Headshot of Sam Finnegan-Dehn

The path from graduation to a portfolio career: Sam’s story

Are you interested in a portfolio career but not sure what it entails? If so, read on to hear from 2022 alumnus, Sam Finnegan-Dehn, who graduated with an MSc in Philosophy. Sam has combined several interests to build a portfolio career. He writes articles on Artificial Intelligence (AI) Ethics and Technology, is a Personal Tutor on Philosophy, History and English Literature and a Digital Marketing Officer for a local non-profit organisation.

Here’s how it all came to be – over to Sam…

Like most other students who’ve just graduated, thinking about my career came with a bundle of emotions. There was excitement, eagerness and a good dose of self-doubt. Thankfully, I can now say that, though unusual, I’m happy with the way that my career has panned out, and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next.

After being in academia for four years (three at undergraduate level and one year at masters level), I knew that I needed a break from the cycles of reading and writing academically. So many people suggested that I do a PhD, but I was set on getting into the working world.

I initially applied for some graduate schemes that were based around AI and technology, which were key topics within my masters degree. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get passed the numerical reasoning tests (Maths was never my forte) and so I decided to look for jobs locally. At the same time, I continued with my work as a Personal Tutor, which I’d started at university. I was gaining lots and lots of clients in this period, and so I decided to keep going with it as I searched for local opportunities.

Being proactive to create opportunities

While I’d initially pivoted away from my interests in AI and technology, I knew that this would only be a temporary break. After settling into my new routine at home, away from Edinburgh and my university life, I began to reach out to companies that aligned with my interests in the field. This interest is in the ethics of AI and the ways in which we can make it a useful tool for everyone. Thankfully, companies started to respond, and I began to write for them about various topics within the ethics of AI.

As all of this freelance work was growing, I found an excellent opportunity to work part-time in digital marketing for my local Citizens Advice office. I’d always been interested in using my marketing experience, which I had gained from internships and student society work, to work for organisations that had good intentions and ambitions. This, coupled with the fact that it was a part-time role, made it a no-brainer for me. And so, within six months of graduating, I had managed to build a portfolio career from a variety of my interests. I was writing about AI Ethics for excellent companies, tutoring students of different ages in English, History and Philosophy, and also working for Citizens Advice in developing their online brand.

Reflecting on my time at Edinburgh

Looking back on all of this, I realised that there were a few experiences from my time in Edinburgh that were integral to my decision to build a portfolio career, and to my ability to keep it going.

For me, one of these was participating in Edinburgh Innovations’ (EI) Start-Up course as a Team Leader. The course involved working with a team of students to develop my business idea. We spent a whole weekend developing this idea, and figuring out how we were going to make it work in the real-world. The weekend ended with us pitching the business idea to over 50 people, including three judges. It was obviously nerve-wracking, but incredible to see our hard work pay off. What was so important about having this experience was that it gave me the belief and confidence to pursue some of my other ideas outside of the course – and this is exactly what I did.

Another important experience that occurred during my time at Edinburgh was my involvement in societies and extra-curricular activities that I was doing alongside my masters degree. I was a student representative for my course, and for some of the modules, and I also played football and took part in a few student societies. Doing all this meant that I had to constantly juggle commitments, and this is something that has really helped me to carry on juggling my commitments in my career. These experiences also really improved my communication skills, and the work I did as a representative improved my professionalism. In general, the university ecosystem is an absolute goldmine for skill and experience development, and I would encourage all of you to get as stuck in as possible, especially with the things you aren’t 100% sure about.

The variety is great – and so are the opportunities!

Overall, I’m now in a position where I’m pursuing all of my interests, and still building on my past experiences and skills. The portfolio career suits me, as I have to be really mentally flexible with how I approach my days. Some days, my focus is on my tutoring; others, it’s on my writing work, and the rest is on my work at Citizens Advice. The novelty of working on so many different things throughout the week is great for me, and keeps me sharp and engaged.

Parting thoughts…

So, overall, I really recommend thinking about what things you are interested in, and don’t shy away from trying to pursue them all. You never know where they’re going to take you!

Thanks Sam for sharing your career path – you can connect with Sam on LinkedIn at Sam Finnegan-Dehn.

Did you know that you can use Platform One to explore the career paths of alumni? It’s a great way to discover new options and remind yourself there is no single right pathway.

You can take Sam’s advice further on getting involved with EI by reading our recent blog from Jack McMillan, Enterprise Officer at EI.

As Sam mentioned, selection tests such as numerical reasoning, can be used as part of the recruitment process. The Careers Service subscribes to a suite of practice tests and you can access these via our website.



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