Ever watched Grey’s Anatomy and found yourself frantically Googling, ‘how to become a surgeon’ at 3am after one (let’s be honest 5) too many episodes? Or maybe you got a little too invested in Orange Is the New Black and convinced yourself you would be far happier with a career as a prison officer?
Turns out you’re not alone if your curiosity is piqued by your most loved TV series, with statistics showing the number of people searching ‘how to become a detective’ increased by more than 24% in the past year, during which Line of Duty hit its most dramatic moments. For most of us being inspired to follow a career path based on our most loved TV series might seem like a pipe dream, but what about the people who decide to take the plunge and follow in the footsteps of their favourite characters? We spoke to 4 people excelling in their chosen field because of their love for everything from Glee to Waterloo Road to see how it all started…
Suits inspired Lawyer…
Twenty-one-year-old Elysia from Southampton was studying for a degree in Hair and Makeup before the pandemic hit last year but was quickly forced to continue this from home as the country went into lockdown and the practical parts of her degree were taken away. As she began to doubt her future studies and career more after learning that the final two years of her degree would also be completed at home, in came Suits- a seemingly random choice of TV show to binge with her family over the summer, but one that changed the course of her life forever…
Were you interested in working in law before watching Suits?
I had always had an interest in the news (I understand that may sound a bit odd), and always felt the need to be connected with what was going on in the world. But, to be honest, I never felt particularly drawn to the legal world within the news. I would see it come and go, but never bothered to look into it unless it involved a famous person or group that I followed or liked, and wanted to know the latest gossip. I, unlike a lot of my classmates, was not born into a family of solicitors, barristers, judges, or firm owners. I was, however, born into a family of hard-working and loving people, who just did not have an interest in the legal world.
We started watching Suits after Meghan Markle came on the scene with the royals and, with my mum being an avid royalist, we all decided to binge watch it together. As soon as we had watched the first episode, I knew I wanted to learn more, and look into that career path after being stuck in a loop of an unknown future.
Did you worry that the reality of working in law would be different to the fictional depiction of it?
The glamour and glitz of having a high-profile legal career was something that I really wanted, but I was worried that the fast-paced, active and fun office job that was depicted in the show, similar to the uncomfortable scenes, was going to be all fiction.
Definitely! Like anything on TV, it was dramatized to hook people, like my family and me, to watch the whole show from start to finish. I had hoped that some areas of it, albeit not the illegal goings-on (haha), were true and real. The glamour and glitz of having a high-profile legal career was something that I really wanted, but I was worried that the fast-paced, active and fun office job that was depicted in the show, similar to the uncomfortable scenes, was going to be all fiction. After certifying my future in a legal career after being accepted into my current LLB Law Degree, I have quickly (and luckily after doing a life-sized 180 turnaround) learned that working in law is just as fast-paced and action-filled as it looks. Once again, I’d like to highlight the lack of the illegal goings-on in real-life law- the extent of the show demonstrating this would not be accepted in the legal field for one second compared to the 8 series of Suits.
Were your family and friends supportive of the decision to pursue this career or were they sceptical that it was ‘just a phase’ because of your love for the show?
My family were always aware that I had never had a set life plan, and was always relatively content on floating through life until I found something I enjoyed, and, if that never came, they were happy, provided that I was happy too. I had explained to them previously that there was always something missing from my plans, that I wanted to make a change in the world, and leave a mark on people once I’m gone; I wanted to make a name for myself, I was just never sure why.
Once we had finished watching Suits, I had discussed with them that it was something I was really interested in. I think they could tell how serious I was, as within the week, my mum had looked through local University options, and called my current University to find out information on their Law degree and how a transfer may be possible for me. To say I had their support and encouragement would be an understatement.
I was, initially, worried that they would think it was ‘just a phase’, as I was easily influenced by shows when I was younger; watching a pet show? I wanted to be a Vet. Watching a Disney show? I wanted to be a Princess. Watching the Olympics? I wanted to be a gymnast. You name it, I wanted to do it. But I think my parents understood the difference between a child watching something fab on the TV, compared to my self-realisation that this was my calling, and that it was the career path for me.
They have continued to support me, and gloat a little as parents do, with each and every achievement I have obtained in my first year. My boyfriend has also been incredibly supportive throughout the transition, and also felt that, as long as I was doing something I loved, he was going to love me regardless of my career. He continued to fuel my desire to move onto a career in law, and never once failed to believe me when I told him where my dreams had come from.
Is law as glamorous, fun and sexy as it seems on Suits?
In all honesty; yes and no. Law can be tough, with long hours, a long, long time studying and qualifying, and heavy topics and areas to go into once you qualify. The legal world can be challenging, and is definitely a career for those who are willing to work the hardest they have, every day of their lives to achieve the best. That will likely, as far as I have experienced and heard, involve late nights, big exams, not much of a social life and hard work.
The people you get to meet, the individuals you get the chance to work for and the cases that are discussed will never be repeated or the same, making every new experience fun!
However, as with any career, if you love the job you are in, you will never work a day in your life. You can make it as glamorous, fun and sexy as you choose. The people you get to meet, the individuals you get the chance to work for and the cases that are discussed will never be repeated or the same, making every new experience fun! The glamour definitely comes through with the endless outfit possibilities in the legal world, while keeping it professional, of course, the dresses, the coats, the shoes and, my favourite, the hand bags. You can have one for every dress or day of the week if you please. So yes, it can be just as glamorous, fun and sexy as it seems on Suits, provided it’s kept professional, a career in law can be the best choice in the world!
Did you do much research into life as a lawyer or were you confident you knew what it would be like based on the shows you had watched focused on the industry?
The only show I had ever seen that had anything to do with the law industry was Suits, so, the information I had based on the life of a lawyer was very limited if I were to base it solely on the show. I knew I had to do some research, and I did, what felt like, an eternity’s worth of research. I now have come to the realisation, after studying the law for one year, that I only scraped the surface with my research, and that the world of law is like an onion; there is so many layers to peel back and learn about, that I could have never gained a full understanding of everything on my own before studying.
However, I researched enough to learn that Suits depicted both truths and exaggerations of the life of a lawyer, and the corrections for the exaggerations that I discovered in my research before committing to a life in the law, was enough to suffice my want and need to pursue it. Had I not done any research, I probably would have assumed that everything in Suits is exactly how a life in the law is set out.
Do you think shows like Suits are the inspiration for a lot of people in law? Have you met anyone else that also loves the show whilst studying?
100%! Mainly because, for those who are not lucky enough to be born into a legal family, it is their first introduction to the life of a lawyer, and sparks that initial interest in what it takes, what it involves, the fun that can be had and the friends that can be made.
Funnily enough, in my first online lectures, (COVID-19 ugh!) one of the first questions my lecturer asked was ‘So, who is here because of Suits?’ to which half of us raised our virtual hand emojis. While it was a great ice breaker, it was so interesting to see how many others had had the same epiphany as me while watching the show. There were still many students who came from a legal family, or those who have had the passion since they were small, but having that love for the show in common with so many other students meant I knew I was in the right position and it made making friends even easier. It’s also worth noting that the same lecturer did warn us that the life of an English lawyer is not quite the same as the law-breaking actions that are featured in Suits…
Ultimately do you think you would have become a lawyer if it hadn’t been for watching the show?
Easy answer – No way! I was introduced to what a lawyer is by Suits, and even though an American Lawyer and an English Lawyer have big differences, I would not have even considered looking into that career had it not been for Suits. If I ever get the chance to meet any of the cast or crew of the show, I wouldn’t hesitate for one second to let them know that their programme changed my life for the better.
Contagion inspired Epidemiologist
We all love a zombie film and dystopian drama now and again to get our pulses racing, but now qualified Epidemiologist, Mandi, took her love for this genre one step further when deciding to pursue a career in public health and infectious disease…
What came first: your interest in science and disease or love for zombie films?
My interest in science came very early in my life, particularly in the medical, veterinary, and environmental sciences. As a kid, I was interested in learning how everything around me worked. As I got older, I developed a love for zombie films and it sparked my interest in infectious diseases. Eventually, these various interests all combined into my career today as an epidemiologist.
Environmental epidemiology is one of many branches within epidemiology and it allows us to determine how environmental exposures impact a population’s health, whether that is through natural or man-made sources. This includes identifying which agent/vector exposures resulted in a particular disease of concern and which populations were affected. Also, there is an increasing focus on One Health, which recognizes that human, animal, and environmental health are interconnected with one another.
What was it about the industry that appealed to you?
It satisfies both my curiosity of how we work and how our environment affects us, but also my desire to help others.
Was there a particular film or show that cemented this as a passion for you, and/or one that made you feel like it could be a viable career path?
I believe Resident Evil (2002) was my first zombie film and it piqued my curiosity about infectious diseases. However, Contagion (2011) was a more realistic interpretation in dealing with infectious disease than zombie films (although, as with all films, some liberties were taken) and it made me feel like epidemiology was a potential career for me.
I think the influence of zombie films helped create an epidemiologist and the influence of environmental films helped create an environmental epidemiologist.
FernGully (1992) was an animated film I watched as a child and it’s a similar environmental message as Avatar (2009). Both of these films helped encourage me to protect our environment. An Inconvenient Truth (2006) made me aware of climate change and how it could affect people across the globe. But I think what had the most profound environmental impact on me was a moment in Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (2014). During that series, Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot excerpt played during an animation of what Voyager 1’s cameras would’ve seen as it travelled further and further away from Earth. It was an incredibly small blue dot in this vast, dark universe. That dot is our only home amongst the stars and it made me appreciate Earth in a way that no other film has before. I think the influence of zombie films helped create an epidemiologist and the influence of environmental films helped create an environmental epidemiologist.
Do you think you would have ended up working in a similar industry had it not been for these films and documentaries or would you say they were instrumental in you following this route?
I think that I would’ve initially gravitated toward the medical sciences at first. In fact, during university, I worked in a local hospital. I’ve always had a desire to help people, but I also enjoy research, so in the end, I think I would’ve landed in this field at some point.
What are the main differences between the films you love focusing on public health and the realities of working in this industry?
Zombie films are clearly not realistic. When I was a teenager, I wondered if zombie-esque viral outbreaks were a possibility, but now I can watch those films purely for their entertainment value. Also, for the sake of time restrictions, films tend to skip over the behind-the-scenes work of data analysis & scientific research and mostly focus on field investigative work.
Did you have a backup career plan if you found the reality of the industry was totally different to how it’s portrayed in the movies?
Just like how doctors can specialize in their field, there are also many areas of specialization within public health. It’s a very interdisciplinary field, so I had a multitude of backup options if needed.
Do you have any advice for those looking to work in this field in the future?
YouTube hosts an array of ‘Day in the Life’ videos for all kinds of professions, so that can be helpful to check out as well.
I always recommend job shadowing and internships to become familiar with a field before you commit to it in university. YouTube hosts an array of ‘Day in the Life’ videos for all kinds of professions, so that can be helpful to check out as well. If you have a desire to help others, particularly populations of people, public health may be a good career path for you.
Ultimately, do you think you would have become an epidemiologist if it hadn’t been for watching these shows?
I think so. I was interested in medicine at a really young age and when I began to learn about it in school, I had several areas that I naturally gravitated to (such as infectious diseases), but I’ve also been a researcher at heart as well. So I think that combination would have eventually led me to my current career.
Waterloo Road inspired Teacher…
You’d be forgiven for wanting to pursue a career in teaching or education after watching the glamorous and picture-perfect likes of High School Musical, Gossip Girl, and Riverdale, but we all know life as a teacher, especially in the UK looks a little (read: a lot) different. It was clear therefore that Becki had a real calling for this career when it was in fact the challenging and troublesome highs and lows of British TV series Waterloo Road that piqued her interest in teaching, more specifically a desire to work in a low income or disadvantaged area. The rest is history…
What was it about Waterloo Road specifically that inspired you to follow this career path?
I loved seeing how the teachers and other staff made an impact on not only the children’s school life but their home life, too. I loved how invested the staff in the school were to support and make the pupils’ lives better.
Did you watch any other films or TV shows set in a school environment leading up to your career path decision?
I watched the normal Saved By The Bell, Lizzie Migure, Zoey 101 etc but nothing that was more focused on the teachers.
Did you worry that the reality of working in a school, particularly one that presented challenges as difficult as Waterloo Road, would be different to the fictional depiction of it?
I knew that Waterloo Road would exaggerate some storylines, but I do know that some schools are like Waterloo Road when it comes to behaviour and the pupils’ home stories etc.
Did you do much research into life as a teacher or were you confident you knew what it would be like based on the shows you had watched?
I did lots of research into becoming a teacher and Waterloo Road definitely helped inform me about the types of behaviours I may come across whilst working.
How did you know becoming a teacher was something you really wanted to go for rather than a phase because you loved watching the show?
I have always wanted to work in a school but after watching Waterloo Road, I knew that I wanted to work in more challenging areas and schools, as I found that more rewarding. For some children school is the only constant thing in their lives, and to be able to be there for them and to support them is invaluable.
Ultimately do you think you would have become a teacher if it hadn’t been for watching the show?
I still think I would have ended up working in a school but I don’t think I would have gone down the route of working in a more challenging school environment without watching Waterloo Road.
Glee inspired Performer…
If you’re a lover of performing arts and musical theatre then it’s safe to say watching Glee is a rite of passage most singers have completed twice over, minimum. Georgia, a freelance performer and songwriter from Brighton, took her love for the show to new heights, following in the footsteps of Rachel Berry by studying musical theatre at university and pursuing her dreams of performing for a career.
Were you interested in working in musical theatre before watching Glee?
Before I discovered Glee, I wouldn’t say I had a real vision of what I wanted to do in my life. I had performed in a few musicals at school and really enjoyed it but Glee made me realise it was my calling. To see these teenagers follow their dreams and become full-time performers inspired me so much!
What was it about the show that confirmed that this was the career path for you?
Like Rachel Berry always says, ‘I’m like Tinkerbell, I need applause to live’.
I think seeing the journey the characters went through and watching their hard work pay off really reiterated to me that I could do it. There’s nothing else that I resonate with as much so I know that Musical Theatre is the path for me. Like Rachel Berry always says, ‘I’m like Tinkerbell, I need applause to live’.
Did you watch any other films or TV shows focusing on performing leading up to your career path decision?
The only other thing I could think of that inspired me along the way is ‘Smash’. I found that much later in my life and it almost served as a grown up ‘Glee’. For me though, nothing compares to Glee and the inspiration it gives me – I’ll always go back to it.
How did you know becoming a singer and performer was something you really wanted to go for rather than a phase because you loved watching the show?
After studying Musical Theatre at sixth form, I decided to follow in Rachel’s footsteps and move away to study at University. Throughout the whole process, I felt like I was imitating her journey in such a special way and it paid off! I now get to do what I love every day and I put it down to the hard work I’ve put in and never giving up.
Ultimately do you think you would have become a performer if it hadn’t been for watching the show?
I thank Glee every day that it has given me the drive to keep going. Once a Gleek, always a Gleek.
I don’t think so, no. Seeing people at the same stage of life as me succeeding and following their dreams was so inspiring. If it wasn’t for Glee, I wouldn’t have gone to Drama School. I thank Glee every day that it has given me the drive to keep going. Once a Gleek, always a Gleek.