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10 questions with award-winning UCL Careers Extra student

Rachael Richardson-Bullock23 June 2021

Read time: 5 minutes

Written by George Barker, Medicine MBBS BSc, 2021

George Barker winning an award

We sat down with award-winning UCL student (soon to be Medicine MBBS BSc graduate!) George Barker to discuss how his experiences with UCL Careers Extra has empowered his achievements while studying at UCL, including winning TargetJobs 2021 LGBT+ Undergraduate of the Year Award.

1.) Where are you from?

I grew up on the Wirral, in the North West of England.

2.) Why did you choose UCL?

I had visited London before coming to UCL on a short holiday and absolutely loved it. It’s the centre where so much happens in the UK, which is both an excellent thing and can also be a bit daunting when you come from somewhere so far away up North. And I had to make a decision, is that something I want to move closer to? I wanted to move to a new city and I wanted to move to a bigger city. I wanted that city to be global and multicultural, have opportunity and have a community that I would feel welcomed by. So I set about thinking about where I wanted to go to university. I didn’t quite feel that Oxbridge was for me (even though the school perhaps tried to push us in that direction). UCL is a research intensive Russell Group university in the heart of London, it teaches subjects from a wide variety of faculties so you can meet people from all sorts of backgrounds. I applied to some other London universities but UCL was very much my top choice. Also, the course structure was one that worked better for me, and there was the integrated BSc that all students get to do (which isn’t the case in all universities). The hospitals that UCL is affiliated with are some of the best in the UK, with specialists from Europe and the world, and is also research intensive. I was interested in being involved in academia and not just learning to become a doctor but how to be a clinician scientist as well. There’s also a wide variety of extra-curricular activities, plus the fact UCL offers full body dissection, which I still think is the best way to learn anatomy.

3.) Have you always wanted to pursue medicine as a career?

I think there was a time in school when I was strongly considering a career in astrophysics. I’d always been interested in space and physics and thoroughly enjoyed it through secondary school. And then I started to gain more of an understanding of health care and veterinary care and working as a doctor or a dentist, and eventually, after doing some work experience within a clinical skills centre at my local hospital, decided to pursue medicine.

However, I was able to combine the space interest a little bit. In my third year I did an integrated BSc in Medical Sciences with Physiology. I did a module in extreme environments, which included space medicine and how medicine is important clinically for astronauts and cosmonauts. It’s that Applied Physiology, where you take the body and put it in an abnormal environment that I find quite interesting. So that interest in physics and space is still very much there.

4.) What extra experiences have you undertaken during your studies? 

In addition to your integrated year you get to pick in your final few weeks an area of medicine you’d like to spend more time on, to gain a deeper understanding and expose yourself to a specialty that you haven’t done before. So I decided to do half of mine in anaesthetics and then spend two weeks down in Plymouth in this regional Hyperbaric Centre for the South West and South Wales. We treat diving emergencies and give them emergency recompression.   

I’ve also been involved in other things outside my studies – charity and volunteering. I volunteered with Sexpression UK for 7 years in total during my studies. It’s a peer-led, student-led, UK wide charity that provides relationship and sex education sessions to secondary school children. We go out and teach informative, non-biased, inclusive, comprehensive relationship and sex education. When I was at school sex education was usually taught by a teacher who was not overly enthusiastic, and with the content not really being applicable to me or including me in the way I would have wanted, I came away with more questions than answers. And when your questions aren’t answered at a time when you are young, trying to work out who you are, it’s really difficult. You don’t know where to turn to get accurate, correct information that’s also supporting you, not saying horrible and nasty things. So, I wanted to make sure that wouldn’t happen to other people – hence my involvement in Sexpression UK. I was heavily involved at UCL, running the branch, then I became the Externals Director and later the National Director of the charity itself. I became a Trustee of the charity as well – my term finished in September 2020.   

That was an incredibly interesting experience that I never thought that I would get at university, and there’s lots of things about coming to UCL that I would never have thought I’d end up doing. But I’m ever so glad I did.  

5.) How has the Careers Extra team helped you?

Sexpression UK and charity work has always been important to me but it’s a small charity, with no paid members of staff, just students volunteering their time. Trying to balance that with medicine and balance it against needing some sort of funding in order to live in London can be a real challenge, especially when during the summer I was volunteering and didn’t have the time to do paid work. UCL has a variety of different ways to support people. The UCL Careers Extra Bursary provided me with financial assistance over the summer. Additionally, I’ve used the UCL Careers appointments for medical students to talk about different opportunities in medicine and some of the more non-traditional routes through medical training. I found that to be a real benefit in trying to navigate through quite a complex training structure.

6.) Are you a member of any student societies at UCL?

Yes, for 7 years, I’ve been part of the MDs comedy revue, the medical school’s comedy sketch troupe. We do sketch and song and dance about medicine, hospitals, UCL and everything else. I guess some of the highlights would be we went to Edinburgh and sold out a show there and got nominated for an award. We’ve done some collaborative shows and we actually officially reopened the Bloomsbury theatre twice. I think it’s really important to have a creative outlet, a way to express yourself artistically, and I found it a wonderful way to relax with like-minded, creative people. It’s good fun and I think if we’re having fun, then the audience probably has a bit of fun as well.

7.) How did the LGBT+ award come about?

I had heard about the award before but had never applied. I started applying this year, just to get more information about it. I was hesitating about it – the prize was a law internship, so I assumed it would go to a law undergraduate or someone else from a non-STEM background. So I thought maybe there was no point in applying. Then I got a phone call from the people at Targetjobs and they reassured me it was designed to be for everyone. I had to do an online personality test, then an online logic assessment, then there was a virtual crystal maze social event, after which there was an assessment centre with two stations – the first one a competency based interview and the second one a case study. I didn’t hear anything for a while, then found out I was in the final, which was a nice surprise at a time when there weren’t many nice things going on in the world and most of my days were filled with revision for my finals. And the day after my final written paper there was an online awards ceremony, hosted by Rachel Riley from Countdown. I tuned in and found I’d won, much to my surprise!

So that’s how it came about and how I have acquired a law internship. It’s not something I’ve explored before, but one of the things I’ve enjoyed, both within and outside of UCL, is doing different things I wouldn’t have otherwise done. It’s run by Clifford Chance, and a donation was also made to Sexpression UK by Clifford Chance, which was really good news when so many voluntary organisations and community groups are really struggling in terms of raising donations.

8.) What single achievement are you most proud of from your time at UCL?

There’s two – academic and non-academic. Academic wise it was securing an Academic Foundation Programme offer, which is a relatively competitive combined clinical and academic job for two years and that’s kind of my first job as a doctor in a location I’m really happy with and rotations I’m looking forward to. I think that as a working class, first generation student, I’m not the kind of person that is normally proud of their achievements (it’s maybe not a very northern thing), but I am really, really made up that I’ve been able to do that and to show that even though the odds were really not in my favour, if you put the graft in and work at it you can do it. Having done that means a lot to me.

In terms of non-academic, I think it’s confidence. If you had told me when I left school that by the time I finish university I’d have had the confidence to get up on a West End stage, perform to a West End audience, singing, in a dress, doing solos, I would have absolutely laughed (or run away). I ended up taking some singing lessons supported by a bursary from the medical school – it’s called the Heller bursary to do something artistic and learn something artistic. So I’ve been having singing lessons and I just got up on stage and sang my heart out. I think the story there is to have the confidence to do something outside your comfort zone, learn a completely new skill. That confidence is something that I did not have coming into university and apparently now I do. And doing that and making people laugh, I think is very important, especially in times like these.

9.) We’ve talked about what you’re planning to do when you graduate, but you’ve also mentioned it’s quite a complex career path. Tell me a little bit more about your plans.

There are a number of training paths in medicine that you can go in at one end and pop out the other end. For me, it’s not something I want to rush my way through to complete as fast as possible, I’d rather do interesting opportunities. I will probably take at least one year out, perhaps a couple to pursue interesting opportunities inside and outside of medicine. I also want to travel, which I’ve not had the opportunity to do. There are interesting opportunities in terms of extreme medicine, I’d also like to practise somewhere that isn’t London. In terms of specialty training, I think the two that stand out would be anaesthetics and sexual health and HIV but that’s by no means set in stone and I’m happy for that to change. You start to understand the topics you like and the topics you don’t. It’s also important to know more about the jobs I will like, and find out which fits best for me and my life.

10.) What one piece of advice would you give to a new student just starting at UCL?

UCL is full of so many different opportunities, be that through your course, outside or your course, through UCL itself, through the student’s union – make the most of them and go out and try and find out more about them. There are so many it can be difficult to find what’s available. When you have done that, try something, give it a go. Being a student is the time to find out what you like, what you don’t like, what you enjoy doing. And UCL is able to offer so much of that. It doesn’t have to go brilliantly, but it is a time of your life to try new experiences – you may end up surprising yourself. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and try something new.

Sustainability Fortnight: Careers in Conservation, Ecology & Wildlife

UCL Careers15 March 2019

 

Careers in Conservation panel

The 20th of February saw our second panel discussion for Sustainability Fortnight exploring careers in Conservation, Ecology & Wildlife. Our panellists were:

We heard from each panellist about their career path and the decisions that led them to their current roles – to hear their stories, you can read their biographies and view the event recording.

The speakers had plenty of advice for current students – and what you can do now to shape your own career.

Get involved

Gwen Buck, Policy Advisor at the Green Alliance, found her career after becoming interested in the politics around the environment and conservation. She found that involving herself in events and networking opportunities in the local area enabled her to find out about companies and career opportunities she might not have found otherwise.

“Make sure to ask people plenty of questions!” – Gwen Buck, Policy Advisor at Green Alliance

Clare Pugh, Senior Ecologist at Atkins, also recommended joining the Ecology Network as another way to broaden understanding of the industry and access contacts and career opportunities.  Both panellists were keen to point out that even though experience might not be in the form of a formal work placement any experience can still be greatly beneficial.

David Kirby, Associate Ecologist at WPS, finally added that “gaining any kind of experience is a good idea”.  This can be particularly useful in gaining practical experiences such as surveying and gaining a surveying license; these are necessities of the roles at his firm and can be gained whilst still a student.

Attitude

Jonathan Brauner, Logistics and Business Liaison at Wildlife for All, was keen to stress the importance of a positive attitude when working in this area.  “All of the staff at our organisation are voluntary” he stated.  “This means that it is vital that anyone looking to work with us has the right attitude, both in giving their time and their approach to the work”.  Gaining work experience in the industry can often be temporary, unpaid or physically exerting and therefore anyone looking to participate should be positive they are willing to take part and happy to do a range of tasks.

Persistence is key

Francesca Trotman is the Founder of charity Love The Oceans and was keen to point out that persistence has been a key trait which her career has benefitted from.  “I always knew what I wanted to do but setting up a charity which works in Mozambique has plenty of challenges”, she said, “but I’ve been told I won’t be able to do something 1,000 times and have always managed to do them so far”.  She also felt that being flexible is a real benefit, particularly due to the atypical types of opportunity that come up to someone looking to work in the industry.

Potential growth areas

The panel were asked about potential growth areas which students may see increased opportunity in for the near future. Clare discussed areas within her work in sustainability for large consultancies and pinpointed biodiversity net-gain (improving biodiversity rather than simply offsetting losses) as an area that is being increasingly promoted within her field.

David added that there are increases in the use of new technologies, for example in the collection and analysis of data, which is also growing and is an area which students should look to understand and develop new skills in.

Want to learn more? You can find event recordings and resources from previous Themed Weeks on our website.

Sustainability Fortnight: Careers in Energy

UCL Careers15 March 2019

Careers in Energy Panellists

The 18th February saw Sustainability Fortnight kick off with a panel event exploring careers in the energy sector. Our panellists were:

We heard from each panellist about their career path and the decisions that led them to their current roles – to hear their stories, you can read their biographies and view the event recording.

The speakers had plenty of advice for current students – and what you can do now to shape your own career.

Networking

Every single member of the panel cited the importance of networking, and several mentioned the connections they built by attending events such as this one. University career events bring professionals straight to your doorstep and make it easier than ever to engage with people in the industry. You can always reach out to them for a coffee or a phone call in the future, as many of them are happy to help and to give their advice. And don’t forget LinkedIn! Sara from XCO2, who also lectures at the University of Suffolk, reminded everyone to make sure your profile is up to date and filled out, and to use it to make connections with new contacts, as well as keeping up with old one. She estimated that 75% of her job roles came from ex-colleagues and references, so make sure you keep contact open with your professors and colleagues as you move between organisations. Charlotte, from the Renewables Consulting Group, added how useful your university’s alumni network can be. You can join UCL alumni network and find access to thousands of past students, many of whom are now offering mentorship opportunities.

Keep your goals in mind

“Follow your values”, recommended Ben, from Azuri Technologies. “Create your own mental checklist of what you want and stick to it when you’re job hunting. Keep a shortlist of the companies you’re interested in rather than jobs”. He went on to urge the importance of focusing matching your values to the organisations you’re applying to, and suggested signing up to their job feeds or newsletters, as well as attending their events.  Fiona suggested starting with research into how many types of companies there are in the energy sector, and to look at the Energy Institute and similar organisations – they often have student groups and networking events.

Sara pointed out that “Your first job might not be the one you want, but keep your ideas guiding you. Learn from each role.” She and Fiona both emphasised the importance of keeping an open mind, both about the type of company and the type of role you might be interested in. All of the panellists encouraged the benefits of “portfolio careers” and experimenting – particularly in a field as dynamic and changing as the energy sector.

Focus on your own development

“Soft skills are important”, Charlotte advised – practice your public speaking and writing skills.

Ben offered some pointers on the importance of feedback – “Feedback is golden. Ask your peers for feedback when working on group projects. Don’t take it to heart but try and develop from it.”

As always, don’t forget to tailor your cover letters! Jean-Paul, from Zenobe Energy, acknowledged that having to write them can of course be horrible – so don’t waste your efforts, and make sure they are tailored to the job and the skills.

Stay resilient

“Don’t be let down by rejection”, advised Jean-Paul. He also encouraged students to continue to go to events and to keep talking to people – you never know what will lead to an opportunity. Fiona echoed this: “Don’t take rejection personally, sometimes it’s just about timing.” Sometimes re-applying to an organisation later on might yield a very different outcome.

Want to learn more? You can find event recordings and resources from previous Themed Weeks on our website.

Stranger Careers Advice

uczjsdd27 November 2017

What did you get up to this weekend? I stayed in and binge-watched series 2 of Stranger Things. I know, I know, I’m a little behind. I could pretend the delay was due to my active social life or (more believably) because I had The Defenders and Transparent to get through first. But the truth is I was terrified it wouldn’t live up to series 1. I simply couldn’t bear to see Eleven et al. in a sub-par storyline. So imagine my delight when I found that not only is series 2 just as good as the first, but it’s also choc-a-block with useful careers messages – Totally Tubular! Here are three careers tips I took from the upside-down world of Hawkins:

1) Speaking the same language helps

“The demogorgon”, “the shadow monster”, “demodogs”, “true sight”…these are terms Eleven, Mike and the gang use to navigate the scary and weird world in which they find themselves. Without these words it would be far trickier to make sense of and communicate what’s happening around them.

Compared to studying at university, new jobs and sectors can also feel like scary weird worlds. And if you don’t speak the language – something employers might describe as showing “commercial awareness” – they’ll be even more foreign. So before you attend a careers event and network with employers, and certainly before you make applications, try to learn a little of their language. The best way to do this is by reading relevant industry publications; the blogs, magazines and journals those working in your chosen field are reading. They’ll tell you what’s going on in a strange other world, and the correct terms to describe it.

2) There are many ways to bring something to a team

[Warning: this tip contains spoilers. Soz.]

The Stranger Things kids are a motley crew, yet they’ve managed to save eachother, Hawkins, and presumably the entire world twice. Mike’s the leader, and Eleven’s contribution is obvious, sure. But what about the rest of them? Will keeps getting lost or infected, Lucas reveals the group’s secrets, and Dustin hides a demodog. Yet they all help in their own way. Without Will, the evil-root-tunnel-thingies would never have been found. Without Lucas bringing Max on board, they never would have reached those evil-root-tunnel-thingies. And without Dustin’s bond to a demodog, they’d never have made it out of the evil-root-tunnel-thingies alive.

These sorts of teamworking skills (minus the evil-root-tunnel-thingies) are attractive to most employers. So even if you’re a Dustin or a Lucas and you don’t take up the obvious leader or ideas-generator role, you have something to add. If you find it difficult to identify and communicate your contribution, check out Belbin’s team roles for details of the less prominent but still vital roles people can play.

3) Skills can be transferred

Eleven’s telepathic skills were ideally suited to her first (enforced) career in espionage. But does that mean she can’t do anything else? No sir-ee, she didn’t let herself be pigeon-holed. She recognised her transferrable skills and carried them into a variety of settings, including anti-bullying campaigns, demogorgon elimination consultancy, and an internship at a vigilante start-up.

Just like Eleven, you’ll have developed a bunch of skills throughout your university experience that will also be useful in other settings. It’s important to recognise what these skills are so you can speak confidently about them. It could be the research or writing skills you picked up along the way, the organisational skills you used to plan a project or to fit your university work around extracurricular activities, the teaching skills you used to help bring coursemates up to speed, or the communication skills you used to present your work in front of a class. If you spot a skill you enjoy using, seek out further opportunities to develop it through your university work, internships, or extracurricular activities. This will convince an employer it truly is a strength you can bring to their organisation.

A Degree in Physics – What Next?

UCL Careers15 January 2016

It is a fact that approximately 70% of all graduate jobs are open to any degree discipline. So there is a vast amount of choice when it comes to deciding what to do after your degree.

However, many students choose to enter a profession that utilises the subject knowledge that they gained during their degree. Physicists are no exception to this. In fact, at UCL about a third of undergraduates go on to study physics at masters or PhD level before launching themselves in a job – whether that is in academia or industry.

So if you really love your degree, what are the sectors that will really use your knowledge of Physics?

Here are just 5 of the areas you might consider, to show you the range of possibilities open to you.

Energy

This is a growth sector and it is expected that within the next 10 years, there will be 200,000 people working in ‘Energy & Utilities’. The UK government wants 15% of our energy to come from wind, tidal and solar power by 2020, so developing a workforce to support these areas is a priority. The nuclear industry is massive in the UK (50,000 people) and of course these is also the Oil and Gas sector.  Physicists are needed for research & development roles, design engineering, data analysis roles, sales and trading roles and many more. More information:  https://www.energyinst.org/home

Medicine

Medicine is an ever advancing sector. Physicists play a very important role in developing new technologies and medical procedures. The range is vast and covers the development of medical equipment such as heart valves, artificial limbs or surgical equipment. It includes nuclear medicine for the treatment of cancer and x-ray, NMR and PET scanners. And it includes developing new technologies such as nanobots to target cancer cells or blood-monitoring infrared light. More information:  http://www.ipem.ac.uk

Sport and Games

This area can be broadly split into two. You could be on the design and development engineering side in sports physics. This includes looking at how to improve sports equipment such as the aerodynamics of a racing bike or better cushioning in sports shoes. Or you could be on the IT side,  developing the graphics for more realistic computer games or analysing data during live sports matches. Either way, you would be part of a multi-million pound industry. More information: http://www.uksport.gov.uk/about-us/the-english-institute-of-sport

Education

There is currently a shortage of physics teachers in the UK, which is why you could get a bursary of up to £25,000 from the Department of Education if you decide to train to be a physics teacher. You would need to gain qualified teacher status (QTS) through a range of further study options. You would then decide to teach at secondary school level (11-16 years or 11-18 years), or in further education (16 years+). More information: https://getintoteaching.education.gov.uk

Nanotechnology

Whilst not a ‘sector’ in its own right, nanotechnology spans across engineering, medicine, energy, defence and much more. However, as one of the newest areas that physicists enter, it would be poor form not to mention it. Roles within nanotechnology are largely focused on research, development and design engineering. It is an exciting area for anyone who wants to be at the cutting edge of science – enhancing the energy efficiency of windows, designing medical devices, enhancing the efficiency of batteries, designing lighter and stronger sports equipment and much more. The possibilities in nanotechnology are vast and largely unknown at present. More information: https://www.london-nano.com

This isn’t an exhaustive list at all, we didn’t even mention the space industry, the environment, defence,  meteorology, or science journalism. But hopefully it has given some food for thought. If you want to discuss your options, come and talk to a careers consultant at UCL Careers. Alternatively, you will find some excellent information on the Institute of Physics website: http://www.iop.org/

Visit Careers Tagged for more information on Physics careers

– Karen Barnard, Director, UCL Careers

Interview advice for really really ridiculously good-looking men

uczjsdd10 December 2015

Bieber

Are you hot? Like Justin Bieber hot? Then good luck getting a job. Recent UCL research has shown that for certain types of role being terribly good-looking makes you less likely to be hired. At first I was delighted to have a totally plausible reason for all of my past and future employment rejections, and if we can extrapolate from these results, and I believe we surely can, all of my other rejections too.  But then I realised this only applies to men.

So guys, if you think your Bradley-Cooper-esque looks are holding you back, here’s something light as we go into the Christmas break – a tongue-in-cheek Guardian article about how to combat hunk discrimination.

If you’re after more serious interview advice, (male or female, good-looking or not so much) check out UCL Careers’ online interview resources and our careers library resources in Student Central. We also run workshops on interview skills, some with employers, so keep an eye on our events pages. And if you have an interview coming up you can book a practice interview with one of our careers consultants to get tailored advice on how to maximise your chances of success.

 

S Donaldson, Careers Consultant, UCL Careers