Catherine Graves

Catherine Graves

I currently work as the Sustainability Intern in the Sustainability Service at the University of Leeds. My main role has been to lead the Green Impact scheme across the University. This involves a great deal of organisation and coordination in addition to the practical sustainability knowledge which I apply every day. There has been a clear progression from my MSc studies to the application of my knowledge in my current role, and I am hoping to move forward in my Sustainability career, ideally into NGOs, consultancies or think tanks, and I would love to study for a PhD in a few years!

My current role has enabled me to translate my academic knowledge into a practical setting. A lot of my role is talking to teams or individuals about practical ways to improve the sustainability of their workplace or introducing them to ideas around sustainability more generally. My MSc Sustainability provided 'real world' context which built on a lot of theoretical knowledge I gained during my undergraduate Geography degree. This has then become even more applied in my internship this year. Aside from the academic knowledge I gained over the course, I also developed professional skills which range from confidence in presentations through to effective communication skills and leadership. 

What do you like about studying at university?

I liked the flexibility of the module choice, I could tailor module choices to my own interest. I made sure I studied a range of issues and it covered a broad spectrum.

Modules enjoyed?

I especially liked climate change mitigation and adaptation, climate change is one of my main passion areas. The modules assessment was varied and it combined an interest learning approach.

How did your degree enable you to develop on your employment skills?

Did translate my theoretical knowledge I learnt in my undergraduate to practical applications. I learnt very real life applications to things that I was interested in. We did a lot on energy policy which is a big interest of mine. It developed a load of transferable skills such as communication and team working that employers are looking for,

Employment whilst studying

For 8 months I was a sustainability student architect which was a part time position within the sustainability service at the university which enabled me the real practical application of sustainability in a place where I was passionate about. As a student architect I worked on my own project, it was largely under the banner of engaging students my specific project was looking at dissertations and trying to formalise as well as expand the programme of sustainability related dissertations and also making it accessible to all students.

Employment allowed me to develop practical skills such as time and project management. What I really liked was the fact that it was directly linked to my studies and had a real life practical application.

The student sustainability architect role that I had was something that really appealed to me as a sustainability student and is a real plus point for coming to Leeds. The sustainability service that we have now is the largest department in a higher education in the country and we are really fortunate at Leeds to have that. The role, there are 4 positions every year and is a great opportunity for students to gain part time work in sustainability.

My employer was very understanding and flexible in how I could fit my work within my studies. They want you to get the best out of it so I developed a lot of project management. I was allowed to run with the project and the interest I had while learning from the people that do it full time so I learnt a lot from them. I gained a lot of practical applications and understanding of how it works at the university. Obviously, the university is very large so it was a great opportunity for me to understand how sustainability can be embedded in an organisation this large.

Time management?

My part-time work was very flexible so they really understood how studies can be chaotic  in terms of pressure. So I structured my work around these pressures accordingly, general communication with my employer made that possible. Generally, I am quite an organised person but it was important that the relevant parties understood what my pressures were.


It enabled me in a quite intense year of master studies, to gain relevant experience in a career that has enabled me to come into this in a full time position in this internship. That was a clear benefit for me being employed at that level.

What did you do immediately after graduating?

I was fortunate enough to be offered the yearlong internship within the sustainability service. I went straight into this internship after graduating.

The process of job search?

It was relatively easy, I only applied for two jobs and I heard back from this relatively easy.

What type of employment interested you?

Ideally, I wanted something directly related to sustainability and I got that, but at the start of my career I was quite open-minded and luckily enough I was able to go down this career path.