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Case Study: Elizabeth Garrison

Personal details
Degree:MA (Hons) Mediaeval History & Spanish Profile picture
School(s): School of History, School of Modern Languages
Year of Graduation:Jun-2007
National of: United Kingdom
Employment details
Organisation: Elizabeth Garrison Translations
Job title: Freelance Translator and Reviewer
Occupational Sector: Interpreting/Translation
What has been your route to getting your current position?

After studying Spanish as an undergraduate at St Andrews, I wanted to do a master's in a subject that made use of my language skills, but that was also a route into a profession; I therefore chose to study translation.

What does your job involve ?

As a freelance translator, I work from home and receive job requests for translations and revisions of English texts via e-mail from clients in Spain and the UK. Every job is assigned a deadline, so I must complete the job and return it, again via e-mail, to the client by the deadline.

What are the best bits of your job ?

The best aspects of my job are the fact that every day is different because I work on a different text with each assignment and get to learn new things all the time. Being self-employed also gives you a lot of freedom in terms of choosing what you want to work on and which hours you work, not to mention lots of flexibility when it comes to holidays.

Why were you successful?

Doing an internship with a translation company after I finished my master’s was largely responsible for providing me with a solid foundation for working in this industry. It gave me practical translation experience while being guided by an experienced project manager and former translator, and after I finished the internship I have continued to work with the company on a freelance basis. The fact that I know people in the office personally and the way their workflow runs has been a great advantage, because it can sometimes be difficult only working with ‘virtual’ colleagues via e-mail.

In 2010-11 I spent 9 months working in-house as a project manager for a company in England, which has also helped me as a freelancer because I got to see the translation workflow process from the other side of the translator-project manager relationship and again formed important bonds with my colleagues in the office that have been beneficial now that I have gone back to freelancing.

What skills/ knowledge from your degree have you found particularly helpful in this role?
Obviously Spanish is the most important skill I use in my job, but skills like time management, organization and good writing skills are also essential as well.
What advice would you give to students wishing to follow the same path?

It can be very difficult starting out in the translation industry, so I would say you really need someone who can point you in the right direction, such as a mentor, which you can find through a professional translation association or by doing an internship, or by getting an in-house position as a translator or project manager. Not only can an internship secure you a client for when you go freelance, sometimes you may be offered a full-time role at the company when your internship finishes.

Having experience working as both a translator and a project manager is hugely advantageous as well, because you can put yourself in the other person’s shoes. For example, as a project manager, if the translator has made some mistakes, maybe they’re mistakes you’ve made before as a translator so you can advise them on how to correct these. And as a translator, having been a project manager is really helpful because you know what they’re looking for when they receive applications from new linguists and you have a good understanding of what their job entails, and therefore how you can facilitate their work (e.g. returning jobs on time, being more flexible, etc.).

One of the hardest things about working as a self-employed freelancer is being on your own most of the time. I would therefore recommend joining a professional translation association (such as the Institute of Translation and Interpreting), which usually has regional branches so you can meet other translators in your area. I regularly meet up with two other translators who live locally, which fills in some of the gaps left by not working with others face to face on a daily basis. It gives us an opportunity to talk about work issues since we don't work in an office setting where you can bounce ideas off other people, as well as the social aspect that other jobs can provide.

Another difficult aspect is not having set working hours or a steady income. Not having set hours is great in some respects because you don’t have to wake up early every morning and deal with a commute, but sometimes you can be up until 1 am working on an urgent job, then have to be up working again at 8 am. And while it's great to be able to take holidays whenever you want, you have to remember that any time you don't work, you're not earning anything, so it can be stressful trying to do enough work to compensate for time off, and you also must remember that even when you are available, work is never guaranteed. You therefore need quite a lot of discipline because you have to be prepared to do the work when it’s there, even if it means some evening and weekend work, and you need to budget well to compensate for times when you don't have much work and therefore not much income.