Malithi Fernando

Malithi Fernando

I am currently a policy analyst/modeler at the International Transport Forum (ITF) in the Quantitative Policy Analysis team. We use quantitative methods to develop evidence-based policy recommendations to address climate change, accessibility, safety and more, for cities and countries. At the moment, I am managing the production of the next edition of the ITF’s flagship publication, the ITF Transport Outlook. Every two years it reports on trends and models future scenarios in the transport sector under varying policy agendas. Prior to this, my work involved developing strategic transport modelling tools for policymakers in Estonia to test the performance of transport policies. I also conducted a case study looking at the costs and benefits of using micro electric vehicles in postal delivery fleets in Korea.

My experience at ITS shaped my career path immensely. Prior to ITS, I completed a degree in engineering and worked in transport consulting where I gained experience in transport modelling and the quantitative side of the field. I wanted to widen my perspective and understand the nuances of transport policy, economics and governance issues, as well as explore the social impacts of transport in greater detail. These topics were covered in modules by a variety of lecturers/researchers. I also loved taking a ‘deep dive’ into my dissertation research which allowed me to develop very useful research skills (data analysis and visualisation), improve the way I communicate difficult concepts (in writing and during presentations), and gain an appreciation for the multi-disciplinary nature of transport. My international cohort widened my knowledge of global transport issues. Especially since many of my peers had experience working in their home countries, their anecdotes and contributions enriched class discussions even beyond lecture material. Learning to appreciate and work in a multicultural environment was also a very valuable skill.

I was introduced to ITS by an alumnus who worked at the same transport consultancy as me. His very positive review piqued my interest. I am very thorough when it comes to making big decisions, so I looked into ITS along with several other programs, and spoke to many alumni from these universities as well. However, ITS came out the clear winner because of how well suited the program was to my interests. I found the variety of topics, expertise of the lecturers/researchers, structure of the program (I wanted a solid research component) and the extra perks like the ITS Euro trip hard to turn down. I couldn’t be happier with my choice!

My advice to students interested in this course and a career in transport is do it! Well, only do it if you love it. This field is about improving people’s lives and the planet. Regardless of where you fall between those two aims, both are difficult, and both go against the status quo. You need a good dose of patience and optimism to make it, but it is so worth it. You’ll find that transport professionals are some of the most passionate individuals about their chosen field because they know what a difference it makes.

I found the ITS Employer visits very helpful to get an idea of the kind of work different companies do. I would suggest everyone attend them even if you have a job lined up. It’s good to understand the industry you are entering.

I have discovered that I enjoy distilling complicated, technical concepts into a form that people without a dedicated interest in the field can understand. I developed a transport modelling tool for Estonia as part of a larger policy review and had the opportunity to introduce concepts of transport modelling and the methodology behind our tool to a group of policymakers in the ministry and other stakeholders. Needless to say a presentation on transport modelling wasn’t initially met with the most enthusiasm. By the end, however, audience members came up with surprised expressions to tell me that it actually was very engaging and that they finally understood what transport modelling meant. Helping people understand concepts they usually shy away from is very rewarding.

When it came to finding and applying for jobs I found my mentor (who I was paired with through the ITS Mentorship scheme) very helpful and encouraging during my job search. I had a wonderful experience with the ITS Mentorship scheme.

My advice to ITS international students who are seeking work in the transport sector is to ask questions and seek to learn about the industry way before you need a job. The mentorship program at ITS is one way to meet people in industry and form relationships but you can be proactive and do this on your own as well. As a student you have a lot more freedom to ask for ‘informational interviews’ - make use of this opportunity. People are generally happy to give half an hour of their time to someone just starting out. If you find someone with a career path you are curious about, ask if they would be willing to talk about their interests and how they got to where they are. Ask them for advice and about what they would do differently. If your interests do not line up exactly, they may refer you to members of their network to speak to. These kinds of conversations are helpful in the moment, and sometimes plant seeds that could play a role in the future. I landed my first job after university about a year after first contacting my eventual boss to learn about their career path. While that may be a rarer outcome, gaining a better appreciation for the field can only help you.