast show on BBC Radio 1. He began his journey into media volunteering with Xpress Radio in Cardiff Students’ Union. After winning a range of awards including “Best Entertainment Show” for Cardiff Student Media and “Best Male Radio Presenter” at the Student Radio Awards in 2019, he landed his BBC Radio 1 debut only a year later. Over the last three years he has been covering shows including ‘The Official Chart’, Early Breakfast & hosting live radio and TV programmes at festivals such as Reading and Leeds, Boardmasters, and Radio 1’s Big Weekend. Sam is also a live events host & DJ, often appearing on stages across the UK.

Just say yes!

I have always been very inquisitive and growing up I knew I wanted to work in a social environment. When I was younger, I would listen to the radio on the way to school. Often finding myself thinking of ‘those people’ speaking on the radio, realising that someone was getting paid (!) to sit with their friends and have fun, whilst others listen in. I was hooked on discovering more, always wanting to be part of the club that I felt part of, when I tuned in.

There were so many jobs that intrigued me, but it wasn’t until I came to university that I was given the opportunities to try out a range of new experiences which now shape the work I do. Whilst studying Geography scratched my academic itch, it was the communities and facilities that Cardiff offered me, that allowed me to develop this passion I wanted to explore. I volunteered at Xpress Radio which led me to present live programmes, interview artists, host on stage, plan station-wide charity events and much more. As part of my semester abroad in Sydney, I even presented overnights on an Aussie community station. This was my first ever solo show where I planned, produced and presented it all by myself - even trekking 30 minutes through a local wildland to make it in time to present the midnight till 4am slot! If it wasn’t for following my curiosity, I wouldn’t have been able to apply myself and to work in the creative industries I now do.

So my advice is try as many new experiences as possible and to learn how to fail! Go outside your comfort zone to learn from these new experiences. Saying ‘Yes’ led to me meeting lifelong friends and learning a whole skill set that I simply couldn’t get from 'reading a book'.  I think the best lessons are learned through trialling new things and making mistakes, both of which have led me to where I am today.

Sam MacGregor (BSc 2020)

Sheilla Mamona (BSc 2016)

Sheilla Mamona, otherwise known as Shei [SHAY] is a freelance journalist with bylines in publications such as Vogue, GLAMOUR Magazine, Allure, The Sunday Times STYLE, Cosmopolitan and The Telegraph. She is a Maths graduate who now spends time writing about beauty, sports, entertainment and lifestyle as well as interviewing a long list of celebrities. Her visibility and work have earned her a Highly Commended Award at the British Society of Magazine Editors Awards (BSMEs). She is passionate about racial equality, and is now spending a lot of time snowboarding, skating and travelling.

Life is not linear, go out and find what makes you happy

Guess what. Chances are when you graduate you still won’t know what you want to be when you grow up. In fact, as you actually grow up, you still might be trying to figure out what you want to be when you ‘grow up’. I hate to be that person, but time really is a social construct. As a kid I had many aspirations: doctor, lawyer, singer, actress, engineer, journalist, athlete, (they were relatively limited to what society had proven to be success stories).

When I got to GCSE it was Dentistry, but on a whirlwind A level results day, I settled on going to uni to study a Maths degree. With no ambition of becoming a mathematician (I always knew I was creative at heart). All I knew is that I needed a back-up plan, in case this whole, journalist, presenter, athlete life didn’t take off. (Spoiler: it did)

For me (emphasis on the ME) having this back up plan gave me full confidence to pursue my other dreams, knowing that if it all failed, I’d always be fine. It was the best decision I could have made at that stage and I haven’t looked back since.

As someone with undiagnosed ADHD, I am also one of those adults that must explore every possible hobby and try to make a living out of it. Many times it made me feel like I had no vision or purpose. No clear direction on where I wanted to be, a confused jack of all trades that mastered some but got distracted with other dreams and opportunities that came along the way. Life is not linear, so it would be silly to take a linear approach to your career, which is a huge part of your life.

I never really knew what I wanted to do when I “grew up”. One thing has remained consistent though: the vision is to be happy, the purpose is the thrilling journey to get there.

Sheilla Mamona (BSc 2016)

Jessica Mullins (BSc 2011)

Jessica is an Expert Witness and Occupational Therapist for the Supreme Court of British Columbia. In January 2022 she also led an international ocean rowing team (IN DEEP SHIP) 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to raise money for charity. It took 42 days, 4 hours and 54 minutes and they battled hunger, huge waves, dehydration, exhaustion, and hallucinations. They achieve a World First for a mixed team of 3 women and 1 man to have rowed any ocean.

You can achieve anything you want with enough persistence!

When I look back at my successes I can see one key theme – persistence. As a child, I was lucky enough to be taught that I could achieve anything I set my mind to, if I gave it my true focus. I grew up dyslexic and was not an athlete, but fast forward a few decades and I have smashed through those ‘barriers’. I am at the top of my game in work, and I powered my way through one of the toughest endurance races on the planet. Why? Because I believe when you have a dream, you must consistently show up and put in the work or it will not come to fruition. You have to ignore those around you that tell you that your dream is just a dream and show the world that the power of woman is not to be underestimated. So, as a little girl, did I know I wanted to be a world-record holder when I grew up? Probably not. But did I know I wanted to be among the best at whatever I did? Hell yeah.

Jessica Mullins (BSc 2011)

The 30(ish) Awards

The 30(ish) Awards celebrates the change-makers, innovators, and rule-breakers in the Cardiff University alumni community.

Alumni Chapters and groups

Alumni Chapters and groups are a great way to connect with other Cardiff University alumni in your area.

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Support for entrepreneurs

If you have an idea for business or social enterprise, or want to gain new skills we are here to support you.

Careers advice and support

Cardiff University Alumni can access a range of careers advice and information designed to enhance their graduate employability.