On-screen careers that'll get you really excited about the real world

April 13, 2016
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I was thrilled to see Spotlight win the Oscar for Best Picture. As producer Michael Sugar said, the film gives “a voice to survivors” of sexual abuse - making it particularly relevant here in Australia as we proceed with the Royal Commission.

But I also rate the film for another reason. It’s essentially two hours of watching journalists do their jobs really well. Most of the movie is made up of quite ordinary office moments, like team meetings and answering phone calls. You’ve gotta love a film that makes you feel excited about lines like, “I need some background information,” and “Do you mind if I take notes?”

I like films and TV series that portray people expertly doing their jobs. It means I can try on different careers and learn industry-specific lingo – all from the comfort of my couch. Watching people work really hard also makes me feel slightly virtuous, as though I too have just pulled an all-nighter at the office.

Here’s a list of my fave on-screen careers and why you should get excited about them too.

The West Wing

This is my absolute favourite for career voyeurism. I don’t care how dated those ’90s power suits get, I’ll never tire of seeing Jed Bartlet deliver the State of the Union address or watching CJ work the press gaggle. Just one episode of Sam and Josh hurtling along corridors, discussing policy changes at breakneck speed, and I feel like I’ve just survived a whole week at the White House.

I’ve learned so much about American politics from this show. I can now tell you what a “filibuster” is, or explain the significance of the “New Hampshire Primary”. And, whenever I’m feeling gloomy about the current state of political discourse, I just re-watch the Vinick-Santos Presidential debate and feel heartened.

The Newsroom

Even the opening credits of The Newsroom -- with its close up shots of coffee cups, paper clips and USB cables -- will have you wishing you’d chosen a degree in media.

The series is incredibly earnest and will teach you how to discern a well-researched news program from a dodgy one (does it give more than two sources? Are they reliable ones?) and you’ll witness all the hard work and late nights that go into making a news show. And, if you’re like me, you’ll start wondering how you’d look as the next presenter on the nine o’clock news.


This BBC series had me seriously contemplating a postgraduate law degree. I absolutely love the beer-drinking, Yorkshire-bred barrister, Martha Costello. She stays up late into the night reading case briefings, only to dazzle the jury in court the next day. You’ll get an insight into the difference between defense and prosecution lawyers, learn about the role of senior clerks in chambers, and discover what it takes to achieve “silk” (become a Queen’s Counsel).


Suits takes us out of the courtroom and into the backroom deals made before a case ever reaches trial. You’ll learn all about the art of “closing” as you follow Harvey Specter and his sidekick, Mike. This series made me want to put on a pencil skirt and join the glamorous legal team at Pearson Hardman, where exciting moments abound in the staff kitchen, filing room, and at the local bagel stand.

Next up…?

Whether it’s medicine in Grey’s Anatomy or advertising in Mad Men, we’re fascinated by trying on other people’s careers. It’s a rollercoaster ride for those of us who keep changing our minds about what we want to be when we grow up.

It’s all got me thinking, which workplace will inspire the next HBO series? Perhaps one delving into the day-to-day lives of uni lecturers? Picture it: feuds over who gets the corner office, romances blossoming over the photocopier, student plagiarism charges, stolen library books… It could all make for some compelling drama. Who’s with me?

Melinda Cooper

Melinda loves reading on rainy days, drinking cups of tea and making things. She is doing a PhD in English at the University of Sydney. 

Image: Spotlight Movie official Facebook page