Author Archives: harjap

Career in Policy and Public Affairs

Sometimes I find it hard to describe what I do for a living. ‘Policy and public affairs’ isn’t a career path that everyone has heard of, or knows much about. But I think it’s probably one of the most interesting and rewarding careers going.

I loved ancient history and literature at school, and went on to study at the University of Birmingham. After graduating, I was sure that I wanted to work in the public sector, and to do something that used my skills – reading and absorbing information, seeing patterns and analysing situations, and setting out my arguments in writing. After a while tempting for the NHS in an admin role in London, I managed to get onto Birmingham City Council’s graduate programme.

During my time on the graduate programme I worked in several different roles which enabled me to get a sense of what I did – and definitely didn’t want to do in future. It was during a placement in a waste and recycling depot on the outskirts of Birmingham city centre, where I was researching and designing different ways to encourage Brummies to recycle more and throw away less, that I discovered my interest in public policy.

I made a sideways move from working directly in local government to working in higher education policy in London. I wasn’t working for the government department responsible for universities, but for a policy organisation that represents universities – so it was my job to try to influence policy from the outside. I started as a Policy Researcher, and within three and a half years worked my way up to become a Policy Analyst and then a Senior Policy Analyst, eventually managing my own Policy Researcher.

I’m now Aston University’s Policy Advisor. It’s my job to know what is going on in the political world outside, and work out how it might impact on Aston. It’s also my job to find ways of letting policymakers know about all of the excellent work that goes on in Aston. Life as a Policy Advisor is often varied and always interesting. One day I might be watching a parliamentary debate live online to see what the government Minister is saying about universities, the next I’ll be responding to a consultation on what Brexit will mean for the UK’s higher education sector, and another day I’ll be drafting letters to send to MPs about an exciting development at Aston University, or organising a roundtable discussion event.

One of the great things about policy as a career path is that you realise policy roles are all around you, and your skills are really transferrable. As well as the option of working within government or with a particular politician, pretty much any organisation that interacts with government in some way, whether in the public, private or charity sector, will need people to run their policy and public affairs operation.

If you have developed the right skills and experience – like being able to read and digest lengthy and complex reports, analyse what a government announcement will mean for a sector in practice, think how a politician might think, or write a persuasive letter – in a way it doesn’t matter what context you are working in. You can learn that detail of the job as you go along.

 

My advice for anyone thinking about a career in policy is:

  • When it comes to job hunting or looking for work experience, think outside the box – it’s not just government that has policy roles. Universities, charities of all kinds, political parties, think tanks and representative bodies do too. And it doesn’t have to be in London if that’s not your scene.
  • Your career can be incredibly varied, so don’t pigeon hole yourself into one area of policy. I moved straight from environmental policy to higher education policy so I know it can be done.
  • Do your research and keep up to date with current affairs. If you’re applying for a policy role, have a look at the organisation’s recent news releases or blogs, find out which government departments they interact with and which politicians are in charge, and read one of their recent speeches. This will impress recruiters and show that you have already thought about their policy challenges.

Lizzy Woodfield

Policy Advisor, Aston University

If students would like to talk to someone to gain some advice on how to break into a career in policy, or to discuss any other aspects of their career planning, do book an appointment with a careers consultant via Aston Futures (www.aston.ac.uk/careers

Joining the IT industry from a non-IT background

Maya Modi

 

 

I graduated in BSc English Language from Aston University in 2016 with the intention to study Medicine post-graduation. I’m now an I.T Consultant.

 
 

 

 

I know what you’re thinking and trust me, they are linked. In this blog post, I hope that my story inspires you to consider post-graduate career options that are out of the box. You’d be surprised how fitting your work and academic experience to date can be in an industry you had never seen yourself working in before.

 

I chose to study English Language in preparation to do a Masters in Speech Pathology after – something I’d wanted to do for a good seven years now. I was dedicated and was lucky enough to secure lots of placements to support my application later. I also worked for the NHS at the time, which gave me real-time clinical experience. Speech Pathology is a small but vital sector within the allied health professionals unit of the NHS, but being exposed to trauma and other departments in the hospital made me fall in love with general medicine. I spent a lot of time deliberating whether I should drop out of my course in second year and reapply to Medical school, as there was no point continuing with my degree if I knew I didn’t want to use it for a Masters, like I had originally planned to.

Placement year arrived and I chose to continue with my degree, as I had just secured once in a life time study abroad placements in Spain and Hong Kong. They were the best, most challenging but amazing days of my university experience. As scary as it was to live in a country where I wasn’t fluent in the local language, I got through it and my bravery sparked a new level of ambition within me – I was definitely going to apply to Medical school. I thought my placement year would change my mind about applying, but, if anything, seeing how other people live in the world made me want it more.

Final year came around and I was busy studying for my finals and studying for my Med school entry exams too. On top of everything, there was a strong possibility that I may not get into Med school, so I was applying for my Masters as a backup route and applying to graduate schemes just to explore all options. There was no guarantee that any of these options would work out on their own, which is why I applied to all at the same time to see what route worked out best. I’m very much someone who needs to have a forward plan and cannot rely on chance (I’ve learned that it’s OK to be this way), so I did everything I could to ensure that I was either doing a postgrad degree or working upon my pending graduation. In this time, I visited lots of careers fairs to chat with delegates and explore the “what if?” options. I had some interesting conversations and some that put me off post grad working life altogether. One careers fair stood out to me in particular – a careers fair aimed at females looking to go into I.T, but with career discussions over afternoon tea. It was the most interesting concept for a careers fair and the most valuable to me – as it’s where I started my relationship with my current employer (and I got free cake!).

The delegates from Capgemini reassured me that I didn’t need to have a technical background to join a technology consultancy firm. My people skills, ability to work under pressure and quick learning skills that I developed from working in health were all factors that are required when consulting. Consulting can either take the route of being functional or technical, whereas it’s thought to be mostly technical. I applied to Capgemini shortly after the careers fair and to my surprise, I got the job. I accepted with the intention to still take my medical entry exams, but the option of not studying for another four years and adding to my tuition debt seemed more and more viable.

Now, it may seem as if my decision to drop the Doctor dream was money influenced, but hear me out. I realised that as a technology consultant, I can influence medical technologies to the NHS and work on projects that help to restructure their current business models, leading to efficient strategies. This is crucial to the NHS in the current state and unfortunately, as a doctor, I wouldn’t have as much of an influence at a business level as I do now. A year on at Capgemini and a ton of learning under my belt, I’m finally moving onto projects that will allow me to carry this out.

Sometimes, you have to reroute your plans to achieve your goals. I may not be a doctor and I do miss the patient contact, but my consulting is ultimately going to save lives and this is the most satisfying thing to me.

My Mentor Changed My Life..

Whilst everyone begins gearing up to face exams over the next couple of months, I have been reflecting upon all I have achieved during my second year at Aston University, a university that continues to do a wonderful job of providing its students with opportunities to enhance their employability skills and to excel expectations.

Yesterday I was awarded “Most Progressed Mentee” by the Aston University Professional Mentoring scheme, all thanks to the unwavering support of my excellent mentor Chris Lewis. A member of the Aston University Alumni himself, Chris’s outstanding advice and guidance has been pivotal to me in achieving my goals throughout this academic year.

With his support, some of my proudest accomplishments of the year (in no particular order) include:

  • Being voted as “Most Progressed Mentee of the Year” on the Aston University Professional Mentoring scheme.
  • Securing interviews with several companies and obtaining an industrial placement with Grant Thornton, with a team I’m looking forward to working with and values I am proud to represent!
  • Making it to the penultimate stage of Enterprise-Rent-A-Car’s Management Undergraduate of the Year Award, out of hundreds of applicants!
  • Participating in the Aston University Carbon Journey, and being one of the minority of students awarded 10 bonus credits for completing all components of a module named “Developing a Low Carbon World”, in which I learned about many aspects of climate-change and sustainability, from carbon capture technology to health policy and corporate responsibility.
  • Being Project Leader for one of the three projects on the Aston University Enactus Team. Over the past year, The VOICE Project has created memories that my team and I will always cherish, and whist we never fully obtained all the outcomes we had hoped to achieve, every single second of the countless hours we spent on the project have been worthwhile. The many real-life business and life skills we have learned along the way have far surpassed theoretical learning.
  • Being voted as “Most Dedicated Member of the Team” by the Enactus Aston Team with respect for the work I put as Project Manager for The VOICE Project.
  • Attending “IT’s Not Just for the Boys!” a professional event promoting female participation in the IT industry, hosted by JPMorgan in Canary Wharf in conjunction with Target Jobs.
  • Being granted a place on the University of Cambridge Judge Business School’s “Introduction to Social Ventures” course. I am still awestruck by how what I learned in those 3 days has been relevant to such a wide range of experiences this year.
  • Participating in the fabulous UpRising Leadership Programme, where I have been able to experience a host of diverse activities, from meeting with politicians in Parliament, to networking with local professionals and entrepreneurs, to building an awareness of media skills from podcasts to PR, all whilst developing a social action campaign along the way! Our team was successful in presenting our pitch and winning the funding required to start up our campaign SIGNPOST Birmingham, and we are now working on implementation.
  • Attending the Annual Enactus UK Training Programme at Grantham, where I attended several training sessions, as well as being able to meet with hundreds of outstandingly talented young people from across the country.

My mentor Chris’s boundless positivity and can-do attitude has spurred me on throughout the year. He has been patient and understanding, all whilst helping me to explore new ideas, stay on-track with my goals, and even to set a few more for the next academic year (learning as much as I can about the industry I will be working in, learning to drive, building a stronger network, gaining relevant certified qualifications/skills, and becoming a mentor myself, among others).

I can’t begin to recommend the Aston University Professional Mentoring programme highly enough, and I hope that some of you reading this might feel inspired to try it out for yourselves next year. I am happy to say that, whist the programme is now over for this year, my mentee/mentor journey has just begun!