- Course: BA Geography with Transport Planning
- Year of graduation: 2016
- Nationality: British
- Job title: Graduate Planning Officer (Development Management)
- Company: Epsom & Ewell Borough Council
What have you been doing since finishing your studies? What are you doing in terms of your career?
I started working for Epsom & Ewell Borough Council shortly after I graduated last summer; I interviewed for the job at the beginning of 2016 and we agreed an August start, as I spent some time in India after classes finished in May and then had to hunt for a new place to live. The job is a graduate role on a fixed term contract so I am already looking ahead to my next steps – I hope to move into the conservation and heritage area of local authority planning.
What company are you working for, what is your role and what does it involve?
The council is the local planning authority across the borough, and the small department is extremely busy. I handle a full caseload of domestic and smaller commercial planning applications as soon as they’ve been registered on our system. This means general administration relating to each application, reading and assessing plans, attending meetings and site visits and finally analysing the proposal in terms of relevant local planning policies so I can recommend a final decision to the Place Development Manager. The council also offers some guidance for prospective developers through the pre-application advice service, as well as answering queries from local residents. I spend a lot of time in the office writing reports or responding to emails but am lucky to be able to get out around the borough on my site visits too.
What experiences at Leeds do you think have particularly helped with your career/will help with your future career?
I’m sure that there are specific lectures that I’ve drawn on in my current job, but I remember that my interviewers were particularly impressed with the ‘niche skills’ I had gained from the Institute for Transport Studies (ITS) modules. Strangely, my student profile mentions that I was starting to look away from local authority planning after my first year of studies because I’d seen so much was available in the transport world. However, several of the modules I studied across the School of Geography and the ITS gave me a wider understanding of, and better perspective on, some of the challenges facing planning at the moment in the UK; I ultimately returned to that sector with added knowledge from my degree course.
Looking back, why did you choose to study your particular course and why did you choose the University of Leeds?
When I was looking at different universities I felt the most important thing was to be happy where I was studying – Leeds immediately felt like a fantastic city, I liked the campus and facilities and when my studies were hard-going I knew I could escape into the centre or out to the country. I had already decided to look at planning as part of my degree, which helped whittle down the huge number of places I could study geography, and I remember really enjoying the talks from the ITS and School of Geography during the open day. In the end, University of Leeds topped my list of choices and part of that decision was definitely because I felt comfortable in the city and on campus.
What was the best aspect of the course/the University and why? Any highlights?
My course highlight would have to be the field trip to Helsinki in second year – although we spent long and tiring days travelling in the slush and snow to fill in our worksheets and surveys, it was a fascinating insight into a city that was totally different to anywhere else that I’d been in Europe.
What other activities outside of your studies were you involved in?
I joined the music society (LUUMS) in my first year and was part of at least two ensembles each year. I made a lot of friends and had a lot of fun there, and also volunteered with a Brownie pack close to campus with a friend I knew before university. That made me feel much more connected to the city outside the student bubble and helped me to continue something I’d done since school. There were a lot of societies that I often thought about joining but I’m not sure how I could have fitted them all in to my routine!
What would you say to students thinking about studying the same course at Leeds/thinking about the same career?
Make sure you take some discovery modules outside the ITS and School of Geography – I studied a couple in the School of Earth and Environment in first year and took an English module in my final year which was a challenge, but it was interesting to see how different schools organise themselves and meet some new people totally removed from anything I’d done before.
Planning is hard work but can be very rewarding, and there are lots of opportunities in the private and public sectors. Based on my own experience, I would say it is important to have other life experiences outside your studies, whether that’s studying a new subject or joining a group that will remove you from your course. Your degree is what you make it so give yourself something to enjoy!