School of Earth and Environment

Shona Brown

Shona Brown

MSc Sustainability and Consultancy, 2014

• 2014 - 2015 • Sustainability Assistant at NG Bailey

What made you choose your degree programme at the University?

I was in the final year of my undergrad degree in Geography and Communication Studies at the University of Liverpool and knew that if I wanted to start a career in sustainability that I would have to complete a Masters. I had only touched on the subject in my second year through a module called 'Environmental Sustainability'. I had never heard the term before this, so knew I had to increase my knowledge if I wanted to be taken seriously by employers.

What did you like about studying at the University?

There is an amazing community feel to UoL. Liverpool was a city 'campus' where as Leeds was on a campus WITHIN a city. It's a complete game changer. The banner 'MSc Sustainability' allows you to not only meet people on your own specific course but on the other ones too.

What did you enjoy about the city?

Leeds is laid back which is really nice - you can walk everywhere you need to go really. What I love best about Leeds is that within 10 minutes you're in the countryside!

Are there any particular modules that you enjoyed as part of your degree?

I liked the environmental governance and policy module. It gave great first insight in to current affairs within climate change that we need to know as professionals. I would have enjoyed a module on urban regeneration or something that explores sustainability in cities and growth.

What opportunities did your degree give you?

It most definitely was essential in getting employment in the industry. No doubt I wouldn't be where I am without it TEAMED with the work experience I ensured to do throughout the year. I must stress the importance of volunteering/work experience. I think it is absolutely key!

How did your degree enable you to develop the skills necessary for employment?

As mentioned, the governance module provided a great introduction in the areas you need to watch as a professional. Those practicing in sustainability must constantly keep up to date with climate change news/talks/policies/debates etc. as it is an every changing and developing area.

Section 2 - Employment whilst Studying

What employment did you undertake whilst completing your degree?

I worked too much! Those are the pressures that come with lack of funding for those studying at Masters level. I was a sub-warden at a halls of residence which meant I received my accommodation FOC. Relevant work experience wise - I worked part-time for the sustainability team at UoL as a Sustainability Student Architect. I was the Green Rep at Oxley Halls of Residence and I volunteered as a Green Impact Project Assistant. I also worked full-time over the summer months whilst completing my degree at Nottingham Trent University as Environmental Engagement Officer.

How did being employed as a student enable you to develop the skills necessary for pursuing a career after graduation?

I don't think I would be in employed in a relevant field has I not completed at MINIMUM, one of the above jobs/volunteering opportunities. All of the above positions allowed me to practice and develop necessary skills for the industry such as project management, environmental awareness etc. They also encouraged me to use my imagination and creative thinking which is key in sustainability I believe. My commitment to practicing in the field throughout my studies also outlined to employers my dedication and drive. I also won a number of awards for my work with UoL and NUS. This allows you to stand out from the crowd when applying for jobs.

What opportunities for career development did your employer give you?

I was very much allowed free rein at UoL for my projects. People in the sustainability and property teams put their trust in me which allowed me to develop personally and in regards to my career. My current employer has paid for a course to allow me to achieve Practitioner level IEMA membership.

How did you manage your time between employment, studies and extracurricular activities?

I probably didn't manage it well enough seeing as I didn't achieve the grade I wanted in my MSc. I enjoy hands on work and prefer it to academics. I became much stressed towards the end of the year as my faculty were not very understanding of the importance of working whilst studying and didn't give me any leeway. That is the one thing that saddened me - I think academics should teach students the importance of working and actually encourage it so that students are more employable and have better skills when graduating. My dissertation supervisor assured me that I was a winner as I managed to complete my MSc and have a number of employment offers - where as some people who got better grades are still unemployed in a relevant field.

What were the benefits in being employed whilst a student at University?

That I so easily got offered a number of jobs before I even graduated. No first class degree could make up for that!

Section 5 - Employment after University

What did you do immediately after graduating?

I started working in sustainability full-time before I graduated.

How did you find the process of your job search?

Easy - once you know what you are doing. It is very important to tailor your CV to each different position you apply for. It can be time consuming and draining but students need to know this rather than thinking they should send out generic CVs to lots of employers.

What type of employment interested you the most, and is your current employment what you were looking for?

I wanted to work in a sustainability team and I wasn't fussy about the industry as getting experience in any industry would be beneficial. I absolutely love my job. I am learning every single day as it is quite a varied role - I split my time 50/50 between environmental sustainability and social responsibility. My company encourage me to learn and are very supportive of CPD.

What does your role involve in your current place of employment?

As outlined above - my role is quite varied. 50% of my job is focused on environmental sustainability and the other half is social sustainability. I am responsible for developing and coordinating NGB's national STEM school engagement programme, Inspire. I monitor the company's solar PV generation and export data and collect and collate gas, electricity, oil and biomass energy consumption data for our national offices in order to calculate our annual carbon footprint. I also assist in managing the outgoings of the company's charitable giving fund and collate and maintain our community investment data.

What was the application process like?

The application process was to submit a CV. I then had a telephone interview followed by a face-to-face interview.

What did you do that made you stand out from the crowd? I.e. through extracurricular activities, being involved with the school, choice of modules

The work experience I got during the year I completed my MSc was what made me stand out from the crowd I think. That, teamed with my personality (driven, good communication skills, passionate easy to talk to etc.). I'm sure the awards I had received also made me stand out.

What key skills have you been able to develop since being employed?

Probably too many to list. I have learned an incredible amount here and become a whole lot more confident. I should outline the difference between communication in academics and corporate business is very different and takes a while to get used to!

How is your current employment enabling you to develop on your long term career plans?

As outlined earlier - my company are very supportive of CPD. I will be completing my Associate exam this year in order to achieve my PIEMA. They invest millions each year in learning and development of staff so if I felt I needed to do a course etc to support my learning they would be very open to consideration.

What piece of advice would you give to a graduate looking for employment?

Get more than one relevant work experience before you finish university!