Since graduating in 2018, AFTRS alum and ABC Selwyn Speight scholarship recipient Pariya Taherzadeh has built a successful career in audio storytelling, picking up several prestigious prizes along the way. She is now giving back to help the next generation of audio storytellers, partnering with AFTRS to launch the $20,000 Pariya Taherzadeh Radio & Podcasting Scholarship. Speaking with AFTRS, Pariya discusses the exciting new opportunity, reflects on her career so far, and shares tips for anyone interested in applying.
AFTRS: What have you been up to since graduating from AFTRS? What are some of the highlights?
PARIYA TAHERZADEH: I graduated about four years ago and was fortunate enough to go straight into a full-time paying job with the ABC. That was where I got the opportunity to pitch the idea for Escape From Iran for The History Listen, and got to interview my mom and tell my family’s story of fleeing the country. I ended up getting gold in History and then silver in Social Issues at the New York Festival Radio Awards. It was so great that what I’d learnt from AFTRS then translated to ABC and led to being recognised with the award.
Since then, I worked with Mamma Mia as a junior podcast producer, which was an amazing experience, but having started 10 days before the pandemic hit, I had to suddenly learn everything while I was at home. It was a bit daunting, but helped me realise that if I was learning and doing a majority of the work on my own and remotely, I could do this for myself. So, I decided to start out on my own.
I’ve been freelancing for about two years now and have several different clients. And I have to hustle for them. I had to get in contact with everybody that I knew, and all the contacts I made through AFTRS. I can’t tell you how much I love AFTRS. They’ve really, really helped me really get to where I am today.
AFTRS: What made you want to pursue a career in radio and podcasting?
PT: When I was younger, I always wanted to be on TV or in entertainment. I got to an age where I was working in a very corporate world. I got to my thirties and was like, “I hate every single one of these jobs.” They were great, but I never really, deep down inside, wanted to do any of them and I was just never happy. I was like, “This has to change because my mother didn’t leave a really repressive country for me to come here and hate my job every morning and not want to go”. That’s when I started to branch out and ask myself what I really wanted to do, and how I could get there.
I did my research and thought, “Okay, well, I have a mortgage to pay, I have all of these bills and I have responsibilities. How am I going to get to where I want to get?”. I thought that radio would probably be a bit easier to get into than TV, so I started to work out a plan of how to get there. In order to get there and still have a paying job, studying wasn’t a possibility for me, I had to start by working in media of any sort and then move into radio.
I was in Fairfax Media working as sales admin for a year, then, worked in a radio job at Today FM for a year and a half, but it wasn’t doing me any favours, it was a very intense job, and my mental health was not able to take it anymore. I needed to get somewhere quicker, and I was not going to give up, so I looked into AFTRS.
AFTRS: You’re also a guest lecturer at AFTRS and have been mentoring some of the students. How has that been, going from being the student to now the teacher?
PT: It blows my mind. I would have never thought, five years down the track, I’d be here. I probably have massive imposter syndrome too and I find that most women do, but mine is also based on culture as well. We don’t do this kind of stuff in my culture. In the Iranian culture, you’re either a doctor or a lawyer or something that. So for me to have all these skills that I learnt from AFTRS and in the industry, that I can now teach future podcasters or radio performers is a privilege.
I think it’s an absolute testament to exactly how AFTRS does so well in teaching their courses. Whether it’s online or face-to-face, it’s delivered in such an amazing, beneficial way for industry. Every step of the way is very practical.
AFTRS: And since AFTRS, you’ve been able to absorb so much that you can now pass on to the students who are just starting out.
PT: Yeah, I always tell them, “Good luck on Show Radio!”, because it scares you, but it also is so good for you at the same time. It’s a lot to take in. In our year (2018) we started Show Radio three weeks into our course. And at the time there was a bit of anxiety, but looking back, it was so much fun.
I can completely understand how the students feel every step of the way because I was there, and I felt what they feel. I can explain how I dealt with the course and give advice on how I’d go about doing things. And I think that’s where it becomes beneficial for the students who would be like “Oh, yeah, Pariya was doing the course not long ago, so I kind of trust her.” Hopefully.
AFTRS: What inspired you to launch the Pariya Taherzadeh Radio & Podcasting Scholarship? Did your experiences as a scholarship recipient contribute to that?
PT: When I was looking into AFTRS, my husband suggested I go for the scholarship, and at the Open Day, Lisa Sweeney – AFTRS’ then Head of Radio – mentioned the scholarship to me. I really didn’t think that I was going to get it, but I applied for it and was just so amazed when I did. It was such a relief. It helped me pay my mortgage for a whole year and made such a difference going into the course and not having to worry so much about the financial aspect of it.
That’s why I wanted to launch this scholarship and give someone an opportunity for next year’s course. For anyone who really wants to get into this field and will make an effort to do so, this can help them in one way or another because Australia isn’t a cheap country to live in and even the smallest amount does help.
If the Graduate Diploma in Radio wasn’t such a helpful course, I wouldn’t have wanted to be a part of giving someone the opportunity to do it. Having received support for my studies through a scholarship, I saw this as an opportunity to continue that and give someone else the opportunity.
AFTRS: In addition to financial support, what are you hoping the recipient will get out of this?
PT: Experience. The course is so hands-on, and a part of this scholarship is an optional internship to gain experience working with me. Interning while I was at AFTRS, and as part of the scholarship was what I found very, very beneficial. I was able to put all the theory that I learned in class into practice on an everyday level. Radio and podcasting are very intense and have a high, quick turnover, and the things that you learn when you are doing the work experience are what I think make such a difference, whether you’re doing an internship here with me or with a different company, radio station, podcasting agency, or wherever it may be.
AFTRS: Who would be the ideal candidate for this scholarship?
PT: The scholarship essentially is for anyone that’s going through any kind of hardship or any experience within life that they’re finding it difficult to be able to study and this will be a catalyst for them to start their career. Essentially, it’s a radio and podcasting scholarship specifically for AFTRS’ Graduate Diploma in Radio and Podcasting and it’s a maximum of $20,000 for the scholarship. But if we have a couple of great candidates, we’re willing to split that and make it $10,000 each because we want to be able to give those people an opportunity to grow, and I don’t think that it should be one over the other. The idea is, that if you’re having difficulty in life and you’re experiencing hardship, you can apply for it. If you have a difficult background, for example refugee status, or if you come from a culturally and linguistically diverse background, you’re living with disability, or dealing with any hardship related to socioeconomic status, and so on, this is an opportunity to apply for the scholarship.
AFTRS: What advice would you give to anyone who’s thinking of applying?
PT: I can only go by what got me into the course and my experience and that of a lot of other people that were in my class. While I was in the radio industry, I wasn’t directly working on air, but I made sure that I really integrated myself and learned as much as I could. I asked around and was seeing if anyone needed an assistant content producer or even someone on the street team to learn about radio in that sense.
I also made sure that I found opportunities that got me to do some hosting on the side, for example, I did an online radio show on Sunday mornings at 5:30, and I used a lot of that as proof of my commitment to wanting to get into this course. You don’t have to already have a degree in the area, specifically. I came from a background in social science, counselling, and psychology. As long as you have the commitment and you are proving to AFTRS that you will and you want to make something of it in terms of a career, then, that’s all, really, we can ask for. We just want to make sure that the scholarship is actually going to someone who it will help. That’s the whole point.
Read more about the Pariya Taherzadeh Radio & Podcasting Scholarship and how to apply here.