Tom graduated from the University in 2014, and has pursued his interest in the transport sector into a highly competitive graduate scheme with NetworkRail.
What attracted you to study at Kent?
The History faculty offered a broader range of subjects than some other universities. For example, Sussex was one of my top choices, but I favoured Kent in the end because Sussex did virtually no pre-renaissance History at the time. I never wanted to become a medieval specialist, but at least having the opportunity to study such eras provided a welcome change from more modern subject matter.
Also, in the subject areas I was interested in, namely British imperial and Russian history, Kent had a number of well-respected academics in these fields.
Having done the International Baccalaureate, as opposed to A-Levels, I was attracted to Kent because they seemed to value the qualification and were accommodating when I didn’t quite make the entry grades (I doubt I would have had that leniency if I’d taken A-Levels and/or Kent hadn’t appreciated the value of the IB).
Canterbury is a lovely city and it was a joy to live there (in fact I still do!) whilst studying. In particular, when studying medieval history, it was lovely to have Canterbury Cathedral on one’s doorstep to see genuine examples of the period studied.
How did you find your course?
Collecting a plethora of prospectuses and reading them to death! Once I’d narrowed it down to a dozen or so possibilities, I’d then look into the details of the faculty itself. Obviously I’d look at the available modules, but I’d also research the interests of the academics leading the teaching to see what areas of interest were present in the department and whether these aligned with my own interests. For example, I found Sussex focused heavily on 20th century social history, which wasn’t an area I had a burning interest in, so I was less inclined to place them higher in my preferences.
Did you take on any work experience placements during your studies?
Not as part of my degree, no. I think in hi
ndsight I would have enjoyed a year out in a foreign country, but this seemed as if it was a difficult to arrange once one had chosen a degree without a specified placement year.
Did you take part in any extra-curricular activities – student societies and/or sports clubs, part-time jobs, volunteering etc?
Plenty! I’d try if possible to attempt a new interest or sport once a term if I could. In terms of sports, I was active in the shooting, cycling and polo clubs. These experiences, particularly the latter (being a team sport), were valuable in promoting the sort of soft-skills employers look for, such as leadership, commitment and team-working.
In terms of societies, I was on the committee of the real-ale society (we definitely could organise a p*ss-up in a brewery!) and in my latter years I co-founded a new political debate & social society for centre-right students (due to a lack of alternatives to party-affiliated societies on campus). Although mostly just a bit of good fun, this encouraged skills such as organising events, handling money, being responsible for people’s welfare and managing communications.
I didn’t do a huge amount of volunteering outside of the above, however, as the IB had quite a prominent volunteering component as part of the qualification, so I already had a good amount of this under-my-belt prior to university.
How did you balance these with your studies?
The lower contact-hours of humanities students provide a perfect environment for getting involved with extra-curricular activities. Dividing up your time between sports & societies and studies encourages better time management and productivity, as one is forced to divide up the time between lectures (sometimes days at a time) into smaller units as opposed to leaving everything until the night before.
How do you think your studies and extra-curricular activities have helped your career prospects?
I think I’ve alluded to it above, but participating in sports and societies, be it attending or organising, gives you a wealth of skills that employers look for. Employers are less interested in what you’ve done, but more keen on hearing about what you’ve learned from your experiences. Perhaps you’ve organised a paid event for your club – you’ve now got experience handling money, admin, hosting events, perhaps even managing late payments and problematic attendees. You’d be surprised what skills even the most mundane activities have given you over the years!
What are you doing now?
I’m currently on the project management graduate scheme for Network Rail, the organisation that owns, maintains and builds the UK’s rail infrastructure (we essentially do everything except own the trains themselves).
I’m currently nearing the end of my first of two 6-month placements within the Infrastructure Projects (IP) division of the company. In broad terms, IP builds tomorrow’s railway, whilst Network Operations runs and maintains the railways as it is today. The project I’m working on at the moment is Crossrail 2, which is an early-stage development project, aiming to build a new cross-London railway for the 2030s. In particular, I’m working on improving how we integrate with TfL on certain aspects of the project.
As well as my primary placements in Infrastructure Projects, I’ve undertaken a number of smaller placements and visits within a variety of different sectors of the organisation. These have varied immensely, from spending a day working a 1920s signal box (with technology to match!) to visiting Crossrail tunnels under London. These visits/placements have allowed me to gain a wider insight into the activities of the company and have broadened my potential career paths.
What are your future career plans?
After my two six-month placements, at a band 5 role, I’ll be aiming to move up into a band 4 role within Infrastructure Projects. However, there’s nothing forcing me to stay within this particular division of the company. If I wished, I could move into the operations side of the railway. For the moment, I’m keen to develop my project management skills in a permanent role. However, I anticipate that in a few years I may wish to gain experience in a different part of the company. Had I not chosen a graduate scheme for a national organisation, I don’t think I would have received as much exposure to as many different roles and potential career paths.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking about taking a degree at Kent?
When applying to any university, but do ensure that there are academic staff at your faculty who have interests that at least somewhat mirror your own. Although this won’t play as crucial a factor in your first year module choices, having a dissertation tutor that shares a keen interest in your topic will help you immensely.
Be sure to throw yourself into extra-curricular activities. Kent has a really good students’ union that helps organise great sports clubs and societies. It’s important to remember that the degree itself only really forms part of your university experience; so much value can be added to your time here if you learn new skills, sports or hobbies. As well as being great fun, employers really value well-rounded individuals who can demonstrate they have a wide range of interests outside of education/work.