What happens to studytubers once they stop studying?

After graduation, most of us want to forget about revision. But for the vloggers who built a following around being students, it's less simple.

by Tom Haynes
|
05 October 2021, 9:36am

Imagery via YouTube

For most teenagers, the idea of sitting down for hours on end studying is Hell on Earth, so why anyone would want to watch videos of someone else doing it is a fair question. But in 2017, when 18-year-old Ruby Granger sat down to record a day of A-level revision on her YouTube channel, over three million people tuned in to pore over her stationary and diary, and watch her cram 14 hours of revision into one day. Many found the content soothing (one comment reads “I cried watching this”), while others found solace in watching someone else do the work they were personally avoiding. “I’m procrastinating watching someone being productive,” another comment on the video reads.

Ruby, now 21,  first began uploading revision tips — and Hermione Granger impressions — to her YouTube when she was only 15, then reaching a tiny audience of around 100 subscribers, many of whom she has kept in contact with even six years later. But by the time she’d entered Year 13, and began studying for her A-levels (the final exams that UK students take before finishing school and going off to university) that number had swelled to over 5,000. Brands inevitably came calling, offering her money for sponsored content.

“It became overwhelming,” recalls Ruby, who initially turned down the companies approaching her, citing imposter syndrome. “I started worrying about my privacy. You hear horror stories.” But even without the sponcon, Ruby’s studying videos clearly paid off. In 2018, she made her way to Exeter University, now with over 100,000 subscribers in tow, having signed with a talent management agency who would negotiate contracts on her behalf and provide light pastoral support.

As Ruby’s subscriber count continued to grow, so too did a community of like-minded YouTubers - soon dubbed StudyTubers by The Times. For some viewers, this brand of content engenders a morbid fascination; a window into a level of productivity they know would be beyond them, even if they tried emulating Ruby Granger’s hyper-itemised daily routines. Think of it as the educational equivalent of watching a Let’s Play for a game you could feasibly buy and play yourself.  Alternatively, as one StudyTuber suggests, some viewers find the revision tips and university vlogs made by their peers far more useful than online resources “made by someone who graduated years ago”. Speaking on the phone from Buckinghamshire, Ruby says, “It’s strange StudyTube took until 2018 to come about in the first place. “Everyone’s a student at some time in their life,” she points out.

These creators quickly cornered the market for similar video formats, some of which Ruby popularised herself: hours-long study-with-me streams; revision tips; day-in-the-life vlogs at university; and live reactions to grades. It may be a niche subculture within the ecosystem that is YouTube vloggers, but with over 600,000 YouTube subscribers and 162,000 Instagram followers, Ruby is a bonafide influencer in her own right. As she approaches her final year of university though, she’s now facing an interesting question: what becomes of a StudyTuber once they stop studying?

It’s a problem familiar to 22-year-old Jack Edwards, a fellow StudyTuber who graduated from Durham University last year. Though Jack came later to the game than Ruby, kicking off his channel just before his undergrad, he also struck YouTube gold with vlogs about university life, which proved particularly popular with school age audiences eager for a sneak peek into uni culture. What had started as a passion project soon ballooned into an audience of over 100,000 subscribers. Within a year of study, Jack had also roped in an agent to manage the commercial opportunities in his inbox, which he says initially felt strange. “The paradox of StudyTube is you make a reputation around being a normal and relatable student. The thing is, once you start making money and having an audience, you’re no longer an ordinary student.”

As Jack neared the end of his degree, the question of what would become of his YouTube channel and its 700,000 subscribers weighed heavily on his mind. “It triggered an identity crisis for me,” he recalls. “Obviously it’s very weird leaving a thing that you've formed an online identity around. I've done books and podcasts about uni — it was so tied to me as a person. Losing that strand of my life meant losing part of my online identity as well.”

In the end, Jack’s online platform pivoted naturally to “talking about books and popular culture” and documenting his struggle looking for his first grad job. Now working as a research assistant, Jack still makes videos looking back on his time as a student, but he’s done with the studying content of his university days. He’s set to fly to Paris to begin a screenwriting course, but firmly shuts down the possibility of returning to StudyTube. “I think, for me, that door is closed,” he says. “I think it stops becoming relevant to your life and that’s when you stop enjoying it. When I was 20 and revising for exams it made sense to share those tips but now I’m onto new things.”

Both Jack and Ruby confess they are unsure of what their careers hold as they move further and further away from university. But for 24-year-old Eve Cornwell, there was always an end goal in mind. Eve studied law at Bristol University and created the usual StudyTube content around her time there. Though the subject matter was niche it found an audience of hundreds of thousands very quickly. Like Jack and Ruby, she signed to talent representation after a botched attempt at negotiating her first brand deal. Thanks to her YouTube earnings Eve was able to pay her own rent in London after graduating and even had enough left over to spend time travelling. “I wouldn’t have been able to do any of that without YouTube,” she says. “Living in London is disgustingly expensive so it definitely did help.”

Now, having just qualified for a job at a prestigious law firm after two years of full-time work, Eve no longer describes herself as a StudyTuber, rather “a lawyer who sometimes talks about her experience online”. She still, however, uploads the odd video documenting her life in the world of work. But as the hours become more gruelling, the space for YouTube is shrinking. “I sleep and do law essentially,” Eve admits. “If I want to make a YouTube video it means I don't get a day off in a seven-day week.”

While a trainee, Eve tried to manage both her career alongside uploading videos, knowing her audience were impatient to see evidence of the job she had spent so long publicly preparing for. “It’s that funny drop off point where you’ve told a lot of people about your life for a really long time and so they’re finally seeing you get to the job you wanted, then there’s radio silence from you and you don’t really tell people about what it’s like.”

Finding less and less time for YouTube, Eve has moved onto TikTok and Instagram Reels, where content can be knocked out in an hour as opposed to three working days while reaching bigger audiences. But why does Eve bother with any of this? Financially, she has little incentive to keep making content at all. But she argues her videos help to demystify some of the institutional barriers of entering the legal profession. “I talk a lot about being queer. I talk a lot about gender. I can talk about race,” she says. “I hope I have the opportunity to help a lot of people enter an industry that previously they might not have considered.”

Ruby, meanwhile, is candid about how she will one day age out of the style of video that made her famous. “There’s an expiry date on study content,” she admits. “I do still have advice to share with university and secondary school students, but subconsciously I know I'm probably not going to be creating that content next year.”

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YouTube
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