“I wish I could go back and tell my 16-year-old self about everything she would grow up to be” – Sophia Alexandra Hall

At the beginning of October I accepted my Student of the Year award from the PPA.

At the beginning of October I accepted my Student of the Year award from the PPA.
I had been nominated by my JDF mentor, Luke Powell, who played a huge part in turning me from the self-proclaimed writing-phobe I was when I started at News Associates last October, into the editor I am today. 

This September, I landed my dream role as content editor at Classic FM. Having spent my career up until this point in the music industry, I was lucky that by choosing to study the NCTJ last year, I had unknowingly put myself on a path that would lead to me joining my favourite childhood radio station. 

However, receiving the award from PPA came at a turbulent time for me, making the moment sort of bittersweet. 

The day before I received my award I was officially diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, an auto-immune condition where my immune system attacks the lining of my joints by mistake. After eight long months of pain, confusion, and frustration as the hands I wrote and typed with began to fail, getting this diagnosis was a huge relief.

In February of this year, I had gradually begun to lose the ability to hold a pen.

Obviously, this is not ideal when you’re trying to reach targets like 60, 80, 100 words per minute in your shorthand class. I seemingly went from being one of the best in my class, to being left behind in a matter of weeks.

I was lucky that News Associates and the JDF were so understanding, and when I came to my teachers in July after three failed shorthand exams (but at that point – no diagnosis) I was allowed to substitute another module in place of the timed exam.

Now three months later, I’m lucky to have been placed with an amazing rheumatologist at a great hospital, and I’m hopeful for the treatments I’m currently receiving. Whilst my course at News Associates finished in August, in my spare time I’m working towards taking a final exam in December, with the support of the JDF, to replace my shorthand module. Should all go well, I’m on track to receive a gold-standard for my NCTJ.

This last year was nothing like I expected it would be – for so many reasons. I loved my course at News Associates (even with all the crying I did over shorthand) and I had the most wonderful opportunities due to what I learned. Whilst at News Associates I had bylines in places like the Sunday Times and Metro UK, my first print front page story at the Byline Times, and I wrote and narrated my first professional video for Good Law Project. Having spent my teenage years in foster care, I never thought this would be the path my life would take; I wish I could go back and tell my 16-year-old self about everything she would grow up to be. 

Whilst finally getting my rheumatoid diagnosis was a huge relief, finding out you have arthritis at 24 does kind of suck. If I’m being honest, it’s made me question my whole career choice. But with everything that’s happened this last year, and everything I’ve achieved, I’m more determined than ever to stay and succeed in journalism, no matter what gets in my way.

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