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From Practice to Practitioner

16 months in, and still not missing those pipettes 

Natalie Talbot, PhD Graduate Consultant 

It’s been 16 months since I joined the i3 family or, in other terms, six projects, one viva, 11 exams, one pandemic, three lockdowns and one house-move. 

A lot has changed since my last blog post; I have moved into the second year of the PhD Graduate Scheme and started my first billable role. 

In July, I started as programme benefits management lead within the Defence sector, and have been specialising in all things outcomes, benefits and measurements ever since. I have put into action the experience and knowledge from my first year to proactively establish, manage and track benefits within 10 projects, and at the programme level. 

Upskilling and knowledge transfer have been key in getting things off the ground, to establish the foundation of knowledge required to effectively identify and capture benefits. As such, a large part of my role has involved hosting workshops across the programme, with focus in recent months shifting to benefits capture and management with individual work packages. Virtual working has therefore posed quite the challenge, requiring me to constantly evolve my approach to get the job done. 

This process of adapting has taken time though. Working remotely means I have never met any of the delivery teams, with all contact being through a screen via Teams and Skype. This leaves me unable to see how engaged groups are, inhibits my ability to pick up on body language, and has robbed me of the opportunity for casual conversation. It’s not all bad though; having the face and height of a twelve-year-old can present some obvious challenges, so at least with remote working there is no chance of my baby face getting in the way! 

I’ve found the best way to overcome these obstacles is to be direct, and to acknowledge the challenge with the people you are interacting with. Having a conversation around remote working has proven to be the best starting point, allowing me to understand how teams prefer to work and how they want to be supported. Of course, what someone says they need versus what they actually need can sometimes be two very different things, but through creating a two-way dialogue, and embedding as one of the team, I have been able to tailor my support and to seek input from other members of the Programme Working Group to maintain that all important momentum.  

Inevitably, this has resulted in a range of approaches across the 10 projects, which requires a fair bit of forward thinking and planning on my part. However, it is paying dividends. Taking the time to adapt my approach for everyone on an individual basis has worked wonders in breaking down the remote working barriers to build relationships and trust. I also believe that doing things this way has enabled me to reach a point where we are all comfortable with each other much quicker than if I had simply resorted to the ‘this is how things will be done’ approach. In this way, reducing the ‘trial and error’ phase of finding my feet has allowed teams to make the most of my support. 

Alongside client work, I have also been running an internal charity project for the Genesis Trust with our new grads and PCAs. This leadership role is a direct result of the success of our work with Be More Ben last year, and has been a great way for me to transition from student to teacher. Stepping into this role has been extremely rewarding, allowing me to apply lessons learned from last year’s APM challenge, and to make the initiative our own.  

Presenting to University of Essex students

Recently, I was invited to share my experience in switching career paths with the University of Essex School of Life Sciences – a place very close to my heart having completed my BSc with Essex back in 2015. It was a bizarre moment to find myself suddenly giving advice to others on how to decide their next steps (perhaps more so as I was sat there in pyjama bottoms…), able to so vividly remember the panic that drove me further down the science route six years ago. The experience was thoroughly enjoyable though, and a good opportunity to reflect on how much has changed in such a short amount of time. 

So, six months or so from my previous blog, I find myself confidently putting lessons from my first year into practice, sharing my knowledge with, and learning from, people throughout i3Works, with our clients and beyond. I must admit, I hope that the next six months ahead are somewhat calmer and more steady, but I look forward to embracing whatever challenges lie ahead and continuing to learn… and maybe even going to the pub too. 

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