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From Pipettes to Project Management

My First Year as a Graduate Consultant

by Natalie Talbot, PhD Graduate Consultant

In 2016, just one year into my four-year PhD programme, I had the inconvenient realisation that I didn’t want to do science as a career in any shape or form, but the prospect of finding an alternative seemed impossible. So, I took the classic ‘bury those problems and think about them later’ approach and persevered.

Before I knew it though, it was 2019, my thesis deadline was approaching, and the overwhelming challenge of finding a non-science job was staring me in the face. However, having spent the last four years up to my elbows in Chinese hamster ovary cells begging them to produce enough drug for my experiments, it was hard to see what I could offer outside of the lab.

To get some inspiration, I trawled through what felt like every job advert on the planet and came to the surprising conclusion that I had gained more than just lab skills as a scientist, and that these were perfectly matched to project management. Teaching undergraduates, publishing papers, writing protocols, and planning time-critical experiments had secretly equipped me with everything I needed to be an effective communicator, and to work with clients to deliver outputs on time and to budget. Unknowingly, I had essentially managed my own project for four years straight – it just happened to be that my stakeholders were my supervisors, my budget was grant money, and my milestones were seeing the right sorts of blobs under a microscope.

There was a problem though. I had never even heard of Prince2 and associated the word ‘Agile’ with those obstacle courses for dogs at Crufts. It was overwhelmingly clear that I would need to retrain to get the right qualifications if I were to become a project manager.

I therefore shifted my focus to graduate programmes and stumbled upon the i3Works graduate scheme. Before I knew it, I had an interview, was offered the job, and had moved to Bristol where I was welcomed into the i3 family.

Within my first few weeks I was invited to join a piece of client work in London alongside our public sector lead as communications support. The role was within Government Digital Services (GDS) for the Cabinet Office and involved drafting key documents, facilitating workshops, and producing internal communications. Through this work, I was exposed to all things ‘organisational change’ and this mysterious Agile way of working (sadly, no dogs involved).

Three months later, in January, I started my second placement within Defence Digital at the MoD in Corsham, this time as part of a team of several consultancies. By this point, I was familiar with project management methodologies, and found myself able to confidently apply these principles to contribute to client work.

Throughout the year I have also worked with our directors to head up internal projects, manage bids and even led our team for this year’s APM Challenge to deliver a project for a local charity. This experience, coupled with one-to-one mentoring and allocated time for studying, enabled me to rapidly build my knowledge of project management and controls to pass the Prince2 and Project Planning and Controls practitioner exams in my first six months.

Above all else though, it is my personal development that has seen the greatest growth. Through working across all levels of the business, I have gained meaningful experience as a project management consultant to inform my ambitions, and to become embedded as a part of the team.

With the encouragement and support of my colleagues, this last year has converted me from someone who was sceptical of their abilities, to a young professional who is confident and empowered.

I have come to realise that while experience is helpful, it is your drive and motivation that is most important to succeed and would encourage anyone from any discipline to apply for our graduate scheme.

Want to learn more about our Graduate Scheme? See here to explore our undergraduate and PhD options.