Insight From Your Fellow Student: Life as a graduate millennial in the charity sector

As part of our Student Insight blog series, Evelyn Snow, MSc Development Studies (grad 2017), talks through her journey from SOAS to making a difference in the charity sector, and her current role as Schools’ Programme Assistant Coordinator at education charity Wings of Hope. 

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Evelyn and the Mayor of Barnet who came to visit a stall that a WOHAA team had at the Barnet Christmas Fayre, where they raised £328

When I applied for a Masters in Development Studies at SOAS at the beginning of 2016 I hadn’t really thought beyond the fact that it sounded like a great course, in an amazing environment filled with inspiring academics and interesting people. When I received my final degree confirmation in December 2017, I was in a very different place to where I had begun with that first application.

My course had a lot of variety in its students – from those who had recently finished undergraduate study, to those who had worked for several years already – so it did seem like some people had a very solid plan, and really knew where they were going in their careers. To tell the truth, having changed so much during my short time at SOAS made me really think hard about my next steps after finishing the Masters, and where I wanted to be in another year’s time. I still don’t have the answer, but I do feel like I am one step closer to working it out!

As anybody who has experienced SOAS knows, the critical stance taken by students and
academics towards the status quo means that finding a job afterwards can be somewhat
challenging – with my other Development Masters peers we often discussed where we would find the kinds of jobs which would balance our grand ideas of ‘the right kind of’ change with the practicalities of graduate life! I also knew I needed some hands-on experience, in order to tailor my patchwork CV to where I thought I was heading later on. Apart from some volunteering work, I didn’t really feel like I had much to offer the kinds of development arenas I was interested in.

When I came across the internship at the Wings of Hope advertised on the Careers network at SOAS, it sounded exactly the balance I was looking for; hands-on experience of charity work in a small team, where student fundraising efforts in the UK are rewarded, and the funds raised go to help educate children in India and Malawi. For that reason I didn’t hold out much hope of getting it, so when I was offered the internship I was delighted – and even more so when it later turned into a permanent position!

My job is hugely varied; from admin tasks to giving presentations, mentoring teams to marketing and organising events, I work with teachers, professionals, and students hoping to engage them all in our educational work. I have given a keynote speech at a careers networking event in a school, presented our work to a business owner who is interested in working together, and researched other similar charity programmes, in the same week as visiting schools to check on the progress of the student teams we’re working with!

A typical day can begin with an assembly at a school, presenting our social enterprise programme (the Wings of Hope Achievement Awards) to students aged 13-18, encouraging them to get involved, then whizzing back to the office to market the programme to more schools, and organise more presentations, followed by catching up on the paperwork of logging students’ details, and often finishes with mentoring sessions with teams who have started their fundraising projects, giving them support and ideas and encouraging them to be the best they can be.

I have been surprised by the variety within my role, and I think this is a huge advantage of working with a small organisation – because we are a team of 4-6 I get to see all sides of what we work on which is fantastic, and means I can be heavily involved in all these sides. This means a lot of juggling too, so there is constantly something else to do, and when I began I found it extremely challenging to keep up with all the different aspects of the programme at the same time, as it felt like having to do several people’s jobs at once. Now I’ve got more comfortable with this, I see it as a steep but impressive learning curve, and I think it would be very hard to go back to working on only one aspect of such a programme at one time.

Life in the charity sector however is full of compromises and stretched resources, something I do find challenging, as there is always so much at stake. My students keep me motivated however – I really get energised when I speak to them and see how passionate they themselves are about making a difference in their fundraising, and this keeps me motivated to continue trying to support them in this and encourage others to get involved at every level.

It has been a hectic few months since I started here in August, and I feel like I’ve learnt a lot already. I’m trying to take graduate life one step at a time, and I may not know where I’ll be in a year’s time, or five, but at least for the moment I feel like I’m managing to achieve some real-world change for students in the UK and elsewhere, and absorbing an enormous amount of experience at the same time.

When it comes to thinking about careers, it can be pretty scary and intimidating, but I think the important thing is to not to worry too much about having the perfect post-graduation plan, and instead to take every opportunity that comes your way. Go for what feels right at the time – who knows where it might lead!

Evelyn Snow

Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert careers@soas.ac.uk.

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Insight From Your Fellow Student: My Summer with the Civil Service

As part of our Student Insight blog series, Harmanjit Sidhu, BA History (grad 2017) and Ambitious Futures Graduate Trainee at SOAS for 2017/18, talks through her recent experience of the Civil Service’s Summer Diversity Internship Programme. 

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I have to admit, I was quite apprehensive about sacrificing possibly my last ever summer holidays to complete the Civil Service’s Summer Diversity Internship Programme. On reflection, it was probably one of the most beneficial experiences of my life.

For seven weeks, I was based at the Ministry of Defence, working on the Covenant Grant Fund which helps to support ex-servicemen and women through funding local projects. Some of these were based on helping veterans find work after completing their service, whilst other projects focused on aiding veterans who suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

I was given the responsibility of producing a case study booklet, evaluating the success of some projects the Grant had funded in the past. I had to finally present this to a senior steering group of the fund, which was made up of both military generals and civil servants. It was quite possibly the most frightening experience of my life- but as soon as it was over I can’t remember feeling more proud of myself! The final case study booklet is now used within the department as a key piece of publicity, and is distributed as events to showcase the achievements of the Fund. Therefore, in some ways, I have left behind an enduring legacy.

The range of projects on offer for interns is huge. Following a successful application, you are allocated to a department and project. For most people this is pretty random, however, if there is a project which is aligned to interests you mentioned in your written application, or on the phone interview, you are assigned to it. I was also able to indicate my preference for the type of work I wanted to do, e.g. Communications over technical/ operational. Fellow interns were placed in departments like Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the Cabinet Office, the National Crime Agency and so on. Their projects included updating travel advice on the FCO website based on new information, evaluating a project completed by the team in the past, or conducting interviews to gather feedback on a new software.

The project and the overall experience of working within the civil service has provided me with a whole range of new skills. In producing the case study booklet I had to communicate with a hugely varied range of people, from senior diplomatic figures, to army generals, to on the ground grass root activists. As well as this, I had to plan, write and design the content and layout of the booklet too. I was given additional responsibilities of reporting back after attending conferences, attending high level meetings (after signing an official secrets act- all very exciting!), as well as the day to day communications with current grant holders, and chasing end of year grant reports.

Interns were also given ample opportunities to network across other government departments. At the beginning you attend a huge opening ceremony, normally held at the FCO, and there are a number of other events during the summer where the entire cohort of interns gets together. You have the opportunity to meet assessment day coordinators, ask current fast streamers questions, and meet representatives of different government departments who are happy to offer advice and guidance. You are also given a ‘mentor’, normally a fast streamer who can help provide specific advice on the project you are completing, as well as helping you out with Fast Stream application questions. I received some great advice from my own mentor, and have kept in touch with him since I left the scheme.

Increasing diversity and improving representation is a huge objective at the moment, and rightly so. Time and time again, as interns were told about how vital the issue of representation is for the government. The SDIP scheme taught me how much variety there is on offer if you work for the government. If you’re somebody who believes passionately in using your career to create meaningful and lasting change, and you meet the criteria for applying, then challenge yourself to completing the SDIP this summer. It could change your life!

Harmanjit Sidhu

Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert careers@soas.ac.uk

Insight From Your Fellow Student: Life in the Creative Industries

As part of our Student Insight blog series, Ifeanyi Awachie, MA Global
Creative & Cultural Industries (2016-17) offers an honest insight into her journey in the creative industries so far. 

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Ifeanyi at AFRICA SALON 2016 at Yale

Hey! I’m Ifeanyi. I’m a Nigerian-American writer and arts curator. I did my Master’s in Global Creative and Cultural Industries at SOAS in the 2016-2017 academic year, and I’m currently working in the creative industries in London as well as on my own creative platform.

The thing about choosing a creative career path is – there is no path. You have to mould your education, jobs, and experiences into the creative life you want to live. Try doing that while being a working-class, black immigrant – it can be really hard to find examples of people with your experiences and perspective doing the work you want to do.

That said, my experience trying to find creative work and launch my own platform in London has been challenging, enlightening, but ultimately positive. A big part of the reason I came to SOAS was to develop my business, AFRICA SALON, a global events company curating contemporary arts festivals at the intersection of academia and the creative industries. I started the platform in the States and came to SOAS to study African arts and culture more deeply. I chose my course for its practicality – for one of our modules, students can do an internship in the creative industries for credit. I used that credit to work on my company. One of the projects I assigned myself was to host one of my festivals at SOAS. I curated an event called ourselves + others: african feminist re-CREATIONS at SOAS, which took place on November 25. We had a full house, the speakers and performers made our audience swoon, and so many people told me
that the space I created is needed in London. The festival was a kind of taste test for the
potential of my business, and the results were promising.

While planning the festival, I learned about the Graduate Entrepreneur Visa, a work visa that allows international graduates to stay in London and start businesses. It sounded perfect for me – I want to launch AFRICA SALON in London, and of course, keep living in this fabulous, hectic city. After a two-round application process that included pitching my business to a SOAS Enterprise panel, I was endorsed for the visa.

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Ifeanyi and Kenyan creative duo 2ManySiblings

Though I would be starting a company, I needed a way to support myself. I’d practically been applying for creative jobs since the moment I got to London, but no one seemed to be biting. I learned that roles at the organisations I wanted to be part of were extremely competitive, and I started to get discouraged. Then one night, I was at a party, talking to a Nigerian guy about my interests, and he suggested that I get in touch with his former boss, the director of TAFETA, an African art gallery. I visited the gallery, and the director and I hit it off. I started spending more time there, going to exhibition openings, even proposing a collaboration between TAFETA and AFRICA SALON. Though that project didn’t pan out, the director eventually offered me a job. I was pumped. I was passionate about the talent of the artists the gallery represented and excited to work for an organisation where I felt represented as a Nigerian and an African arts enthusiast.

Like many creative jobs, the gallery role was a great fit, but wasn’t going to pay me a lot. As a young, broke creative, you need to find creative ways to make money; I am constantly doing research to do just that. That’s how I learned about the SOAS Santander Scheme. If, as SOAS student, you find a great position, Santander will put in a certain amount of funding that your employer then has to match to bring your pay up to living wage. With the Santander funding, the gallery was able to offer me a paid internship as Trainee Gallery Manager.

My position at the gallery was to be short-term, so I kept a lookout for jobs. One listing I found made me stop in my tracks. It sounded perfect for me. It more or less outlined the work I did through AFRICA SALON and at the gallery, and sounded like exactly the type of experience I’d like to have next. But I was sure I wasn’t going to get it. It was at a big arts institution, and I’d been burned by those all year. I put a lot of work into the cover letter, but I knew I needed to do something extra to make myself stand out. I scanned my mental list of people I knew in London and reached out to a friend that I thought might have a connection to the institution. She did. I met her contact for coffee. That conversation gave me a better sense of the organisation, and while the person I met had no power in the hiring process, I could tell I had made a positive impression on her, and I crossed my fingers that that would count for something.

I got the job. I now work as Assistant Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. It’s early days, but the role feels like one in which I can make valuable contributions, and the environment feels closely suited to my interests. Next year, I’ll be working full-time at the ICA while developing AFRICA SALON. It feels really good to look back on how things have come together, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to relax. I’m always looking for ways to improve my work, elevate my brand, and stay on top of my various projects and responsibilities. I hope my experience gives you some ideas, but remember – no one can really tell you how to be the creative you want to be. In my opinion, all we can do is seek out those personal connections, be scrappy and resourceful, and keep hustling.

Ifeanyi Awachie

Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert careers@soas.ac.uk.

Insight From Your Fellow Student: The Lowdown on the Boston Consulting Group (BCG)

As part of our Student Insight blog series, Candace Evilsizor, MA Gender Studies with reference to the Middle East (graduating 2017) talks about her new role as an Associate soon to be starting at Boston Consulting Group.

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Why did you decide to work for a consultancy?

As I studied the career trajectory of people with high-level jobs in policy and NGOs, I was surprised to see how many of them got their start in consultancies. While academia equips you to understand the causes of a problem, consulting teaches you how to strategize and implement a solution. I decided to pursue jobs in consultancies in order to develop this skillset.

I also knew I’d enjoy the day-to-day work. As a people-person, I was motivated by the chance to contribute as an integral part of a team. And I love the intellectual stimulation that comes from the constant exposure to new industries.

What is it that consultants do exactly?

They avoid answering that question. J In all seriousness, consultants solve problems with data for clients. Firms often specialize in a certain kind of consultancy, such as strategy, operations or information technology, which differ based on the expertise offered and the clients served.

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) is a strategy firm. Strategy firms advise businesses how to outperform their competition and break into new markets. They are often hired to work with C-level executives and senior government officials.

I’ve heard consultants work long hours, is that true?

Consulting is a package of extremes. The job involves long hours, lots of travel, and pressure to deliver a quality solution to your client. On the other hand, it pays well and the firm invests in your professional development, accelerating your career.

What if I want to work overseas?

Then consulting is a great field for you! Many strategy firms encourage work abroad via short-term assignments, year-long placements, or even relocation to one of their international offices.

I chose BCG Middle East as a means to expand on the area studies foundation that I gained at SOAS. I was also attracted to the volume of public sector projects here. With Dubai hosting the World Exposition in 2018 and Saudi Vision 2030, it’s an exciting time to work in the region.

What does the recruitment process look like?

My recruitment process entailed an online exam (testing math and business competence) and two interview rounds. Each round involved solving various business cases and discussing my professional and educational qualifications with different interviewers.

The business cases in consulting interviews are shortened versions of problems that the firm has solved for previous clients. They are used to help consultants evaluate the candidate’s quantitative skills and logical reasoning.

Here’s a sample case from Harvard Business School’s Case Interview Guide that I used to practice: “A fast food chain recently bought a bovine meat-processing outlet to supply it with fresh hamburgers and other meats. The shop process is: cows enter at one end of the shop, meat gets processed in the middle, and then the meat gets packaged and delivered at the other end. The manager of the butcher shop cannot not decide whether to have the cows walk or run into the meat processing room. Can you help him?”

As a proud SOAS student, my first concern was for the cows. But this case also requires the candidate to think about supply and demand dynamics. And calculating the exact quantity of meat needed to fill the restaurants’ orders – which determines the speed at which cows should enter the plant – not only reduces the chain’s costs, but also prevents food waste.

I don’t have any prior business experience. Is that a problem?

No, consultancies welcome a broad range of expertise. My professional background is in the development sector, and I studied social sciences at SOAS. If you’re bright, teachable and hardworking, the rest can be learned on the job.

Then what qualifications do I need?

Consulting firms look for strong marks and high standardized math scores. Each firm will have its specific application criteria posted online. BCG requires AAB at A-levels (or equivalent) and a First or 2:1 at university (expected or received).

It’s also important to demonstrate professional achievement and people skills through internships, campus leadership and/or volunteer activities. You need to show that you can motivate a team, overcome obstacles and effect change in your field.

I think I’m a competitive applicant. What can I do to prepare?

The first step is to obtain an interview! Given the large number of candidates, it’s advantageous to meet people within the firm in order to highlight your application. Don’t feel shy about attending networking events or contacting people online.

And although private sector experience isn’t necessary, it’s important to feel confident with business terminology and mental math. I’d recommend finding another student interested in consulting and to give one another cases. Before my interviews, I read that most successful candidates practice at least 30 live cases, including some with current consultants, and I found this a helpful target.

At what point should I talk to the SOAS Careers?

SOAS Careers is on hand to support you with all aspects of your next steps after SOAS – whether you have no idea at all what you want to do, or if you have a definite plan in mind!

Among other things, Careers can provide practical assistance with covering letters, online maths preparation and mock interviews. They proved an invaluable resource when I was preparing my application materials (which are typically due in October) and throughout the interview process. They’d recommend you drop by their new Careers Zone in SL62, Paul Webley Wing as early as you can to work in partnership on your future.

What are you most excited about for your new job?

After studying with such an international cohort at SOAS, I’m thrilled at the diversity of my coworkers at BCG Middle East. Over 50 nationalities are represented in the Dubai office alone! I’m also excited to learn more about the region and to contribute to its public and private sector growth. While I’ll miss my time at SOAS, it’s safe to say that I’m excited about my new role as an Associate with BCG.

 Candace Evilsizor

Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert careers@soas.ac.uk.

Insight From Your Fellow Student: Wok’ing Across Britain with FUN:) Healthy Chinese Cuisine Ambassadors

As part of our Student Insight blog series, Eliot Gee, MA Anthropology of Food (graduating 2017) discusses their time interning at Ming-Ai (London) Institute. 

A few months ago, I wouldn’t have expected to find myself standing in front of a dozen British teenagers at 9am on a Tuesday, explaining how to make sure a wok is hot enough to add oil (“Not olive oil; we want just enough neutral cooking oil to keep your protein from sticking”)… but now, it’s another day on the job!

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The FUN:) Project visits schools across the U.K., inviting students to participate in quick, easy, and healthy cooking workshops. Since joining this summer, I’ve found that the work nicely complements my MA dissertation; my research interviews examined how Chinese food is perceived by migrants (specifically, how social and physical wellbeing are linked to food and generational memory), while classroom visits through FUN:) have shown me the day-to-day reality of Chinese food from the perspective of British schoolchildren.

Although South Asian food has been incorporated into the mainstream British taste at both high and low levels of cuisine, knowledge about Chinese food remains surprisingly limited beyond the performative fields of  Chinatown and TV cook shows. Likewise, students’ understanding of Chinese immigrants’ culture and history is limited; most don’t know there was any “relationship” between Britain and Hong Kong. Therefore, it’s been inspiring to see how projects like FUN:) help challenge the negative takeaway association surrounding Chinese food. Offering students the knowledge, taste, and skills to feel comfortable cooking simple Chinese dishes at home is a first step towards broadening their horizons and encouraging more meaningful discussion about the diversity of Chinese cuisine and culture. For example, during our presentation we ask students to guess why Cantonese food might be over-represented in the U.K.

Last year, FUN:) conducted 70 student demonstrations, visiting schools across London and as far away as Wales, Manchester, and Colchester. Cooking in so many kitchens with all different students is always fun (let’s be honest, there are plenty of puns thrown around. The name is supposed to reflect the Chinese word for rice)! Some students have never used a wok before, so even a simple stir-fry is an entirely new experience for them. At recent trip to a special needs school, I helped a boy who was too nervous to initially approach the hot wok… but by the end of an hour, he had cooked a brilliant kungpao chicken to bring home to his family. Compared to my prior experiences teaching language and history in Asian schools, I’ve found it very rewarding to see how hands-on activity can ground even the most “difficult” students and give them something to be proud of. This is in no small part due to the encouragement of their teachers, who are unfailingly friendly and generous with their time, and tea!

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We also stay busy hosting free Teacher Training Workshops that encourage teachers to become “cuisine ambassadors” on our behalf, with the bonus opportunity of a cooking skills competition. FUN:)’s sponsor, the sauce brand Lee Kum Kee, invites the winning trio of teachers to Hong Kong and China, where they learn more about the food culture and exchange techniques at a culinary school. I can testify that this year they ate to their hearts’ content, since I had to edit all of the video footage upon their return!

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Despite its wide reach, the project is very small, which means there is always a range of work to be done. Currently there are only two of us at the FUN:) office! Kelly, the project coordinator and a SOAS graduate, has been with the project for over a year and does a terrific job setting up demonstrations & workshops, and developing lesson plans (among a couple hundred other tasks). Much of my time has been devoted to updating our photo, video, and presentation material. I filmed, edited, and am currently uploading and writing descriptions for a series of cooking skills videos, available on our newly formed YouTube page for students and teachers. We are also rebooting our web presence– website, Instagram, Facebook– to best connect with interested would-be cooks.

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FUN:) operates as part of Ming-Ai (London) Institute, located in North London. A perk of joining FUN:) is that Ming-Ai offers connections to many segments of the British-Chinese community, hosting events at our building that include calligraphy, talks, and language courses. Other projects include spreading knowledge about British-Chinese Armed Forces Heritage, and a MA Program in Chinese Cultural Heritage Management (through Middlesex University). It’s probably no surprise that many people who work here have passed through the SOAS China Institute at one point or another.

Despite being a relatively small organization, Ming-Ai has worked with high-profile groups and celebrities. FUN:) has connections with famous chefs Ken Hom, Ching-He Huang, and Andrew Wong, among others. Recently we helped with the Hong Kong Intangible Culture Festival, hosting Michelin-star dim sum chefs from Hong Kong at the Crowne Plaza to celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival, and are initiating an upcoming series of talks, cooking and paper-making workshops as part of a cultural exhibition next month at China Exchange (tucked away in the center of Chinatown).

For anybody interested in British-Chinese food culture, or building connections between the Chinese community and British schools, I strongly encourage looking into Ming-Ai’s opportunities. Both FUN:) and the British Chinese Armed Forces Heritage Project are eager to have students join in either part-time or volunteer capacities. Head here for all the details!

Eliot Gee

Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert careers@soas.ac.uk.

#FridayFeeling Guest Blog: ‘Tea, Cake and Ambitious Futures’

Guest blog from Tom Fryer, who is the Ambitious Futures Graduate Trainee at SOAS for 2016/17.

Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert careers@soas.ac.uk

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Few people can resist an email with a subject line referring to both ‘Tea’ and ‘Cake’, but it wasn’t just my stomach that led me to Ambitious Futures. A quick glance around the website and I was instantly intrigued at the prospect of seeing how universities function from a staff perspective – or perhaps it was simply that a graduate programme in the field of Higher Education seemed a tad more interesting than the Foucault reading assignment on my desk. The idea of working on three placements over 15 months sounded like a great way to pick up a broad range of skills. Plus, getting to grips with three projects over such a short period seemed the perfect test of my oft-repeated cover letter claims to tenacity!

A couple of months later, I found myself navigating an application and phone interview, before attending an assessment day run specifically for the SOAS Ambitious Futures programme. The day at SOAS had been carefully planned to try to simulate activities that Ambitious Futures Graduate Trainees are faced with on a regular basis, from negotiations in meetings, to drafting proposals. I know that ‘assessment day’ doesn’t exactly scream ‘fun’, but there was something about the practical focus (none of those damned logical reasoning tests) and constant interaction with other candidates that made the day pretty enjoyable.

One thing that has continued to stand-out across the application, interviews and orientation for Ambitious Futures, is the emphasis on personal development. As part of the programme everyone works towards a management qualification, ILM Leadership and Management Level 3, which is a great opportunity to reflect a little more deeply on management and workplace dynamics. More importantly, this qualification is taught through Learning Sets, or meetings with six other Ambitious Futures Graduate Trainees from other universities in and around London (if Oxford really counts as ‘in and around London’). This seems to be a great way to learn, as we’re all likely to experience similar challenges in our new work, but also it’s an amazing chance to get to know a bunch of other people who are passionate about contributing to the transformative work of universities.

For more information and to apply, visit the Ambitious Futures website.

Tom Fryer, SOAS Ambitious Futures Graduate Trainee (2016/17)

Guest Blog: From SOAS Student to SOAS Staff

Guest blog from Harmanjit Sidhu, who is the Ambitious Futures Graduate Trainee at SOAS for 2017/18.

Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert careers@soas.ac.uk

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Walking in to SOAS three years ago as undergraduate History student, I never expected to wind up working here. My first few student days at SOAS were a blur of places, faces and names. My first few days as a Staff member at SOAS have been much of the same!

There are definite similarities in the student and staff experience (the building obviously, the queue for the cash machine, the strange extremes in temperature in rooms- freezing cold or boiling hot) but pretty much everything else is completely different.
As a student, you never put much thought into the work going on ‘behind the scenes’ and it has just dawned on me how much machinery is working hard to keep the institute running, whilst seeking ways to maximise the student/staff experience.

For me, it seems a career in Higher Education is a well guarded secret, but once you’re in on it, it’s easy to be impressed by the huge variety of roles and people working here. I have already been exposed to a huge number of issues and problems that had never occurred to me while I was a student here, whilst also being exposed to the various departments handling these issues with innovative strategies and ideas.

A recurring theme from conversations with colleagues over the last few weeks has been ‘too much work, not enough resources’. That’s one of my favourite things about the scheme- I am able to lend a hand to various departments who have brilliant ideas but require an extra pair of hands to bring them to life.

My current posting is in the Library, working on a collaborative project with the Research and Enterprise Office and Staff Learning and Development, looking at ways in which we can improve the induction process for Early Career Researchers and also the ways in which we can improve the support offered to this group. (If you’re reading this as an Early Career Researcher, I would love to hear your thoughts on this).

As a Graduate Trainee on this scheme, I will be posted into three different departments on various projects. Two of these will take place right here at SOAS, and one at the University of Oxford. Whilst I am not looking forward to the idea of that commute, it will be a great chance to develop my knowledge of the sector.

SOAS is a fantastic institution- a place where great minds from all over the world come to
share ideas, where students come to the meet the world, where challenges are faced with
innovation and strategy. Working here for just the last few weeks has just reinforced these opinions, and I am excited about the opportunities the next few months will bring!

For more information about the scheme and to apply head here or email me at hs62@soas.ac.uk.

Harmanjit Sidhu, SOAS Ambitious Futures Graduate Trainee (2017/18)

Insight From Your Fellow Student: Working at the Civil Service

As part of our Student Insight blog series, Ranya Alakraa, BSc Development Studies & Economics (graduated 2016) explores her journey from SOAS to the Civil Service Fast Stream. 

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It was the end of the summer after our 2nd year at uni, our third and final year was in sight, until this point I had never thought about my career. My friend called me and informed me grad scheme applications were opening soon. We dialled in a few other friends and in the middle of this four-way conversation the panic set in. What were we doing with our futures?

We all met the very next day in SOAS to figure out our life-plans; we climbed up to the Career’s Office and collected every possible leaflet or brochure on grad schemes, jobs, internships, CV and cover letter writing. By the end of this we were all a little overwhelmed.

We went back to the JCR and started sifting through all these papers, circling and highlighting things which appealed to us. Another friend spotted us and came over; he saw the air of panic surrounding me and asked me a really good question that I myself had never properly thought about. He said where do you see yourself in the future, what is the ideal job you would be doing? So I thought about it for a few minutes, and I said I would be working in policy somewhere in the government, with a focus on economic development. So he told me he had been doing the Summer Diversity Internship for the Civil Service, and that I should consider applying for the Fast Stream…and so I did!

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A few months later, in December of my final year, I had a job offer as an Economist in the Civil Service Fast Stream, and it was all thanks to that fateful day when we all sat in the SOAS JCR! It was a rigorous application process, but doing it so early on in the year meant that I already had a job offer before the New Year and I could focus fully on revision and those final essays in the Spring term.

A few lessons I learnt from my own experience, I probably should have started thinking about jobs and my career earlier on. Doing internships and getting work experience throughout your undergraduate degree is very useful. Doing research on what is out there is even more important, I hadn’t even heard about the Fast Stream until my friend told me about it! And finally, I definitely did not make enough use of the SOAS Career’s Service which probably could have told me about all the opportunities out there and would have helped me with things like job applications.

Nevertheless, I am now working as an Assistant Economist in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. As part of the Fast Stream I get to rotate after a year to another department, it’s a great opportunity to see how government works from the inside, and how Economics is so crucial to every step of the policy process. I love my job and I can see a really clear future for myself here, but there are plenty of schemes other than the Economics one as part of the Fast Stream, read more about them here!

Ranya Alakraa

Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert careers@soas.ac.uk.

Insight From Your Fellow Student: Working in Sport & Equality

As part of our Student Insight blog series, Hayley Bennett, BA Politics (graduated 2014) takes an honest look at her role in Kick It Out – football’s equality and inclusion campaign.

Meeting with FA Chairman Greg Clarke to discuss diversity in football for future generations

Hayley (second from right) meeting with FA Chairman Greg Clarke to discuss diversity in football for future generations

When I started my Politics degree at SOAS in 2011 I thought I was going to learn how to change the world and make it a better place. After a couple of weeks it had already hit me – this isn’t going to be as easy as I thought! I had gained a lot of skills in critical thinking and become more aware of the complex political problems in the world but I felt less confident that getting involved in international politics was the right path for me.

I enjoyed pretty much every lecture and tutorial on my course but something was missing. One thing that was definitely missing by the end of first year was money in my bank account so I began looking for part time jobs. I remember frantically checking the SOAS careers page every day but didn’t feel like I had enough experience for some of the exciting opportunities on offer. Looking back, I wish I had at least had a go at applying to internships relevant to my study but I didn’t have the confidence to compete with hundreds of people at SOAS who were in the same position as me. I had to make myself stand out and find something that would differentiate from every other student with a strong academic background.

I remember applying to over 150 part-time jobs and internships in my second year but I would have saved myself a lot of time and disappointment if I had asked for some advice!

With two of Kick It Out's young ambassadors at Brisbane Road

Hayley with two of Kick It Out’s young ambassadors at Brisbane Road

Eventually I came across a voluntary position being advertised on Kick It Out‘s website by chance. Like most people at SOAS, I had always been motivated to stand up for injustice but my real passion was football. The fact that Kick It Out are well known for speaking out about all forms of discrimination really motivated me because of the racism I have experienced throughout my life. I put all that passion into my cover letter and surprised myself by securing an interview.

I was offered a position as Voluntary Administration Assistant over the summer holidays and spent four months doing a wide range of tasks supporting different members of the team.

An Education session with Reading FA player Tyler Blackett

Hayley undertaking an Education session with Reading FA player Tyler Blackett

Volunteering for four months was a massive risk as I didn’t have any money coming in but it really paid off because I was offered a part-time position at the end of summer which allowed me to work whilst finishing my degree. Even if I hadn’t been offered anything paid by Kick It Out I still would have benefited from the volunteering as it had given me a foot in the door in an industry I didn’t really know existed.

Volunteering is a great opportunity to make yourself stand out as a student, but it also allows you to try out different careers and industries before your degree finishes and you have to look for full time work. For me, working part time during my final year allowed me to learn time-management skills and I received several firsts at the end of my degree. You shouldn’t let part-time work or other commitments put you off when you are studying. In the work place there are always competing deadlines and this is something everyone will need to learn.

Since I left SOAS I have been promoted to a full time position at Kick It Out, leading the creation of the organisation’s first ever Education Programme which is growing from strength to strength. It has been an amazing journey with a lot of hard work but I am proud to have been recognised as a Rising Star in Sport by WeAreTheCity and named as ‘One to watch’ on Football’s Black List – an initiative celebrating influential black individuals in British football.

Picking up the Football Blacklist One To Watch award in April 2017

Hayely picking up the Football Blacklist One To Watch award in April 2017

I am working towards a mission of creating and empowering diverse leaders for the sports industry and hope that other SOAS graduates consider a career in sport. My favourite thing about SOAS was its diversity and I would love to see the same appreciation for difference in football. My proudest achievement so far is creating a platform for young people to make a difference in the football industry as volunteers and ambassadors for Kick It Out. If this is something you feel would interest you please get in touch and support me on my mission!

Hayley Bennett

Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert careers@soas.ac.uk.

Insight from Your Fellow Student: Working in Sustainability

As part of our Student Insight blog series, Charis McCarter, MSc Environment, Politics & Development (graduated 2016) takes an honest look at how she’s secured a job in the sustainability field.

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Charis & the team at 2 Degrees Ltd

It seems rather surreal to be writing a piece for SOAS Careers when half a year ago I couldn’t even find a job!  I do (thankfully) have an awesome job now, but the process of getting here wasn’t easy.  For any of you looking for jobs right now and feeling disheartened; there is light at the end of the tunnel!  I know you’ll have heard it from your mum/dad/sibling/extended family/boyfriend/girlfriend/dog, but keep trying!  Hopefully my account of life post-university will reassure some of you that you will find a job… Just maybe not as quickly or as easily as you may have envisioned!

SOAS fostered in me my passion for the environment, but it also made me scrupulously critical of almost ALL organisations trying to address environmental (and developmental) issues.  That left me in a difficult position when I left – I had simultaneously opened my skillset to a range of jobs in the environment sector, and closed myself off from them by being so critical.  That combined with a crazy competitive job market anyway meant that it took me 2 months after I submitted my dissertation to find something that ticked my boxes in the right field.

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Charis demoing the M2030bee tool at the launch event at the Shard (which she worked on as part of her internship)

And even then, it was in the form of an internship.  Not exactly what I had envisaged after doing a Masters and having two years development experience in Uganda.  However, that internship paid off – I was offered a full-time job in the same company as an Assistant Engagement Manager at the end of it. I now help to source high-impact innovations that will help to reduce energy, waste and water in our client’s buildings for the Innovation Gateway.

While I am very fortunate to now be doing a job in the sustainability field, with a bunch of like-minded conscientious people, my journey here hasn’t been easy… So here are my top three tips for making your job search post-university that tiny bit more bearable:

  • Try an intern while you study.  Get in touch with a few companies that you like the look of and offer them your time and skills for a set amount of time each week.  This will give you an insight into the company, whether you like the type of work you’re doing, and access to a network of interesting people in that field.
  • Use your dissertation to explore a topic you’d like to work with/in in the future.  So many of my friends have got jobs because they highlighted the knowledge they had gained through writing on a specific topic.
  • Use SOAS Careers as much as you can!  I took my CV and cover letter to them several times and received invaluable advice about how to improve my applications, and they were super helpful even after I had left SOAS in giving advice. Make use of all the resources on offer by coming to the Careers Learning Zone (SL62, Paul Webley Wing) or contacting the team on careers@soas.ac.uk

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Charis & the team at 2 Degrees Ltd

Charis McCarter

Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert careers@soas.ac.uk.