A creative career with IBM

Graham White graduated from the University of Exeter in BSc (Hons) Computer Science and Management Science in 2000, and has been working for IBM for 20 years since joining their graduate programme. 

Graham White, Certified Expert Technical Specialist, Emerging Technologies (IBM Research)

I work for IBM in the world-renowned IBM Research division. My focus is applied research within the Emerging Technologies group. In this role, I generally take new technology to our clients as part of a first-of-kind project which is always hugely interesting and very exciting. It is extremely varied as I can be talking to a client about a particular solution in the morning and in the afternoon I might be working on some fundamental research with my university partners. Hence, people in my job are typically very broadly knowledgeable and enthusiastic about technology but also have at least one area of deep technical skill.

It’s hard to pick just a few, but I wanted to share 3 projects I’ve been involved with in recent years:

 

  • I was involved with creating a system to automatically translate spoken English into British Sign Language. The project was created by IBM interns under the Extreme Blue programme (for which I would encourage everyone reading this to consider signing up to) that hooks up experienced technical people from IBM to mentor students during a summer project. Rather than describe it in detail, take a look at this 15 second clip to get a rough idea or listen to Helen explain it. Helen has since gone on to become one of the managers in my department. This is still one of the project we get asked about on a regular basis.

 

  • During 2018 I worked on a system to enhance rail travel codenamed Stepping Stone for people with disabilities and older people. This group of passengers find it harder to travel by train, and can often be extremely anxious while travelling. My solution was to create a mobile application that walks the passenger through their journey but does so by continuously linking them with a member of staff. So they can ask questions, get help, meet up with passenger service assistants and anything else they want at any point during their journey. It’s a bit like a WhatsApp type of interface where people can chat to station staff and staff on the train. It detects when they arrive at a station and contains a lot of features resulting from accessibility research so it can be used by people with visual or hearing difficulties, people with physical disabilities, learning difficulties, or older people.

 

  • A more commercial example of something very creative I’ve done is through our partnership with the Knorr food company. They approached us for help with a marketing campaign and through a period of consulting with them we came up with the idea of profiling flavours. The idea and tech we needed to implement involved working out the flavour profile in two respects: how people experience flavour and which ones they prefer; and which flavours different foods contain. In a broad sense, this allowed us to come up with a mapping between preferred flavour and different foods. It allowed Knorr to recommend certain products to particular individuals based entirely on the science behind which flavours they are most likely to enjoy.

 

To give a little more background to my career, starting from when I graduated with a Computer Science and Management Science degree, I still wasn’t entirely sure what career I wanted. I had narrowed my options to management consulting or computer programming. I applied for a few roles but was really attracted to IBM as it fitted my preference of a more technical job. After a 1 day interview in London and 2 day assessment centre in Winchester I was offered a place on the graduate scheme and started work at the rather lovely IBM Hursley on 4 September 2000. The site has a similar stately home history and campus feel to it as the Streatham Campus.

I formed the first Linux support team when the company invested $1 billion in transforming the IBM product line to work on Linux. My job was to provide support to the 3000 people working on site and consisted of being away from my desk a lot, either in a huge machine room working on servers or at people’s desks helping them more directly with one-to-one support. Since then, I have worked in a number of different roles that have taken me around the world. I have set up and worked on some of the world’s fastest super computers (they all run Linux); helped scientists crack some particularly hard problems such as mapping the human genome, weather prediction, seismic surveying and nuclear simulation; worked on teaching computers how to understand human speech, something we now fashionably call machine learning or artificial intelligence.

For more information about careers at IBM, see our website: https://www.ibm.com/uk-en/employment/

 

Alumn Profile – Liz Sherratt, Lifing Development Manager, Rolls-Royce

In celebration of International Women’s Day we’re profiling Liz Sherratt, who graduated from the University of Exeter in Mechanical Engineering 2009. She is currently Lifing Development Manager for Rolls-Royce

Liz Sherratt, Exeter alumn and Lifing Development Manager for Rolls-Royce

What have you been doing since leaving Exeter, and what are you doing now?               

Following graduation I joined the Rolls-Royce Civil Aerospace graduate scheme. The scheme places graduates around different parts of the Civil Aerospace business so they understand the various functions and how they work together to deliver engines to market and service those engines.

During these placements I worked within Development Engineering which I particularly enjoyed and so I returned to this area upon completion of the scheme. Development Engineering define and deliver the testing required to demonstrate new engines are suitable for entry into service and that changes to existing engines are acceptable. During my time in Development I worked on engine tests, both in the UK and abroad, and completed flight test campaigns to make changes to the engine mounted hydraulic system. After a couple of years in this role I took on a team lead position where I lead a small team delivering changes to the compressors of the Trent 900 as part of an improved efficiency package. Within these roles I got hands on experience of gas turbine engine hardware, build procedures as well as gaining an understanding of the airworthiness regulations and how to demonstrate compliance.

“I choose this career because of Rolls-Royce’s reputation as a leader within the aerospace industry and the complex and innovative nature of the products they produce. Almost 10 years later I still enjoy the varied nature of the work and the fact that I am constantly learning.”

Looking to increase my breadth of knowledge I moved into the Engineering for Services function taking on the role of Trent 900 Lifecycle Engineering (LCE) Team Lead. In this role I lead a team understanding and resolving issues encountered by the Trent 900 airline customers in service, from simple questions about how to interpret maintenance instructions to understanding why an in-service event has happened. I was involved in leading root cause investigations and working directly with airline powerplant teams, as well as with the aircraft manufacturer and the airworthiness authorities. This role evolved into leading the LCE team responsible for ensuring a new version of the Trent 900 engine would be mature at the point it entered service and thus free from reliability issues throughout its life.

Currently I am the Lifing Development Manager within Engineering for Services. This role is about managing any in service issues with engine critical parts and delivering new methods for predicting component life in service. This role sits across the different engine projects with an overview on how we best use the data we get from our engines to accurately predict when those engines need to be removed from wing thus improving operational reliability and getting the most life from our parts.

The next time you go on holiday it could be Liz’s team keeping you in the air! Photo credit: Hrishit Jangra (Unsplash)

 

Why did you choose this career? And what do you enjoy most about your work?            

I choose this career because of Rolls-Royce’s reputation as a leader within the aerospace industry and the complex and innovative nature of the products they produce. Almost 10 years later I still enjoy the varied nature of the work and the fact that I am constantly learning. Working in such a large company allows for lots of different opportunities and Rolls-Royce are very supportive of people moving into new areas. We also have many people who have chosen to focus on one area for a long time and are experts in their field, and they are always happy to share their knowledge.

 

Were you a member of any societies, groups or sports clubs?  

I was a member of the University climbing club throughout my time at Exeter and was club captain in my final year. This gave me lots of useful skills outside of my degree and was a brilliant source of examples for competency based interviews.

What did you enjoy most about your programme and what was the biggest highlight?

I very much enjoyed the various group projects like the pelton wheel in the first year and the buggy project in the second year. Overall my biggest highlight was the individual project in the penultimate year as I found getting really stuck into something novel where I was completely responsible for the direction really engaging.

 

What did you enjoy most about studying here?               

In terms of the university as a whole I think the location was a real highlight, near the sea and Dartmoor and with a lovely campus environment. In terms of my degree I always found the staff very supportive and enjoyed the range of different modules.

 

“Do everything you can to keep your options open. This includes taking and making all the opportunities you can in terms of work experience, year in industry, summer placements and applying as early as possible for graduate jobs. If you have a really strong desire to end up in a particular place keep trying; I have been involved in interviewing for Rolls-Royce and we would always encourage someone to seek feedback if they are unsuccessful and to try again the next year. Also go and speak with the university careers office, they offer good advice for applications and interviews.”

 

Why did you choose to study at Exeter?              

I was initially not sure about the type of Engineering I wanted to go into so the general first year allowing me to keep my options open until I had an improved understanding of the various disciplines is what particularly appealed to me about Exeter. Additionally I attended an ‘Insight into Engineering’ course at Exeter during my A-Levels and found the University and department very welcoming, this definitely influenced my decision.

 

What skills and experiences have been most useful for your career?    

I think you pick up a lot of the specific knowledge you need for your role when you start, however university really prepared me for teaching myself and being able to learn efficiently. Things like learning how to read research papers, write clear, concise reports and present well have all stood me in good stead at work. Also the group work that you do throughout your degree prepares you for the teamwork required in most Engineering roles.

 

What advice would you give to a current student who wishes to pursue your career?   

Do everything you can to keep your options open. This includes taking and making all the opportunities you can in terms of work experience, year in industry, summer placements and applying as early as possible for graduate jobs. If you have a really strong desire to end up in a particular place keep trying; I have been involved in interviewing for Rolls-Royce and we would always encourage someone to seek feedback if they are unsuccessful and to try again the next year. Also go and speak with the university careers office, they offer good advice for applications and interviews.

 

What are your plans for the future?      

Given the range of opportunities at Rolls-Royce I don’t currently have any plans to move on. So far I have taken roles based on the learning available, thinking I would enjoy them and that I could add value to the team and I plan to continue in this way. There are a few specific jobs I have my eye on but like to keep my options open.

 

Do you have any tips or advice for beginning a career or working in your industry/sector?          

For starters apply early; applications are reviewed on a first come, first served basis so the earlier you apply the better chance you have – start looking in the summer before your final year and apply early in the first term. The same goes for summer and 12 month internships. Beyond this I would follow what you enjoy as I think people perform best doing jobs they enjoy.

Teaching English in China

Natasha Lock is a Yenqing Scholar at Peking University. She graduated in BA History, International Relations and Mandarin Chinese from the University of Exeter. 

Natasha Lock Yenqing Scholar at Peking University and Exeter graduate

I have been studying Mandarin Chinese for eight years and during this period I have been interested in the etymology of Mandarin, the history of China and contemporary political status of the country.

I’ve been extremely lucky to have spent the past five years back and forth from China – traveling, working and studying. I started with a family trip to China in 2013 and was fascinated by the country I had set foot in.

There seemed to be an energy here that was totally different from any other country I had been to, and a real connection between the past and the present. I followed this with a government study scholarship for short programmes (one/two months) spent in Shanghai and Nanjing during my university holidays. Then in 2016, I moved to Beijing for a year to study at Peking University. Since graduating in the summer of 2018, I have stayed in Asia, first to travel, then working for a manufacturing company based down in Southern China.

“Teaching in China has definitely taught me to chase a more hands-on job where I can interact with people, continue to learn and attempt to share my experiences and understandings with others. Academia is incredibly powerful, meaningful and allows for constant learning.”

Transferable skills

Teaching has been an incredible experience. It has allowed me first-hand access to see how the next generation of Chinese doctors, lawyers, academics and workers have spent their teenage education. Study pressures are both real and worrying. As a result, during my role as a teacher I’ve really tried to focus on addressing some of these issues. I try to pursue discussion-based learning, study topics that require the students to ‘think outside the box’ and do not set my students homework. I am also using my teaching experience in China to develop my Mandarin and fulfill my travel desires. There are breaks between lessons and I never work later than 5pm. This leaves a lot of time to study Mandarin, go out with friends and on the weekends and numerous national holidays, travel within China.

Teaching students in China feels like a real privilege. Whilst I am employed to teach the students, I also learn a great deal from them. Leaving school every day knowing that I’ve made a direct difference to someone’s day is extremely fulfilling and rewarding. Teaching certainly builds confidence and character. Standing in front of 50 teenagers for 4 hours each day demands lots of energy, organisation and drive.

The world famous Shanghai skyline

After the programme 

Since 2019 I have been a Yenqing Scholar at Peking University. The Yenqing Academy is an elite fellowship China Studies master’s programme that is fully funded. It takes 125 scholars from all over the world and teaches them in both core modules and their selected academic discipline. The Academy also organizes field studies to culturally, economically, and socio-politically significant regions within China.

The Yenqing Academy programme will be an intense two years of study concerning the International Relations of China and will facilitate my wish to become a more knowledgeable scholar and a better Mandarin speaker. In the past, I have found studying International Relations within China and from a Sino perspective to be absolutely fascinating. Furthermore studying this subject in a country so essential to International Relations is a unique privilege. Studying about China within the nation state has previously been extremely interesting, as aspects of politics were analysed from a Sino perspective and outside of class I could see the very case studies that were being utilized within my course.

Teaching in China has definitely taught me to chase a more hands-on job where I can interact with people, continue to learn and attempt to share my experiences and understandings with others. Academia is incredibly powerful, meaningful and allows for constant learning. Following the masters programme at Peking University, I wish to pursue PhD level studies. It is imperative that leading Sino specialists understand China’s past, present and future – looking at these behaviours through both Chinese and international perspectives. Subsequently I hope to use what I have learned throughout my career in academia or diplomatic consultancy. This balance between Chinese and international perspectives will be essential to bridge the gap between academic research and international policy-making.

Find out more about the programmes offered by Teach English In China or email info@teach-english-in-china.co.uk

Starting your career as an NHS Doctor

Luke Tester graduated from the University of Exeter Medical School in 2018. He’s currently working as a Doctor in the NHS. 

Luke Tester, Exeter alumn and NHS Doctor

Working as doctor in the NHS means that I’ve had four-monthly rotations and have worked in acute medicine, gastroenterology, geriatrics and general practice. These roles have included running ward rounds, being on-call for a hospital out-of-hours (approximately 250 patients for 2-3 doctors), ordering investigations and interpreting their results, responding to medical emergencies, and currently running GP clinics and seeing patients with a vast range of presentations – from tropical diseases, to new diagnoses of cancer, to minor illnesses, and the worried well.

I’ve seized numerous other opportunities, and have become a Trustee for a medium-sized social wellbeing charity that runs a befriending service, a social prescribing service, and a volunteering scheme. I led a medical student education programme (‘Foundation Teaching for Finals’) which taught final year medical students from Brighton & Sussex Medical School twice a week to prepare them for their final exams; I was a one-on-one mentor for academically struggling students from Kings College London; I am faculty for a state-of-the-art simulation suite for medical students, nursing students and student physician associates; I have taught volunteers from around Sussex first aid so that they can serve their communities, and more in the healthcare education sector.

I’ve also been part of a national St John Ambulance steering group responsible for the delivery of a £525,625 grant to provide 1,500 more spaces in the 35% most deprived areas for young people to become Badgers and Cadets and receive first aid training and other life skills. I’ve now joined a national prescribing working group for St John Ambulance. I have advocated for first aid, health, volunteering, community and young people at national conferences.

“I fell in love with the complexities of the human body and how I can directly work with people to improve their lives. I love the ever-changing, ever-evolving nature of healthcare and that front-line staff can drive improvement and innovation.”

Whilst at school I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. During my year 10 work experience I considered law and worked in a magistrates court; I considered business and worked in the City of London; and I considered medicine and worked in a hospital’s colorectal department – and became hooked. I fell in love with the complexities of the human body and how I can directly work with people to improve their lives. I love the ever-changing, ever-evolving nature of healthcare and that front-line staff can drive improvement and innovation. I enjoy working in teams to directly solve a problem, a diagnostic challenge or a treatment complexity. The detective work involved is enjoyable and satisfying, particularly with acute and emergency medicine where you can work to fix a problem and get instant results. Of course, not all problems are fixable, and communication is a big part of the role which presents its own satisfactions and challenges. Delivering end-of-life care and supporting both families and individuals through their physical, emotional and spiritual needs is very rewarding.

Next year I hope to work as an Educational Fellow in the Royal Sussex County Hospital’s Emergency Department. This involves working clinically in the major trauma centre’s high-intensity ED two-thirds of the time, and completing a PGCE for one-third of the time. This will allow me to experience emergency medicine and decide whether I want to pursue it as a career, as well as giving me the tools to become a better clinical educator.

University of Exeter Medical School was brand new and built on the experience of every other UK system, learning and adapting to provide the best course it could. It recruited the best staff from other universities, is in a beautiful part of the world, and used a modern, integrated, cyclical learning structure.

“Medicine is a significant commitment. You will have to work unsocial shifts, be in training for at least 10 years and face sights and experiences on a regular basis that you hope others will never witness. However, it comes with great satisfaction and challenge… working in medicine is a hard-earned privilege.”

The staff were always supportive, approachable and knowledgeable. The location is beautiful, and the lecturers are some of the best in the world. The small group work, logical course structure and constant feedback all made it easy to learn. I loved the significant amount of clinical contact that the UEMS Medicine course included from the very first week, which allowed me to develop as not just a scientist but as a clinician and professional.

Medicine is a significant commitment. You will have to work unsocial shifts, be in training for at least 10 years (and possibly 20+ years), and face sights and experiences on a regular basis that you hope others will never witness. However, it comes with great satisfaction and challenge, and working in medicine is a hard-earned privilege. Ensure you have done your research and make sure that the job is right for you, and that you are willing to make may be a life-long commitment. Seize every opportunity you can, and never stop trying to develop yourself. You’re not just learning for you – you’re learning for your patients. Ask for help whenever you need it. You are not expected to know everything and there is always support available.

Creative Business

Emma Hooton graduated from the University of Exeter in 1993 and now runs Studio Hooton an interior design studio based in Winchester

Emma Hooton – Exeter Alumn and owner of Studio Hooton

I remember my time at Exeter in the nineties fondly – it was an idyllic place to study with a great sense of community on and off campus – you’d always see a friendly face when you walked to lectures.  The social life was fantastic too, with some of my favourite memories being fun gatherings in students’ cottages in the depths of the surrounding countryside or down on the coast at weekends.

I started my Classics degree whilst settling in to Hope Hall and absolutely loved the variety it gave me from philosophy and poetry to art and architecture, all of which appealed to my creative side which I went on to develop in my career.

It wasn’t a typical career path in that I came out of my degree without a clear plan which seems to be part of the journey as you find your way to where you want to be.  I worked in a consumer PR agency in Covent Garden as my first job before moving onto sales and recruitment roles as they seemed to suit my nature, working with people in fast paced environments and jetting around the city.

“I learnt so much from my time at Exeter, not just about the inspirational world of Classics, but also independence, confidence and self-motivation which have stood me in good stead for setting up and running my own business.”

I then decided to take a year out travelling in my late twenties which I still value as one of my greatest experiences and it seems more and more that it really doesn’t matter when you take your gap year these days, post-university is as acceptable and beforehand.

It was in my early 30s that I decided to undertake a year’s diploma at KLC, one of the best interior design colleges in London.  This was to help me firm up my pathway into the industry which was helped by a prestigious Exeter degree.

Following my design course I consolidated my CV with experience at a top interior designer in London where I learnt so much about running a business and the design world I was entering into.

One of Studio Hooton’s design projects

After around 3 years I decided to set up my own practice here in Winchester 8 years ago and have a team of five talented people working with me.  Establishing your own business can be challenging but it’s ultimately very rewarding and overall a lot of fun, especially in the creative industry.

We work on big country house projects across Hampshire, Berkshire, Surrey and London and often these are historic with classical elements of the ancient architecture I learned about at Exeter, so it gave me a good grounding of knowledge for the buildings we are working on every day.

The business is going strong and we are all passionate about the designs we are carrying out, from the very technical lighting drawings to the all-important furniture and furnishings.  We love working with people and reaching the full potential of properties, both old and new.

I learnt so much from my time at Exeter, not just about the inspirational world of Classics, but also independence, confidence and self-motivation which have stood me in good stead for setting up and running my own business.

Tips for setting up your own creative business:

  • Network locally and online – Instagram is one of the best platforms for creatives
  • Ask for advice from suppliers and craftsmen you work with – there is so much you can learn from collaborating
  • Constantly work on evolving your design work to stay fresh and at the top of the market

If you’re interested in setting up your own business while you’re a student the Think Try Do team will be able to help.

Creative Visualisation

Henry White graduated from the University of Exeter in BA English, 2012. He’s currently Photography and Videography Editor for P&O Ferries. 

Henry White, Exeter Alumn, and current Photography and Videography Editor for P&O Ferries

After graduating, I moved to London and worked for children’s charity Action for Children as a web content editor. The role gradually involved more and more photography and video production and after two years my job was formally changed to Multimedia Editor and I took up full responsibility for video and photo production. After five years with Action for Children, I moved into management for The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust as Digital Content Manager. This job didn’t really suit my interests or passions, taking me away from the practical creation of imagery, so after four months I secured a new job, with P&O, and moved to the south coast to start my new role, plus get some fresh sea air and a quieter life away from London. I now work for P&O Ferries as Photography and Videography Editor, responsible for all of the company’s imagery across social media, advertising, B2B and internal comms. This can be as varied as filming stories about crews working on the North Sea to making stickers and animated gifs for Instagram posts, or photographing hazardous waste being shipped between Ireland and Belgium. No day is the same and there is huge variety. I am also gaining loads of new skills and even being trained in seafaring practices to help me do my job whilst at sea. From my desk, I can see France across the English Channel, but more often than not I’ll be scrambling around a mooring deck or deep in an engine room, trying to take photos or capture footage for the next bit of promotional work. It’s good fun.

“I’m responsible for all of the company’s imagery across social media, advertising, B2B and internal comms. This can be as varied as filming stories about crews working on the North Sea to making stickers and animated gifs for Instagram posts, or photographing hazardous waste being shipped between Ireland and Belgium.”

Why did you choose this career? And what do you enjoy most about your work?            

I studied A Level photography, and always enjoyed creating images and capturing those moments. It just seemed like a natural thing to do – to be the fly on the wall recording events for posterity, or amusement, or to share with others. I like the idea of capturing things which future generations will find useful or interesting to view, and being able to tell stories about the world we currently live in.

Were a member of any societies, groups or sports clubs?           

Exeposé Photography Editor 2010-2011, then Exeposé Editor 2011-2012.

What did you enjoy most about your time at Exeter?    

The course was varied and had enough modules to cater for all interests, especially in some more niche areas. I still find myself using knowledge I gained on the course, although annoyingly nobody has ever asked to see my Degree Certificate. Overall, it definitely helped me to better understand ways of interpreting our world, interpreting motivations and viewpoints, and to work independently and efficiently.

What skills and experiences have been most useful for your career?

Patience, perseverance and resilience. Sometimes you won’t hit a target, or a project you work on goes wrong. Sometimes technology lets you down. The ability to bounce back and try harder, adapt plans and aims, or to completely switch directions is fundamental to doing well. The seeds of these skills are sewn at university; when doing research for essays, preparing for exams, failing to achieve the mark you wanted, or just struggling to juggle workloads, they all teach valuable lessons for the future.

“The creative arts sector is incredibly cutthroat and challenging, even for established people, but never, ever work for free – it simply devalues yourself and makes it harder to start charging at a later date.”

Do you have any advice for beginning a career in your area?

Practice; anyone can buy a camera and use it, but creating imagery which works for your audience, which sells a product or tells the exact story you want to, takes practice and hard work. For every good image you take, there will have been 100 bad ones previously, so go out with your camera, set yourself clear aims and briefs, and try to achieve them over and over again, getting better each time. Nobody ever stops learning, especially with modern technology changing so fast, so practice what you do, watch what others do, and evolve your skills.

The creative arts sector is incredibly cutthroat and challenging, even for established people, but never, ever work for free – it simply devalues yourself and makes it harder to start charging at a later date. If other people want to work for free, that’s up to them, but know your worth and stick to it, it’ll work out better for you in the long run. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to work for money – time, favours and experience are all types of currency, especially when starting out. You may find you can provide someone with photography in return for drinks/food and travel costs. This gives you the chance to show off your skills, make connections and practice your craft. If it goes well then the next time they hire you, they may pay in cash instead. Stick with it, find another job to cover your costs if you need to, and practice constantly. But set yourself realistic goals too. If you haven’t got to where you want to in five years, 10 years etc., then change your approach. Be realistic about your chances, options and abilities, if you fixate on one area or idea you may miss other exciting opportunities, there’s always more options in the area you want to work.

Guest post from IBM – Is working for a technology company for you?

Jasmine Cottrell is a recent International Relations and Politics graduate from the University of Exeter, working for IBM as a Business Consultant on the Graduate Consulting programme. 

Jasmine Cottrell, Exeter alumni and Business Consultant on the IBM Graduate Consulting programme

Come and meet IBM at our STEM Careers Fair on Tuesday 5 November

Employer Skills Session – Application Form Masterclass with IBM

Starts: 18 Nov 2019 2:30 PM

Employer Skills Session – Assessment Centre Masterclass with IBM

Starts: 28 Nov 2019 2:30 PM

When you look at a technology company like IBM, you might read about historical inventions such as the airline reservation system, barcode, or ATM machine. Looking more recently, you might see a lot of new technical terms. Blockchain, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, cyber security…the list goes on. It’s really easy to be intimidated by this, and to feel like working for a technology company isn’t for you. I certainly thought this when I was looking for placements at the beginning of my second year. But the more I researched, the more I realised this is only a small part of what a lot of technology companies do.

“Start building a professional network as early as you can. This can be as simple as chatting to technology company representatives at a careers fair. I’ve found that the majority of opportunities I’ve got outside of my day job have been by reaching out to people and speaking to them.”

IBM are involved with a range of clients and industries around the world – and that broad scope is what attracted me to working for an international company. From sport, to health, to finance, to retail, there is a range of industries that IBM work with. This means if you have a passion helping the public sector, want to make production more sustainable and efficient, or you want to help sports teams gain insights into their performance, you could do this in a technology company. I knew that I wanted to be involved in the public sector from taking Public Policy modules in my final year – I’ve been able to tailor my career path, and I am currently working in Healthcare and Life Sciences.

Whilst there are definitely roles that require specialist technical knowledge, for many roles, any degree background is welcome. I was unsure what skills I could transfer from social sciences. However, I quickly found that my research and critical thinking skills were in high demand – I was able to synthesise a lot of information quickly and think about alternative ways to tackle problems. In the group of graduates that I joined with, degrees varied from History, Languages and Politics, to Business, Psychology and Finance.

As for those technical terms? I took advantage of the free education available to me, and within a few weeks learnt enough that I can talk about what really interests me. I’m now looking at pursuing IT architecture, where my non-technical background is a strength due to the different ways that I will problem solve, and I can learn the practical details along the way. Not bad for a ‘non-technical’ person.

“Being well-informed is the best way to ensure that you pick a path that makes sense for you. Don’t be afraid to explore your options and reach out to different people. Everyone’s career path into technology is different – you just might discover your dream job in the process.”

 Top tips

Keep up-to-date

I started a separate Twitter account where I followed technology companies, key people within those companies, as well as industry experts. LinkedIn is another great way to build your professional connections and industry knowledge. I’ve found both are a really easy way to keep up to date with what people in the industry are saying, as well as being exposed to different opinions and viewpoints beyond ‘factual’ news. This can help with interviews also, as you can draw on those soundbites and stand out from other candidates.

Start building a network now

Start building a professional network as early as you can. This can be as simple as chatting to technology company representatives at a careers fair. I’ve found that the majority of opportunities I’ve got outside of my day job have been by reaching out to people and speaking to them. Sometimes this is people I’ve worked with before, and sometimes this is with new people. Just remember, if you contact someone, always have a purpose in mind, and an action that you want to achieve as a result of the meeting or phone call. This will make sure you keep the meeting focused, and that it’s productive for everyone.

 Use university resources

Use the Career Zone! It’s a great place to get career information, or to connect with alumni. Having a mentor can be beneficial for your personal and professional development, and worth considering if you want to learn from those on the ground in the technology industry. Being well-informed is the best way to ensure that you pick a path that makes sense for you. Don’t be afraid to explore your options and reach out to different people. Everyone’s career path into technology is different – you just might discover your dream job in the process.

Interested in a career at a leading international technology company? Head to https://www.ibm.com/uk-en/employment/

Starting out in PR and Marketing

Matthew Robinson graduated from the University of Exeter in 2014 with a First in History. He’s currently a Comms Consultant for digital PR agency TopLine Comms and its sister agency TopLine Film

Matthew Robinson, Exeter Alum, current Comms Consultant for TopLine Comms and TopLine Film

When I left university, I wasn’t totally convinced about what I wanted to do. Upon graduating, I lived in Japan for three months, which gave me some time to reflect on potential career options. I like to write, learn about different industries and cultures, and have been told that I’m a strategic thinker.

I quickly found myself working in PR and digital marketing and have found it to be an incredible learning experience. I’ve been exposed to the way different businesses work, have been taught how to successfully promote a brand, and have been supported to quickly take on significant levels of responsibility.

I would recommend that anyone who isn’t quite sure about what they want to do to consider working at a digital agency, simply because of the variety of different tasks and projects you’re given the chance to work on.

If you’re thinking about a career in PR and marketing, here’s some (hopefully) useful advice.

“Provided you don’t delete the entirety of your agency’s Google Drive or say something inappropriate to a client, trying things is the best way to learn.”

Go for smaller agencies

For all of the obvious reasons, the digital industry is growing in size and scope, so you’ll have lots of choice when it comes to roles to apply for. You could go in-house at a brand, or work at an agency. Both have their benefits, but agencies are typically the best place to start for newcomers because there are clearer career development opportunities. Bigger agencies can be tempting – they sometimes offer programmes, really good benefits packages and tend to draw people in with big name clients. And that’s fair enough – working with Spotify does sound cool.

But don’t systematically decide not to apply for smaller agencies. They’re great for career building, learning and taking on responsibility. Smaller teams mean there is nowhere to hide, and you’ll be thrown in at the deep end right from the start. It sounds daunting, but you’ll learn a lot and you’ll learn it quickly.

Likewise, don’t shy away from or dismiss entry level positions. A foot in the door is a great thing and if you do a good job, you can build a strong foundation for the future. I started as an assistant and within a year I was running client calls with CEOs. Within another couple I was building their communications strategies and even interviewing new hires.

Don’t try and specialise too soon

Careers are long, and unless AI takes over and we all start living lives of leisure, we’re going to be working for a long time. Get as much experience as you can right at the start, so that you have a choice of what to do a bit further on. Having varied experience will set you in good stead for the future – employers are unlikely to turn down a candidate who has had a lot of experience.

In addition, as PR becomes more digitally-focused, it has significantly overlapped with marketing disciplines like SEO and social media. So, taking a broader view of developing your digital skillset is a smart option early on in your career – you can always specialise later.

“Get involved in meetings and ask questions. Whenever we hire a graduate who asks what the jargon means or gives an opinion, it’s valued and respected.”

Try to get some experience before you graduate

A couple of weeks at a PR or marketing agency will give you a taste of working in that kind of environment. During a short internship you’ll probably get a chance to dip into some fundamentals of the profession: pitching, copywriting, reporting, client relations, and more. I chose to do a short internship before settling down in a permanent role, so I got a feel for what I could be doing permanently.

In addition, don’t discount the value of service industry jobs. I worked in a supermarket and made a point of mentioning it on my CV. And in fact, it put me in better stead when interviewing because it showed that I had a strong work ethic. It also showed I had customer-facing experience – demonstrating an instinct for dealing with people (sometimes in tricky situations) is invaluable in agency life.

It’s OK to make mistakes

When you do get your first job, try and be confident, get involved in meetings and ask questions. It took me a while to grow in confidence when I got my first job – but whenever we hire a graduate who asks what the jargon means or gives an opinion, it’s valued and respected. Try to get involved and don’t be too afraid of making a mistake.

Provided you don’t delete the entirety of your agency’s Google Drive or say something inappropriate to a client, trying things is the best way to learn.

Start reading

It’s hard to get to grips with PR and marketing before actually entering the industry, but you can definitely start reading trade magazines and blogs to get a better idea of it. If you’re interested, give our blog a read, or check out PR Week, Marketing Week, The Drum, Campaign and Search Engine Land. We’ve also put together a PR Masterclass specifically for beginners and graduates. It’ll help you get acquainted with everything from creating newsworthy stories to planning and running entire campaigns.

Take it from me – working for a creative agency, whether it specialises in PR, marketing, advertising, video production, or a combination thereof, is a great way to start your career. You’ll learn a lot, meet great people and learn management and communication skills that apply to other types of jobs (if you change your mind further down the road). Go with your gut and get applying for jobs – good luck!

Getting into Marine Conservation

Celine Gamble graduated from the University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, with an MSc in Conservation and Biodiversity, 2017. She currently works as the Native Oyster Network Coordinator (UK & Ireland). 

Celine Gamble, Exeter alum, and current Native Oyster Network Coordinator (UK & Ireland)

After graduation I worked within the Engagement team of the British Science Association. During which I worked on the annual British Science Festival as a Festival Officer. More recently I have started working for the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) in their Marine and Freshwater Department as a Project Coordinator for the newly formed Native Oyster Network (UK and Ireland). I’m very much enjoying the role so far, as it’s a good combination of conservation science and policy, networking, fieldwork and science communication.

I’ve always wanted to pursue a career in marine conservation, and during University I was drawn towards communicating science. Therefore a role where I can combine the two is perfect for me. The most enjoyable aspect of my current role is having the opportunity to visit native oyster restoration projects across the UK and Ireland, and be able to get out on the boat and assist with their fieldwork.

“My advice for anyone beginning a career within marine conservation would be to be persistent, and to be aware that it could take a few interviews and some time before landing your dream job.”

I enjoyed studying at the University of Exeter firstly due to the amazing location of the Penryn campus, with access to marine coastal habitat on its doorstep. And secondly due to the support and expertise of the lecturers in the Bioscience department.

I would say that being involved with extra-curricular opportunities, such as university societies and groups, helped build my independent working and confidence when delivering a project. I also found that modules such as Science in Society and Exploitation of the Sea, have been useful in terms of the science communication route that I’ve pursued.

The advice I would give to a current student, would be to throw yourself into extra-curricular opportunities and to research opportunities to volunteer for projects/ organisations that you’d hope to work for in the future. I would also say, don’t hold back from getting in touch with individuals who work in roles you’d like to see yourself in, as 9/10 times they will be more than happy to provide advice.

My current contract is for two years, after which I would hope to move into a manager role within a similar marine conservation project or organisation.

My advice for anyone beginning a career within marine conservation would be to be persistent, and to be aware that it could take a few interviews and some time before landing your “dream job”. But don’t let that put you off.

Your Guide to the Civil Service Fast Stream

Introduce yourself. 

Minh Tri Le, Exeter alumn and current Civil Service Fast Streamer

Hi there! My name is Minh, and I studied Sociology and Criminology at Exeter, graduating in 2016. I am currently in my second year on the Civil Service Fast Stream, currently working on EU Exit at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

If you were to describe life on the Civil Service Fast Stream in three words, what would they be?

Fun, diverse, gratifying

Tell us a bit about your background – what did you do before joining the Fast Stream?

After graduating from Exeter, I worked as an intern in the Department for Transport (DfT) in the summer of 2016. This was part of the Civil Service Fast Stream’s Summer Diversity Internship Programme, designed to get university students from a more diverse range of backgrounds interested in working for the Civil Service. My responsibilities included designing public consultation and developing legislation on the introduction of a mandatory requirement for quad bike users to wear helmets on public roads.

I was in DfT for 13 weeks before securing a full-time job at a global law firm. I was there for almost a year, before jumping ship to join the Civil Service Fast Stream. Before working in HMRC, I have been fortunate enough to work at the Department for International Trade on US-UK Intellectual Property Trade and Department for Work and Pensions on evaluating and developing public campaigns to improve awareness of pension schemes.

“I had the misconception that civil servants and the departments they work in were faceless, out of reach… In fact, Civil Servants are just ordinary people going about their daily lives.”

Why did you apply for the Fast Stream?

A sense of public duty has been instilled in me from a young age. I previously tried to join the military. Unfortunately, as a type 1 diabetic, I was unable to make the cut. An ideal alternative, for me, was to join the Civil Service, where I can design and deliver policies to ensure the Government serves the public more effectively.

Was there anything that surprised you about the Fast Stream, or working in the Civil Service?

I had the misconception that civil servants and the departments they work in were faceless, out of reach and you never knew what was going in the political machinery. In fact, Civil Servants are just like you and me; ordinary people going about their daily lives.

For the Fast Stream specifically, I thought being diabetic might limit my opportunities. Thankfully, the Fast Stream has ensured that I have never been restricted whilst accommodating my needs so I can take care of my health. You’ll have seen that I have worked in a wide range of departments and roles, all while being supported to stay close to my registered hospital, GP and pharmacy in London.

The biggest surprise, I think, were the open, frank and honest discussions the entire Civil Service has about promoting accessibility for people from underrepresented backgrounds, and the tangible action being taken to take this forward. The late Jeremy Heywood – former Cabinet Secretary (i.e the head of the Civil Service) published a strategy which aims to make the Civil Service the most inclusive employer by 2020. The entire Civil Service is working to achieve this, alternative pathways into the Civil Service such the Fast Track Apprenticeships, Early and Summer Diversity Internships are being expanded and more senior leaders are volunteering to champion the interests of those from underrepresented backgrounds.

“The biggest surprise, I think, were the open, frank and honest discussions the entire Civil Service has about promoting accessibility for people from underrepresented backgrounds, and the tangible action being taken to take this forward.”

Do you have any top tips for the Fast Stream application process?

I strongly encourage aspiring Civil Servants – not just Fast Streamers – to study the Civil Service Behaviours (follow this link for more info). These are the actions and activities that people do which result in effective performance in a job, and not just the in the Civil Service. Think how you might have demonstrated these behaviours in previous experiences whether that be in your professional, personal or volunteering experiences. You’ll be surprised how many of the behaviours you have already demonstrated.

To finish up: tell us about your favourite moment or achievement on the Fast Stream so far.

My favourite moment – or perhaps my most surreal experience – was when I was working in DWP’s Workplace Pensions Campaigns Team making the “you work, your pension works” advertisements. I was working with the team to deliver the advertisements to be launched in April, the time when I was about to rotate to a different posting. After I had left, the advertisements popped up on television, radio, social media and on the JCDecaux billboards around the country. It was completely surreal to see my work over the last six months come into fruition in being broadcast across the UK!

If you think the Civil Service Fast Stream might be for you, visit https://www.faststream.gov.uk/ to find out more and apply to join the next cohort of future Civil Service leaders in 2020.

Employer Presentation – An Introduction to the Civil Service Fast Stream

Starts: 9 Oct 2019 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM

We need talented people to lead the future Civil Service. Whoever you are, whatever your background, the Fast Stream is the fastest route to real leadership. Come and hear more at our presentation and book here