Since St John's - a careers blog from 2015

Written by alumni of St John's College, this blog from the Development Office's archive looks at the amazing variety of career paths Johnians have followed.

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Jon Spiers (1999) – Chief Executive, Autistica
04 November 2015

I run Autistica, the UK’s leading autism research charity, funding much-needed research into the causes, diagnosis and treatment of this complex and poorly understood disorder. Our aim is to improve the lives of everyone affected by autism, bridging the gap between scientific discoveries and the autism community.

My interest in both communication disorders and the charity sector have their roots at St John’s, though I certainly didn’t appreciate it at the time. After a year of Modern and Medieval Languages, I was offered the opportunity to study the then-brand new Linguistics Tripos, which included the fascinating area of speech and language disorders. Outside the lecture theatre, I was RAG rep for John’s (along with my now wife!) and was then elected RAG President for the University after graduation.

Having had my interest in charities piqued by organising the Freshers’ Pub Crawl and the infamous RAG Blind Date, I was lucky enough to join Britain’s biggest charity, Cancer Research UK, as a graduate trainee. One placement included working in the policy team that supported the campaign to make pubs and restaurants smokefree, now hailed as the ‘public health victory of the century’.

Energised by the potential of campaigning, I set up a new campaigns team within the charity, recruiting almost half a million supporters and helping secure new legislation and NHS funding. By 28, I was Head of Public Affairs and Campaigning, responsible for lobbying in Westminster, the devolved nations and Brussels. My experience of working in a big charity was very positive: an inspiring mission, passionate colleagues and a commitment to spend every penny wisely far outweighed the slightly lower salary and longer hours.

I wanted to apply the lessons learned in cancer to other diseases, so when a communications consultancy, Just Health, approached me about setting up a health policy team, I jumped at the chance. The private sector was a very different experience, but I’d encourage anyone wanting a charity career to gain commercial experience. Consultancy not only exposed me to areas of healthcare from infectious diseases to biotech, but also honed my pitching skills, my financial management and my negotiating abilities – all vital to working in a charity.

Now I lead a medium-sized charity, with a team of 10 and a £1m+ budget. The role is incredibly varied – my day might start with a donor breakfast to discuss a possible gift, followed by a dash to Westminster to discuss science funding with MPs, then interviewing a new fundraising director, before meeting a clinician in the evening to get her viewpoint on a new research programme. There’s always more to do, so the ability to prioritise, to think about what matters strategically and to delegate effectively really matters.

I feel incredibly humbled to be entrusted with this role and always try to remember some sage advice I received from a fellow CEO: ‘being in charge of a charity is about stewardship, not ownership.’

Fiona Naughton (1986) – Senior Director: Global Brand Planning & Insights, PayPal
14 October 2015

I came from a sixth form college that had never sent anyone to St John’s, in a town more related to working class violence and an Easyjet airport than anything else. The day my parents brought me to St John’s was the only time I have ever seen my mum cry – a sign that this was going to be more profound than any of us initially recognised.

John’s and Cambridge remained beyond my understanding until well after I left, but I knew what a special privilege it was. Leaving College, the lords of the career-dance led me to marketing. I did every job available and was lucky to be the first to do cool stuff in gaming, retail, apps, in-flight, mobile, crowd-sourced software and safe digital payments.

In 1998 I joined Mars Inc and immediately began an international career, travelling to five new countries every year and working in Geneva, Philadelphia, Tokyo, Taiwan, Seattle and Silicon Valley.

You need to make choices when you live like this and I have been a Soul/Sole Warrior in this life. It means you can be the coolest auntie, the last minute guest at your school-mate’s wedding and the prodigal sibling. However, there is a price – a steady family life, traditional relationships and the ability to go to spin classes every Tuesday are not open to you when you live out of a suitcase.

Within Mars, I moved from marketeer to leader, and began working with some of the brightest peer groups that I have ever encountered. Mars gave me a great sense of conscience for the consumer we represent, two good feet to stand firm in a management debate and the sense that everything, no matter the outcome, should put dignity and respect for the individual first for it to have a lasting positive effect.

I still have more energy and spirit than I deserve and certainly more than most – and it is because I genuinely love what I do and am intrigued by it. All of us Johnians are blessed with brains, so make sure that yours is constantly cogging in a world that engages you. Another piece of advice is to ‘be your own best friend at work’, but just like your real best friend, tell yourself when you are being a jackass, as well as pumping yourself up when you have been beyond good. Don’t watch the others – they don’t and can’t define you. Watch yourself and coach yourself with positive voice to be all you can be.

Today I live in California and lead the global brand for PayPal, a company that was started with a very clear purpose in 1998 – that if people have direct control over their own money, it will unlock more potential globally. With the advance of technology and the loss of trust in traditional financial infrastructure, the time of disruption for this sector is now. With Apple Pay, Google Wallet, AliPay and Amazon Payments all in the game, it is going to get tasty. In my vintage state of 47 years of age, 26 years of marketing experience and a history of putting a ‘YES’ where there had previously been a ‘NO’ – what could be better?!

Steven Selover (1978) – Vice President: Business Affairs and Legal at Paramount Pictures
02 October 2015

I work on the television distribution side of Paramount Pictures in Hollywood. Our legal team, called ‘business affairs’ in the studios because legal merges with business negotiations, is responsible for the documentation of the licenses that put our films on televisions around the world, whether people are viewing them on free services, pay channels or via on-demand or electronic sell-through [paying a fee to download and keep a film].

After getting degrees from Cambridge and Harvard to practise law, I started out in New York City and did Wall Street corporate law for a decade, including financings, stock offerings, joint ventures and intellectual property work, becoming a partner in 1989. The joint ventures and intellectual property work ultimately led me to the studios, where I’ve been since 1995. The move was chiefly motivated by a desire for a better family life – the 18-hour days, 7 days a week I did at Wall Street were not compatible with a young family.

At that time, the studios had just begun to realise that they were international businesses, and the channel joint ventures being launched required more than entertainment lawyers. I started at Sony, got stolen away by Universal and moved to Paramount after my division at Universal got discontinued in one of its restructurings. I’ve been there ever since.

On the job front, restructurings are now a reality and I don’t believe that anyone expects to be in one job, beginning to end, even if you remain in law firms. Restructurings occur due to economic recessions (the 1991 recession caused my law firm to split, then disintegrate) or other business model changes as businesses adjust to the market. At the studios, the joint venture work I’ve done has been critical to my personal career, as it has allowed me to get to know the other studios and has made career moves possible. The downside of this is that restructures usually involve downsizing, as every firm or company strives to be more efficient. In the movie industry, each studio has gone through paroxysms of such.

My advice for those interested in studio work would be to get good training (for lawyers, this usually means at a firm). The studios normally hire experienced attorneys, not those direct from law school. And although I don’t deal with the creative side, which is a whole separate group of law firms, I am based on the studio grounds, which can be a lot of fun. They are currently building the White House in the sound stage outside my window!

Victoria Turvey Sauron (1998) – Senior Library Assistant
10 September 2015
Victoria Turvey-Sauron

That 'life happens' is a truism, but it’s what I would warn my 21-year-old self. Trying to predict or plan the course of how you are going to live is not only impossible, but stifles the chance that life will turn on its head and offer you, maybe, something better after all.

Chopping and changing has been something of a life theme for me. Starting at Cambridge in 1998 I embarked upon Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic only to find it wasn’t a 100 per cent fit. In swapping to History of Art I found a natural home, but then met a Frenchman in my final year, and moved to France shortly after graduation with no real future plans.

When the tutors at my Alliance Française course told me my French was half-decent, I enrolled in a postgraduate and pre-doctoral History of Art research programme at Toulouse University, where I was also working part-time as a language assistant. What followed was a blissful year left mostly to my own devices, which left me with a serious research bug, as well as an insatiable need for feminist critical art theory.

Five years later, I not only had a PhD, but also a brand new person – my son, born during my PhD. A daughter followed, and some post-doctoral research, and then several years of volunteering in rural France where I founded and ran a successful non-profit centre for children’s bilingualism. I also trained as a translator - passing the Diploma in Translation from French to English.

Life then happened, as it does, and my marriage abruptly ended, followed by an escape back to North Yorkshire with my children. Back home again, I focused on survival, making ends meet, and fed my craving to be useful by volunteering in communications for the National Trust. My flair for digital media soon morphed into a mini freelance career, but a more structured daily life was what I needed and when I successfully applied for a job at a small local library, I felt I’d found somewhere I could be happy. Being surrounded by books all day long was akin to therapy.

Last year I started an MA in Library and Information Management which, I hope, will open professional doors for me. I’m now halfway through my course with (touch wood!) very good results and, despite local council restructuring threatening my job, there are reasonable prospects for the future in a field that I find interesting.

Working as a library assistant involves a lot of customer service and many mundane tasks, but it also offers the daily satisfaction of helping someone find an author they’ll really enjoy or feeling the buzz after giving a successful assembly at a local school. What particularly motivates me is a belief that libraries are desperately important to who we are as people and as a society. Now, I can give that to my own children.

Christine Chang Hanway (1986) — Founding Editor of ‘My Contents Have Shifted’ and UK Editor of Remodelista
27 August 2015
Christine Chang Hanway

I will be forever grateful to St John’s for providing me with the opportunity to study on exchange from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design to the Cambridge Architecture Faculty in 1985/86. That special year broadened my horizons and taught me to widen my perspective regarding the practice of architecture. From buildings to blogs, I feel very fortunate that I have been able to forge a career path that has followed my interests as they have developed over time.

After graduating, I worked for a few years in the world of corporate architecture with I.M. Pei and Partners (Pei Cobb & Freed) and Richard Meier & Partners in New York City, but soon realised that the architecture profession in its traditional sense did not fully align with my strengths and interests. In casting my net wider, I changed tact, applied my design skills to storytelling and went to work as an exhibition designer with Ralph Appelbaum and Associates, best known for their seminal work in museology in the 90s.

Designing three-dimensional narratives and communicating their stories was exciting if not sobering when projects included the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. Following this, I moved to London from New York and was hired to project manage the design and construction of The Permanent Holocaust Exhibition at the Imperial War Museum. Retelling the same story in less space, with fewer artefacts and from a different cultural perspective was an interesting challenge, which taught me even more about the value of design in communication.

Meanwhile, the world of blogging was coming into its own and a good friend of mine in the States, Julie Carlson, started to blog about home design in 2007. This website eventually turned into Remodelista, an influential, online sourcebook for home design, which along with its sister site, Gardenista, now has over 1.5 million unique visitors a month. In 2010 I joined Remodelista as the UK Editor when Julie asked me to write about design and architecture for their readers. Telling design stories everyday via a fast and direct medium was liberating and learning how to harness the powerful communication benefits of social media was exciting. I became totally engrossed in the world of digital communication.

My newly acquired digital skills introduced me to a new landscape, filled with the talents of a much younger generation — one that is much closer in age to my 18- and 20-year-old sons than to my own. Working with and learning from youth has been invigorating — not to mention age defying — and I now feel that I am in a unique position to introduce women of my generation to the advantages of being part of a larger digital community. My contribution to that is ‘My Contents Have Shifted’, a lifestyle and wellness blog for women who are FAB (fifty and beyond). Early days yet, but watch this space!

David Rose (1994) – Senior Geostatistician at De Beers
13 August 2015
David Rose (1994)

Many of you, particularly the female readers of this blog, are probably familiar with the slogan ‘A Diamond is Forever’ which was adopted by my employer, De Beers, almost seventy years ago. My role at the company though, is less romantic than its slogan might suggest! 

Towards my last year of PhD studies in Queueing and Queueing Networks at the Statistical Laboratory and St John’s College, I decided that I would give the world of commerce and industry a try, rather than pursuing an academic career. With this in mind, I sent out my CV to a number of potential employers, including AAC - Anglo American Corporation, back in my home country of South Africa. It was at about this time that a separate Mineral Resource Evaluation Department was being established at De Beers in Johannesburg, so new team members were needed.

The knowledge and skills I’d gathered during my PhD research and in my previous degrees seemed to mesh well with the requirements of the Geostatistician role. On the one hand, there are the technical areas of modelling such as regression and probability distribution fitting, stochastic processes and simulations. On the other, general numerate and computing skills, and the ability to write reports and make presentations to experts in the field, as well as those less familiar with the technicalities, should not be underestimated in the working world.

In a similar way, the transition from postgraduate academic research to industry, where time is money, should not be underestimated. Whereas exact answers are often sought in the academic sciences, the goal in industry is approximate, but defendable, solutions with a fairly quick turnaround time. This is one of the challenges I continue to face, albeit less so than when I first started to work in mining, which does not offer textbook samples and data for analysis and interpretation!

Another challenge I have encountered is that many of my colleagues are from a geoscientific or engineering background, and have gained operational exposure before going to work at head and regional offices. When I first joined De Beers, I had little, if any, knowledge of kimberlites, xenoliths, reverse circulation drilling or high pressure roll crushers, but my determination to learn about these new concepts was rewarded.

One opportunity to familiarise myself with the practical side of mining was a three-year secondment to Canada. Here I made visits every few months from the company’s regional office in Toronto to the mines in the far north - an experience others have had only through TV shows, like the Ice Road Truckers. So there is a glamorous side to the job, even for a Doctor of Mathematical Statistics!

Will Beale (1988) – Head of Programme Operations, WWF-UK
30 July 2015
Will Beale

Right around the world, I find that a lot of people have heard of WWF-UK and have a general idea of what we do. Typically they are quite strongly aware of our work on pandas, tigers, rhinos and other ‘charismatic megafauna’, and a little less aware of our work on oceans, forests, climate change and sustainability more broadly.

My role is about ‘Design, Management and Impact’ - supporting the organisation to achieve the best results we can with the resources available, and making sense of those results. This is quite a challenge when the portfolio of work is very diverse and the outcomes you are interested in are not financial, so any set of common metrics that you design still requires a lot of interpretation.

It’s great to be part of a global network and have the opportunity to collaborate across the world and with other organisations. What I love most about my work is when I have the chance to work with a particular project in more detail - for example, helping a team to develop a great strategy, or evaluating the impact of a major programme and considering how it needs to change. Over the last twelve years at WWF I have been fortunate enough to work with different offices and a wide variety of programmes in many wonderful places. By the way, I am not travelling all the time! WWF is serious about protecting our climate, so I might be allowed one, or maximum two, long-haul flights per year.

I also oversee financial management across the conservation programme. For me this is perhaps less exciting than the programmatic aspects, but clearly it is equally important, and in fact I work hard to motivate colleagues to be interested in programmes, finances and people.

I am often asked how I got into this line of work. Well, I studied Natural Sciences and Chemical Engineering, and then joined Unilever in 1992. I worked in research, development and manufacturing – introducing new products to the market. My last project was particularly interesting, and I was proud to introduce 'Persil capsules’ to consumers, but after ten years there I wanted a change.

I found I was able to sell my skills in project/quality/operations management to meet a perceived need to WWF - to build excellence in conservation management. While my route into conservation work is perhaps not typical, I am not the only person who has come through a non-traditional route; it’s a question of connecting your skillset to the upcoming needs of the organisation, and demonstrating that you share their values. The really hard thing to grasp is that my job did not exist when I left the College. So how do you plan for that? I would just say to stay true to yourself about your ‘career hot buttons’ and values, and try to take career steps that match those drivers. I have always been pretty mad keen about people living in harmony with nature, so have found a good fit with WWF.

Richard Huntington (1986) – Chief Strategy Officer, Saatchi & Saatchi
09 July 2015

I’m not exactly sure of the moment in which I thought a career in advertising Richard Huntington Smallwould be a good idea. I certainly hadn’t arrived at John’s with that in mind, though being the late 80s the advertising party was in full swing, giving the industry a kind of intoxicating glamour.

After graduating, I applied to any and every agency that appeared to have graduate training programmes in the firm belief that this would yield a job, but I came away utterly empty handed. I was resoundingly rejected, including by Saatchi & Saatchi, where I am now writing this post as the Chief Strategy Officer.

That I landed a career in advertising that has lasted over 25 years is down to pure tenacity. The ad industry might not have wanted me, but I was convinced I wanted the ad industry. And so it was in the autumn of 1989, recently graduated and back at home, that I came across an ad in the Media Guardian. It was for a Direct Marketing agency called DDM that was looking for graduate trainees, and it was my passport into the industry.

I had landed my first poorly paid job in advertising within six months of graduating, but it wasn’t in the right bit. I didn’t want to be in Direct Marketing; I wanted to be in the bit of advertising that makes dents in our cultural universe, that makes the great and famous ads, and that creates game-changing strategies for businesses, governments and social causes. Getting there took me another three years, but it taught me a valuable lesson – start anywhere, but never get stuck.

So, whether through luck or judgment, in 1993 I landed the job I had always wanted, with the soon-to-be biggest agency in the UK, AMV BBDO. This was the real deal, and to top it all I was a planner. I had started out as an account handler or what we call a ‘suit’ because I knew no better and had not the slightest idea about what a planner was. The reality is that I was born to be a planner; we are the strategists in the team, not the ringmasters or impresarios. While great suits have brains as well as charm and supersized levels of confidence, being a geographer, the combination of creativity, lateral thinking, analytical skills and logic of the planner massively appealed to me. As an account handler I had to play down my weaknesses; As a planner I simply had to play up my strengths.

When you are asked to do the things you love and are really good at, you naturally excel. When the opposite is the case, you drown. So it’s best to discover what you are best at as early as possible and dedicate yourself to that. That change of direction is really what turbo-charged my career, leading me to make it to the board of AMV BBDO before jumping ship to the legendary, and now sadly departed, agency HHCL - famous for many iconoclastic campaigns of the 90s. In 2008 I started at Saatchi & Saatchi, firstly as Strategy Director and then Chief Strategy Officer, where I now ply my trade.

I have spent over half my life in the advertising business, an industry that still excites and involves me despite the massive changes in technology and culture we have all witnessed over the past couple of decades. It wasn’t easy to get in and it still isn’t - it requires determination and tenacity. It requires that you aren’t too fussy where you start. And above all it requires a break and a little luck, but you know what they say about luck. The harder you work the luckier you become.

Dr Suchita Shah (1997) – portfolio doctor
25 June 2015

Like many careers on this blog, mine is not a single word. A fresh way to describe its path revealed itself to me the other day at work, when a three-year-old toddled into my consulting room and solemnly presented a piece of paper covered in squiggly lines, all twisty and loopy, with no discernible form.

I started at John’s as a medic and left with an MPhil in International Relations, acquiring a Top First in neuroscience along the way. For my clinical studies I defected to the dark (Blue) side, where I now work as a GP and independent public health consultant. I also teach medical students and I write - in short a ‘portfolio’ career.

After qualifying as a doctor I diligently stepped onto the hospital medicine treadmill - and soon realised it wasn’t for me. However, just as fledglings need to grow before they can fly, so I gained experiential knowledge during that time, finally spreading my wings at the end of training, when, as a Leadership Fellow, I researched health inequalities and forayed into global health.

I worked in Cambodia, exploring innovative partnerships for health promotion. I came home, practised more, read, taught and published. As people got to know my work, more opportunities arose through recommendation. Whilst I loved being a family doctor, I had witnessed first-hand how so much of what affects our health lies beyond the doctor-patient interaction. I felt that primary care professionals needed to understand populations as well as individual people.

So, in 2012, I became a student again. At Harvard University, while doing a public health degree and learning invaluable stuff like data analysis, I also found a way to channel my passions for travel, writing, and thinking deeply about health: I started a blog for the British Medical Journal. I wrote about topics like gun control, primary care in Chile, and Navajo health in New Mexico; after returning to the UK I wrote more and was asked to write for other blogs. My MPhil thesis on global intellectual property rights and traditional medical knowledge was resurrected, won a competition and was published. My seemingly disconnected academic experiences were coming together, in ways I could not possibly have imagined at the time. The squiggles were shaping up.

Medics can be a conservative bunch; it has taken me a while to understand that it’s okay to cultivate diverse interests and that, in fact, health systems need people who can see beyond the clinic, translate knowledge, make connections, and work comfortably across sectors. In the last few years the NHS has undergone unsettling transformations, and it would be disingenuous to paint a rosy picture of life on the shop floor. Being able to do other things lets me enjoy my patient-time, allowing me to remember that medicine is ripe with beauty and possibility, at its core an indefatigable desire to improve the lives of others.

I no longer worry about choosing between left and right hemispheres, having discovered it is possible and indeed necessary to use both. I truly believe there’s more room for social science in medicine, and for creativity in medical writing. My next steps are to expand my public health and international work, and to break into writing for more mainstream publications.

Having a freelance portfolio career is neither easy nor financially secure; it requires flexibility, a sprinkling of luck, and truckloads of grit. I’m still finding my way and am always grateful to John’s for a great start. If I could presume to offer any advice, it would be this: your circumstances and priorities will change - acknowledge these changes with honesty, and don’t be afraid to direct your career accordingly.

Dr Mark Hayter (1985) – Engineering Director, Consumer Hardware, Google Inc.
20 May 2015

My career has been in computer systems. After completing my PhD at Cambridge’s Computer Lab, I moved to California and worked for five years at Digital Equipment Corporation's Systems Research Center. The goal was to look forward a few years, build prototypes and understand them. I did the hardware design and some software for a reading appliance called Lectrice that had, in cruder forms, many of the aspects of Kindle and iPad. I was also part of the team that designed the Personal Jukebox – a hard-drive based MP3 player, which was commercially sold as the PJB100 almost two years ahead of the better-known iPod.

I then spent a decade working as a system architect for two semiconductor start-ups. I was part of the founding team of both, responsible for detailed technical definition of the chip features and helping our customers use them. Sibyte, acquired by Broadcom, produced a high performance dual-core system on chip that was in a lot of the equipment used on the internet and in storage systems. P A Semi, acquired by Apple, produced a series of microprocessor system-on-chip parts for embedded systems.

In early 2009 I co-founded Agnilux, a start-up that was acquired by Google. In its fourteen-month existence, Agnilux (from the Sanskrit for fire and Latin for light) never revealed what it was doing, confounding the press. But we fit in very well with Google’s newly formed Chrome OS group and I was chartered to build the hardware team.

My team does three main things:

  1. Develop new technology for use in consumer products. An example is our involvement over the last 24 months in USB Type-C, a new common connector for laptops, tablets and phones that can carry power, data and video.
  2. Produce Google-branded devices that implement new technology (even at a higher price) and show our vision for future mass-market machines. This is similar to car makers doing a ‘concept car’, except we have limited numbers for sale. The new Chromebook Pixel is our most recent release. This is the first laptop that shipped using the Type-C connector mentioned above (two days before we launched the machine, Apple announced the connector would be on the new MacBook, but their machine was not available for another month).
  3. Produce cost-effective reference implementations and work with partners (like Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, Samsung and Toshiba) to produce Chromebooks for consumer, education and business use. Our most recent achievement is to produce laptops that can be sold by Amazon and Walmart for $149.

I have mostly moved to a management role, running the team and setting overall direction. So my day often consists of a series of meetings: one-to-ones with people who report to me, checking the status of ongoing projects, reviewing designs, maintaining relationships with suppliers and partners, planning, and recruiting. Fortunately, my team understands that the technical side of things is my first love and they allow me to join them in the lab from time-to-time to debug or understand the performance of a new device.

In my experience, there are four main things that lead to success:

  1. Team - Having spent many hours on the river with the LMBC, this was one thing I understood very early on, but many people miss the importance of having team members who both work well and raise the performance of those around them.
  2. Vision - Without a vision it is hard to motivate yourself or a team. Although in all three successful start-ups, we started forming the team before the vision and you have to know when to ‘pivot’ to a new vision.
  3. Listening - Potential customers/users like to tell you things, so listening is amazingly powerful. And not always in formal settings – I got told a lot of minor pain-points while walking back from the meeting room to reception, and avoiding these helped the success of the Sibyte parts. Some years later I was chatting with the technical lead for our top customer and I thanked him for giving us all the useful tips. ‘Oh’, he said, ‘I was telling everyone; you were just the only company that listened.’
  4. Luck - There is always an element of luck involved, but following points one, two and three puts you in a position to recognise and take advantage of it, which could be called making your own luck.
Guy Rubin (1989) – Co-founder of Imperial Tours
15 April 2015

You know how it is when you find a charming but inexpensive restaurant? You’re not quite sure whether it’s best to tell your friends so that they can enjoy it too or keep it under wraps so that it doesn’t get spoiled. I’ve been asked to tell you about what I do for a living, but I’m not sure it makes sense to let you in on the secret...

I’m a destination specialist in China, and for the last fifteen years I’ve had a front-row seat on one of the most extraordinary transformations of modern times. I see history in the making over breakfast and get to discuss it over lunch and dinner with visiting travel agents and guests, many of whom are pretty amazing people from all walks of life. By offering exclusive access to unique experiences in China, I gain access to these interesting visitors myself – from Russian oligarchs to Hollywood celebs.

So whilst inevitably a portion of my time is spent sitting in an office doing administrative duties like in any other business, a lot of the time I am on the road. This past week involved me hiking and biking for hours in southern China to check new routes. I was in Lijiang inspecting a marvellous new hotel there, and then I visited various villages in the jungle on the border with Myanmar.

Retrospectively, I can see how an interest in languages, exotic cultures and travel combined to get me to where I am, but I’d never have imagined this would be my chosen career when I began my working life as a strategy consultant. During one year I only slept five nights in London because I was so busy travelling around the world, usually researching market entry strategies for various businesses. But the move from a cerebral and analytical job to a more creative and operational role was the biggest aspect of this leap into the unknown. Had it not been for the temptation and challenge of starting my own business in China, I might not have taken the plunge to create Imperial Tours.

Thanks to its historical focus on low and medium budget tours to drop-and-flop destinations, the travel industry does not have a great name in the UK. Few think about the other end of the spectrum: the travel specialists who can get you a meeting with the Pope, Prince Charles or the Dalai Lama; who can organise a banquet on the Great Wall; or who can invite you into one of the most exclusive private members’ clubs in Madrid. We are not building bridges, inventing new technologies or saving lives – our role is less ambitious, in trying to make leisure travel more textured, memorable and rewarding.

The travel industry is built on passion. Work is fun because everyone is doing what they love. If you have the bug, then find a set of employers you feel an affinity with. They could be anywhere in the world and in any part of the industry, but don’t worry about that – express your passion to your prospective employer and do whatever you have to do to get on the first rung of the ladder.

Hope Buzza, née Cooper (1995) – Mum, and Creative Director for Angels Charity
01 April 2015

I graduated 20 years ago this year – 20 years! Where’s that gone?! When I think back over the very wiggly path I’ve taken since my Archaeology and Anthropology degree, it follows five main strands: travel, music, art, charity and motherhood.

I put off making any immediate career choices after university by travelling for a year. Little did I know that my trip, and in particular a visit to Lake Toba, Sumatra, would play a huge part in shaping my future work.

I’ve always loved a wide variety of music and was really inspired by what I heard on my travels, in particular a Batak folk group called ‘Marsada’ from Lake Toba. As soon as I got home I went to HMV’s Oxford Street store, to the then fairly small ‘World music’ section, and scoured the backs of CDs for record label contact details, so that I could send in my CV. One of those labels, World Music Network, said they needed a PA to the Director, and that’s how I got my first job.

I kept in touch with Marsada and after two years at the record label, I decided I wanted to go it alone promoting, recording and releasing a music album and booking a UK tour. Moving out of London, leaving friends on steady career paths, to move home and step into the unknown was the biggest and hardest leap I’ve ever made, but I know I am stronger for it.

Thanks to Arts Council Funding and a great deal of slog, the tour was successful and I went on to represent other artists and organise tours and world music events for several years. Those were my rock and roll years – no dependants, driving a tour bus around the country and even the odd groupie! In 2007, I took a job as Marketing Officer for Reading Arts, partly to gain a steady income, but also to have a good team around me. Self-employment can get lonely! Luckily in that year I also met my husband and the Angels Charity, which brings me up to the present.

I’ve worked in many different roles, but that of being a full-time mum is by far the most challenging and rewarding. I feel so privileged to have had this time with my kids before they went to school, and also now to be able to balance being a mum with working for Angels, which brings together so many strands of my career path. Angels works in impoverished areas, aiming to make positive and lasting change to children’s lives by setting up feeding kitchens and ‘Pop-Up’ schools. It also believes in the power of music to uplift and galvanise communities, and promote cultural identity and appreciation.

I know I was lucky to be starting out in a more favourable economic climate than today, but I’m very proud of my 21-year-old self for taking leaps and pursuing my passions. Jobs in the arts and charity sectors tend not to be well paid, but the personal and emotional rewards are great, and it’s a culturally rich and colourful path I have trodden.

My advice would be to stay true to your own path and not to compare it with that of your peers. Follow your interests, dream big, work hard and make it happen. Carpe diem!

Alice Bird (2003) - Anaesthesia resident, University of Cambridge Department of Veterinary Medicine
18 March 2015

I had always thought I would work as a first-opinion horse vet after graduating. How wrong I was... I started my career with a year’s internship at a highly regarded equine hospital and absolutely loved every minute of it. I worked with some fantastic vets and was able to be involved in all aspects of equine work, including anaesthesia, a topic I had discovered a passion for during my final-year rotations.

Following the internship, I worked as a first-opinion equine vet at the same practice. On paper it was everything I had seen my career becoming, but the reality was nothing like the James Herriot life. The long hours working on my own, hectic periods of being on call and generally ungrateful clients got me down. I missed the teamwork, anaesthesia and intensive care I had been involved in during my internship and longed to use my brain again.

What I hadn’t realised when graduating was how much Cambridge had opened my eyes to what was possible. Not only does Cambridge teach you to be a vet, it teaches you to think and to question, which sets it apart from other veterinary courses. I never thought I was clever enough to be more than a first-opinion vet, but I missed the enthusiasm for learning and discovery that exists in every part of Cambridge. I therefore made a new year’s resolution to find my love of veterinary medicine again.

After some encouragement from a fellow Johnian, I emailed my Director of Studies at St John’s and a few of my old lecturers asking if they thought I had any chance of being considered for an anaesthesia residency or PhD. The encouragement that came back was overwhelming. The small year-groups mean you truly are remembered, and after a few holiday weeks brushing up my small animal skills I am now undertaking a three-year residency in anaesthesia back at Cambridge Veterinary Hospital.

My day job, as part of a team of eight anaesthetists, is a mixture of anaesthetising patients, from hamsters to cows; teaching final-year vet students; and also overseeing the intensive care unit. I am planning to undertake a PhD in Equine Endotoxaemia once I gain my diploma, and although not officially part of St John’s anymore, I supervise the first-year vets in Physiology. I absolutely love my job and coming back to Cambridge felt like coming home, but without that cloud of exam pressure over my head!

My advice to anyone undertaking Veterinary Medicine at St John’s is to keep your options open. Until you are out of the Cambridge bubble you will never be completely sure of what you want from your career. Remember that, above all else, you deserve to be happy and it is never too late to change career paths.

It’s easy to forget, when surrounded by so many clever people at Cambridge, how talented and well qualified you really are. If like me, you have never made it to those elusive ‘first class dinners’, don’t stop striving for what you want. It’s amazing how much a good sense of humour, enthusiasm and the willingness to ‘see practice’ as a qualified vet will get you. Don’t forget how much a Cambridge degree gives you, or that once you are part of the Cambridge (and even more so St John’s) family you never truly leave. It is always here, ready to support you if you need it.

Adam Jackson (2000) – Head of Exports: Policy and Spending, HM Treasury
04 March 2015

My 12 years since leaving St John's have been quite varied, but have always involved a combination of economics, travel and development – the same things I was interested in as a 21-year-old.

I never bought into the cycle of internships whilst I was an undergraduate, and I benefited from not tying my choices down too early. Part of this was luck, as I managed to fail the civil service’s Fast Stream entry process at the psychometric testing stage, something my current colleagues find amusing.

At St John's I enjoyed the international and political aspects of economics, and undertook a range of travel, from a charity hitchhike to Morocco, to several weeks in Central America (the latter part-funded by a Johnian travel grant). I then took a year out, working as an economic research assistant at the London Business School before travelling in South America and South-East Asia.

By this point I was convinced that I wanted to work in international development, so I did a Master’s in Development Economics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London followed by two years in the Ministry of Finance in Sierra Leone as an Overseas Development Institute fellow, just after the end of the civil war. I had a wonderful two years in Freetown doing a combination of macroeconomic analysis and reporting, and microeconomic fieldwork in the agricultural sectors. As well as a lot of time at the beach.

I finally managed to get into the UK civil service, and worked for the Department for International Development in Bangladesh, again doing a mix of macroeconomic analysis and microeconomic evaluation of projects in the health and education sectors. I made the move to Whitehall and HM Treasury in 2012, initially focusing on macroeconomics and economic relations with China and India, then broadening to the global economic outlook.

I've now taken a sideways step to work on domestic economic policy, controlling expenditure of UK Trade and Investment and UK Export Finance, and working out how we can increase UK exports. I spend a lot of time looking at budgets and policy outcomes, a bit of time travelling, and, in the more interesting moments, briefing the Chancellor or attending international meetings. My high point in recent times was organising the UK-China Economic and Financial Dialogue in 2013, when the Chancellor visited Beijing and had an extremely successful trip that resulted in a number of deals between the UK and China.

It's possible to have some semblance of work-life balance in government, which in many parts of the private sector, particularly banking, is extremely difficult.

I wouldn't presume to judge whether anyone else would want to follow the same career path, and if you want to earn six figures by the time you're 25, this is not your career. But if you want a rewarding, interesting time working on some of the biggest challenges of our times and to be surrounded by smart and engaged people, I'd recommend working in public service.

My main advice is that when you leave College, unless you're entering a very well-worn path like banking or law, expect to feel a bit lost. That's natural, but the possible upside is a more interesting, varied career.

We'd like to thank Adam for speaking at the first-ever St John's College Careers Fair in February. If you're interested in speaking at a future careers or networking event, please contact Hanaa Skalli.

Ashley Smith (1995) – Head of Poetry, St John’s College School
18 February 2015

Since completing my BA Hons in Modern & Medieval Languages in 1999, followed by an MPhil in European Literature, I have been teaching primarily English and French to children aged 4 to 13 at St John’s College School, Cambridge.

I got into teaching as a stop-gap whilst pondering how to transform what I had studied in my MPhil year into a viable PhD proposal. Not quite ready to pin my colours to any particular mast, I took myself off to a tiny prep school in north London. Bypassing the PGCE route by going straight into the private system gave me the flexibility to dip my toes into the job without making the financial commitment to a further year of studies. Fully intent on doing a year or two of paid work before returning to St John’s, I thought I would be ready to plunge back into avant-garde literature and critical theory. That first year in teaching, however, reshaped my thinking and I realised that there are different but equivalent rewards to be had in working with younger minds.

I stayed in London for nearly five years, taking over the Head of French role and continuing to teach English. When the opportunity arose in 2005 to take on roughly the same position at the much larger St John’s College School, I grabbed it with both hands. In the intervening years, I have been Head of English and taken on various other positions of responsibility. In my latest role, I am responsible for promoting poetry within the school and as part of a developing outreach programme.

There is huge job satisfaction to be had in the knowledge that your daily efforts are making a tangible difference. Yes, our pupils do not struggle financially or socially for the most part, but all children, whatever their background, need to look up to adults and gain confidence from being supported emotionally, academically and spiritually. I take pride in seeing the improvements that children make over their time at the school and, when I can see my own impact upon their progress, I’m reminded that it is all worthwhile.

Perhaps the biggest frustration for me would be the comings and goings of educational trends. You can find yourself having to do things one way this year and the exact opposite way the next. Another idiosyncrasy is the career path. If you genuinely love teaching, climbing the career ladder will quite possibly result in a fall in job satisfaction. Nobody goes into teaching with the intention of sitting in an office reviewing policy documents, but sadly, this is all part of the reality of senior management. I have been fortunate enough to keep teaching as the bulk of my day-to-day work, and while the financial rewards may not be so great, I feel much happier for having chosen to remain in the classroom.

My advice to anybody considering a career in teaching would be to get yourself into one or two schools as a volunteer or visiting speaker, and see whether you enjoy communicating with primary or secondary aged children. Teaching requires your social skills to be at the forefront throughout the working day, so get out there and meet people in a genuine classroom environment.

Colin Burrows (1978) – CEO, Special Treats Productions
04 February 2015

I’d always intended to change to Law once I got into St John’s (Tutor George Reid each term: ‘Burrows, are you quite sure you don’t want to change your tripos?’), but a quick glance at the respective schedules put paid to that. Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic (ASNAC) – three lectures a week. Law lectures? Beyond number. No contest.

But I didn’t regret it. ASNAC was rewarding, not least in the fact that, from the start, it was clear it wasn’t a vocational degree. I joined Footlights, but in a year that included Emma Thompson, Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry, which ensured I stayed a spectator. I wrote for the College newspaper, SCAN, then became its editor. And I discovered broadcasting. At that time Cambridge University Radio had not yet started, so I joined the Broadcasting Society that was working towards its launch and in my last year I became the Programme Director there. In practical terms that was useless, as my role was mostly persuading people on the breakfast slot that playing their entire Black Sabbath collection was ill advised (something I never had to raise in later years with Chris Tarrant). But what a great entrée to broadcasting. It ticked a box on my CV that at least got me into meetings.

After graduation, I did a three-month course in production at the now defunct National Broadcasting School. There followed many months of letter writing and door knocking. Eventually I got a job as a freelance features journalist at Capital Radio and that led to five contented years as a producer, first at Capital, then at the BBC, with Radio One and the World Service.

During the mid-1980s, with a partner I formed a small TV production company to work on projects with the film industry. That became Special Treats Productions, which has now been creating content for more than 30 years. Initially broadcast only, we now produce more online content than broadcast – a sign of the times. Our clients are all the Hollywood majors, for whom we make documentaries, DVD extras, newswraps, red carpet coverage and press junkets. In recent years we have expanded into music documentaries and corporate work.

Slightly oddly, I have also become a Bollywood producer. For reasons too dull to recount here, I started doing some consultancy in India which has led to executive producer roles on several films. With our development company, Beautiful Bay Entertainment, we are about to shoot our first Hindi rom-com in Mumbai, with several others in the pipeline.

On a daily basis I could be 3,000m up a mountain filming Daniel Craig or sitting in a five-star hotel sipping drinks with Colin Firth. Though I’ve done both of those in the last two weeks, more often now, I leave that to my staff. My daily role is approving budgets, sorting out HR issues and wondering what we’re going to do about the curious smell in the kit room.

Useful skills for a job in media? Same as getting into Cambridge. Persistence and confidence, with an ability to bluff most of the time but deliver when it counts.

Colin is a speaker at the College's inaugural Careers Fair on Saturday 28 February. Students can book their place online.

Dr Paul Manning (1973) – Principal Vet and Owner of Astonlee Veterinary Hospital
21 January 2015

I felt called to be a veterinary surgeon from the age of 11 at Sunday School, and was fortunate in being able to pursue this vocation. The course at Cambridge was challenging, but I realised I had a lot to study and experience in my journey of lifelong learning, which in many ways centred around Proverb 12, Verse 10: ‘A good man cares for his animals’.

I worked in six different veterinary practices before setting up my own practice in 1986, called Astonlee. Then came the hard work of establishing it from small beginnings. Over time it has grown to become an RCVS accredited veterinary hospital in a new, purpose-built building.

I was elected to the Council of the Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons (SPVS) in the late 1990s, and developed a keen interest in postgraduate education. I initiated and participated in a research group linked to Middlesex University at their Centre of Excellence in Work Based Learning looking at the question ‘what are the postgraduate educational needs of the practising veterinary surgeon in the UK?’ For my part in this I completed a Master’s degree and a Professional Doctorate in Professional Development majoring in Consultation Skills. This research and development has been instrumental in influencing a change in the veterinary profession: we now have a new system of postgraduate education that includes the non-clinical skills required for professional practice, and a structure of education that can deliver what is needed and respond to change in the future.

Owning and managing a veterinary practice, as well as working as a clinician and surgeon, requires a lot of different competencies. Communication skills, awareness of professional ethics and the business of veterinary practice are very important. Learning about relevant law is important in some areas of prescribing, and don’t forget that some of the people who will help you the most in your extramural studies and your first jobs in practice will be your co-working Veterinary Nurses, who are invaluable.

Learning alongside medics on the Natural Sciences Tripos gave me an enormous appreciation of medicine, and the postgraduate research I carried out with trainers of GP doctors involved remarkably similar skills when consulting with the client or patient.

Another area in which I have developed an interest, which parallels the work of medical colleagues, was in cruciate ligament surgery. I was inspired by the teaching of the late Dr Reg Green in the Department of Veterinary Anatomy and the late Colonel John Hickman at the Vet School. The technique I have used in the dog over my whole career mirrors that used in human surgery.

Veterinary medicine has been a rewarding career for me – a dream and a passion, in which I have also earned a living. My advice to graduating vet students or alumni considering a career change would be: hold on to and remember the real reason you chose to become a vet. Remember also that your journey to actually achieve a qualification will have taken you a long time, so be prepared for your postgraduate development to take some time as well. Don’t be impatient for quick results. Reflect on the issues you currently identify as obstacles and plan an effective solution. Experienced practitioners like me are often willing and enthusiastic to share their hard earned wisdom with you, so find an approachable mentor and coach.

Paul Campion (1981) – Director of IBM Global Financing, UK and Ireland
07 January 2015

Undergraduates today seem to be more vocationally minded and serious than I ever was; after Natural Sciences Part IA and Law Parts IB and II, I was at a loss. The obvious thing to do was to be a solicitor but in my ignorance I could not see that that would be interesting, and I couldn’t afford the Bar. The choice that left the most doors open seemed the best. IBM would give me great training, a blue chip name on my CV and would ease me into the world of work. After 18 months or so I planned to move on to another job, when I had worked out what I really wanted to do. Thirty years later I am still at IBM. Where did it all go right?

The first thing is that they keep on changing the job. I have worked in technical, sales, marketing and operational roles, at UK, European and worldwide levels. My family and I were lucky enough to have the chance to live in Paris and New York when my roles moved there, and I also worked in Zurich for three years.

IBM continually invests in my skills so that I can always be at the forefront of changes in the market and technology, and if and when the time comes to work somewhere else (the voluntary sector, say, or even perhaps in academia) I will take with me up to date knowledge and skills, and a wider range of experience than I could possibly have imagined 30 years ago.

It has also helped that working for an IT solutions company I have had a ring-side seat as many of the world’s major companies, and quite a few of the smaller ones, have transformed themselves, and transformed again, as technology has changed our world over the last few decades.

One of the most fundamental career choices you make (whether you realise you are making it or not) is between developing deep specialist expertise and becoming a leader (or manager as we used to call them). As a leader your job is to help other people to be more productive and effective than they would otherwise be. It doesn’t look as technical but, believe me, it is every bit as hard to do well.

Being a manager in a large company is perhaps not the most glamorous career choice. A critic might say that in return for job security and a fairly comfortable life you trade freedom and excitement. As with all caricatures, there is a little truth and a lot of exaggeration in this picture. The strength of the economy and the quality of life for most of the population is driven by large companies, and research shows that the success of companies is predominantly determined by the quality of middle-management. As a middle-manager in a large company you will be dealing with more customers, more people and more money than a very senior person in a small or medium-sized company. The job is important and you can really affect the world as well as impact a lot of individuals... positively impact, if you do it right.

When you get down to it, the thing that really makes a difference to your life is what you DO each day, and who you work with. There are a lot of intelligent, motivated and involved people in my company and in our clients. It’s the interactions I have with them every day that has kept me engaged and interested for so long.

Anisha Polson (2009) – trainee solicitor at Eversheds LLP
10 December 2014

I read Law at St John’s, graduating in 2012, and I’m currently working as a trainee solicitor at Eversheds LLP in their Manchester office. Trainee solicitors all across the country will tend to agree with me on one thing – practising law is a far cry from studying it at university. The hours spent poring over legal textbooks, reading opposing case commentaries and journals no longer dominate my working time. You have to put on a very practical thinking cap when making commercial decisions for clients. One piece of advice is to start early – if you are even thinking of embarking on this route, get working on that ever elusive ‘commercial awareness’. Be it the occasional scanning of FT pages or the dedicated Google Alerts/Business Weekly podcasts, you decide what suits you best.

Making all this sound as glamorous as the American TV series that budding corporate lawyers often aspire to (hint: Suits) can be quite difficult. As is often the case, the hours spent researching and drafting and the sheer hard work involved is conveniently forgotten! That said, you do have exciting moments on the job. Recently I saw the completion of a year-long project that involved the sale of a nursing homes portfolio for £477million to a US private equity firm. The relief when everything falls into place, followed by some kind words from the client, makes it all worthwhile.

It’s not all work and no play for the trainees; there are always plenty of client entertainment events for us to get involved in, to fine tune our small talk/networking abilities and learn more about our clients’ industries. We also have lots of trainee socialising events, such as the Winter Ball and one of my personal favourites – the Selfridges sessions with Women in Property (cue freebies and makeovers!).

Before starting my training contract, I volunteered as the Case Management Director at BPP Legal Advice Clinic for a year. The clinic provides free legal advice to the local community. Whilst in that role, I could see the impact that our input has on people’s decision making. Often all they need is someone who will listen to their concerns and be able to empathise with them. Corporate social responsibility (for example, through volunteering and providing free legal advice) is actively encouraged at my firm. Next week, I am helping to organise a Christmas meal (cooked and served by trainees – hoping that one of us turns out to be a moonlighting chef!) to the homeless people around Manchester.

To sum up what I’ve done this week as a trainee in a City firm: assisting on high value deals, rubbing shoulders with industry leaders, and making mocha brownies for our Christmas meal… plus the occasional legal work, which is very interesting, but I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that!

Jayne Ozanne (1987) – Professional Influencer (and Founder of Generosity)
26 November 2014

I’ve never found it easy to answer the question: ‘What do you do?’ It’s often asked as an icebreaker by strangers trying politely to establish some area of common ground, or at networking events where one is being swiftly assessed as either important or not important.

My answers have tended to be somewhat unconventional, but always true. They’ve ranged from ‘I smuggle aid into Burma’ to ‘I gate-crash lunches at the White House’ or ‘I bring religious leaders in the Middle East together’. Ask others and they might tell you ‘she’s set up two international charities’, ‘she’s worked closely with international royalty’ or ‘she was one of Tony Blair’s Directors at his Faith Foundation’. It’s definitely been a varied life! Fulfilling? Absolutely! Exciting? Terrifying! Lucrative? To be honest, no – it’s cost me heavily. But I can truly say I would do it all again tomorrow as I have gained a far greater prize – knowing my life is making a difference, and that others will benefit from it.

Back in 1996 whilst Head of Marketing for BBC Television, I remember being invited to an event by McKinsey for those they deemed to be the up and coming leaders of our generation. It made me think. I was only 28 and I caught myself wondering what on earth I would be doing in ten years’ time. I already had what most would think of as the dream marketing job. I’d raced through the international marketing ranks of Procter & Gamble and then Kimberly Clark, and lived the ultimate corporate lifestyle, complete with private jet and fast cars. But I wanted more – I wanted a life with greater purpose.

Two years later I was sat in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s office being interviewed to be one of the founding members of the Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England – a non-executive position in an organisation that many people thought was out of touch, out of date and irrelevant. Despite being a lay woman under 50 (unlike most of my colleagues) I saw my opportunity to help bring about change and took the wild decision to step off the career ladder and into the unknown. I haven’t looked back.

Whilst I have known both feast and famine, I have had the immense privilege of working with some of the most inspiring people of our age. My ‘path less travelled’ has enabled me to speak truth to power in ways I could never have imagined and so – unseen by many – help effect change the world over.

If you have a dream to do the same, then I urge you to get some practical experience in business first. Learn how to write a compelling strategic document, understand the principles of good management and prove yourself as a leader. You’ll then have the tools you need to be an influencer too. But then, most importantly of all, have the courage to go for it. Believe that you too can make a difference!

Jayne founded Generosity UK.

Huw Wallis (1991) – Director, Disputes team, Greenwoods Solicitors
12 November 2014

I graduated in 1994 in History and Law. Still not really sure what I wanted to do, I bought some time doing a Master’s degree and then spent a year as a trainee accountant before training as a solicitor in the City.

I realised pretty much immediately that the intellectual and tactical buzz of litigation was what excited me, so I spent the next 10 years working for large City firms for international clients including banks and financial institutions. Perhaps the highlight was meeting Eddie George (the former governor of the Bank of England) and signing the Official Secrets Act to allow me to review top secret government documents as part of a multi-million-pound dispute brought against the bank.

After that it was definitely time for a change, and in 2008 I set up my own law firm with a colleague. The next two years were the most rewarding, exciting and challenging of my life; being responsible for your own salary definitely focuses the mind! Happily, it was a great success and we merged into local firm Greenwoods in 2012, where I now head up the Disputes team of a dozen lawyers across the region.

My days are now pretty varied. I might be interviewing a senior hire to grow our new London office, or meeting a client to discuss the tactical approach to their dispute. Or I might be in court on an urgent injunction. I could just as easily be working from my front room, fighting off the attentions of my two children and endless episodes of Peppa Pig...

The key thing for me is that how I spend my day is largely within my control. I think what many law graduates don’t fully appreciate is that life at any big firm (and especially at a City law firm) may be exciting, but the hours are very long. And if that is what you want, you need to accept that, even as a senior partner, your life really is never your own and you may struggle to have a fulfilling social and family life. Leaving your desk before 8pm is rare.

My advice to anyone, whatever their job, is to constantly assess whether you think you are heading in the direction you want. Look at the senior people in your firm: does your career path involve doing their job in the future, and if so, do you actually want that job? If not, have the courage to change things, even though the safe bet is to just keep your head down and do what everyone else is doing. And if you think you have the drive and determination to run your own business, you should do it. Nothing in your professional life gives you the same sense of satisfaction.

Kate Palmer (2013) – Personal Finance Reporter, the Telegraph
29 October 2014

I’m a reporter for the Telegraph and write about anything and everything that’s money or consumer related. I began this year after finishing my MPhil at St John’s.

It’s certainly an adjustment from the hours spent poring over history books in the University and College libraries; in a typical day I will be writing breaking news, working on features for the paper, meeting contacts, conducting interviews and sub-editing stories on the print edition.

This week I interviewed a foreign exchange trader in south London, quizzed some accountants on a new tax reform, and interviewed some baking bloggers about their work.

I studied seventeenth-century history so have had to learn about finance on the job. Before starting, I had completed an NCTJ diploma – the professional qualification for reporters – along with stints at the Daily Mail, Irish Daily Star, Forbes and editing my undergraduate university newspaper.

The best part of my job is fighting for readers’ rights. I know this sounds cheesy, but many people turn to a national newspaper because they feel trapped by the bank, company or person who has treated them unfairly. One of my first ever stories – on holidays from hell – won thousands of pounds in compensation for a family and it felt wonderful to have helped.

It’s essentially a desk job, which I don’t mind, but might not suit everyone. I’m not a roving reporter – I am almost always in the office or in meetings close to my workplace.

I've learnt (to try) not to be so precious about my own writing. Sometimes a piece or catchy headline that you think sounds ok will get mercilessly edited, re-edited and edited again.

I don’t know anybody who started in the industry without work experience. Write for your student newspaper, a local newspaper, start a blog, or even pitch stories to the national newspapers. When I started, the question that colleagues would ask was not ‘where did you go to university?’ but ‘who have you written for?’ That said, Cambridge has a useful alumni network, which you can access through events run by St John’s and the University Careers Service.


Amy Hill (née Scott, 1996) – Political Affairs, United Nations
15 October 2014

I was always envious of people who knew what they wanted to do with their lives; I loved my time at St John’s but wondered constantly what lay beyond and I came to graduation no clearer. So I followed my instincts by pursuing a Master’s and PhD in International Relations at Oxford, and was surprised along the way to land a three-month internship at the UN in New York on the basis of an online application. I worked on a major UN reform initiative – a great way to get to know the organisation – which led to a job in a think tank and then an opportunity to join the UN full-time, working on the Darfur peace process.
Political work in the UN involves analysing country or regional situations and engaging with stakeholders – the parties, regional governments and organisations, Security Council members, civil society – to shape the UN’s response and implement our mandates. But in practice, my job has involved everything from tea with rebels in the desert, to writing briefings for the Security Council! My year in Sudan was frustrating, as we tried without success to facilitate negotiations between the parties to the Darfur conflict in the glare of the world’s media. But I enjoyed the painstaking, under the radar work of engaging the parties to seek out areas for possible compromise. Moving back to New York to work at UN Headquarters, I felt somewhat removed from this complexity. But observing high-level decision-making through the lens of Security Council dynamics and broad geopolitical trends provided learning opportunities of a different sort. 

The UN has a complicated recruitment system; for most professional positions you need a Master’s degree and at least some prior experience. Working for an NGO, think tank or government are good ways to gain that experience. Seeking out opportunities in politically complex countries while you don’t have dependents is highly recommended and will give you both knowledge and credibility.

Working in the UN can be hugely interesting and rewarding. I genuinely love the cultural mix inside the organisation and have forged great friendships along the way. However, you have to be able to accept external criticism, incremental progress and the realities of working for a large bureaucracy. Balancing career and family is also difficult in the political field since families are not permitted in many locations. I have been lucky; two months ago I moved to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia to work on regional peace efforts and the UN’s relationship with the African Union. This was only made possible because of my husband’s willingness to undertake the adventure with me and our two young daughters.

Looking back, one thing I have realised is that a Cambridge education stands you in good stead but it is not enough. Don’t underestimate the importance of softer skills, such as being able to get on with people, get your view across, translate vision into action and cope with adversity. Work on these skills and remember that your ‘career’ is not necessarily a decision you will make at 21, but a process of discovering your interests, needs and strengths.

Chris Berrow (2008) – BBC radio presenter and freelance voiceover artist
03 September 2014

Ah St John’s, what an amazing place. When I think of my years there, it brings back fond memories – like the time we build a 10-foot ‘beer tower’ and showed it to prospective students waiting for their subject interviews. Probably shouldn’t have done that, and I did get a stern telling off from the accommodation officer.

We all know St John’s is the best college in the world, because we all went there, but I never fully appreciated the opportunities that were available until my final year.

I had always loved listening to podcasts when I was at school, particularly the Russell Brand show and the Ricky Gervais show, but I never thought I would have the chance to do something similar. After asking around, I discovered that there was a University student radio station called Cam FM (formerly CUR 1350), and that the committee were actively looking for new members!

I sent them a speculative email asking if I could be trained in the mysterious art of radio production. A week later I was hosting the breakfast show, presenting to an audience of literally several people (actually it was probably far more than I realised, as the station broadcasts on 97.2 FM, as well as online). I was hooked from day one, and I knew that being a radio presenter was what I wanted to do for the rest of my career.

Four years have passed since that first radio show and I’m pleased to say that I have turned my amateur radio ramblings into a job, currently presenting shows for BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, BBC Essex and BBC Northampton. I have also recently produced and presented a documentary for BBC Radio 5 Live called ‘The Night Climbers of Cambridge’ (of whom I’m sure you are aware), as well as providing voiceovers for other documentaries and radio adverts.

I am, of course, hoping to link up with businesses or individuals who are looking for a voiceover artist – I have a studio in my house to facilitate this – but I also want to encourage current students at St John’s to get involved with some of the many societies that are providing training and facilities for next to no cost.

I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today without the University’s student radio station.


Nadine McCarthy Kahane (2002) – Founder & CEO of Stone & Strand
20 August 2014

Stone & Strand came to be on a trip to Las Vegas, home to the largest jewellery trade show in the world. I remember feeling incredibly nervous as I left my hotel – the very cheapest I could find on the strip – and headed towards the glamorous Couture Show. I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t know anything about jewellery, and I only had newly printed business cards and a rough drawing of the website that I wanted to build.

I had first become interested in the jewellery industry while I was helping a friend launch a collection during my spare time at Wharton Business School, where I was studying for an MBA. I was intrigued by the opportunity for disruption that I saw in a highly conservative and opaque industry that was notably under-penetrated online.

My first step was to find a business partner who could bring a deep knowledge of the industry to the table - ideally a creative director who could be tasked with the responsibility of creating an elegant and luxurious, yet intimate online environment. I was fortunate to find all of that, and more, in a former jewellery editor from W Magazine and together we sketched out the website, designed our own packaging, directed numerous product shoots, and on-boarded the first group of designers for our launch in May 2013.

Stone & Strand has come a long way from that first, lonely Vegas show. Today, we are one of the leading fine jewellery destinations in the USA. Based in New York, we offer our customers access to exclusive products, editorial inspiration and jewellery education, as well as a personal concierge service that makes the purchase experience stress-free. We have been featured in publications such as the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal, and have received two nominations from industry organisations for ‘best online jewellery retailer’.

Prior to Stone & Strand, I spent five years working as a Strategy Consultant advising companies on corporate strategy, business development and marketing. It was interesting work, filled with bright people, and a job that allowed me to travel the world. However, I had always found it thrilling to build something from scratch and I had the itch to do something entrepreneurial early on.

Entrepreneurship is a challenge, and every day can feel like a battle for new customers, investors or partners. You need to have a strong sense of self, an ability to deal with a significant level of uncertainty, and the willingness to continually step out of your comfort zone.

Along the way, I have relied on my friends from St John’s as a source of inspiration and support. For me, university was a carefree time of exploration, experimentation and self-discovery. A place to learn that life doesn’t have to be linear and predictable; that what matters most is who you surround yourself with and being lucky enough to have a true passion for what you do.

Patrick Andrews (1990) – Inventor, break-step productions Ltd
06 August 2014

In many ways I envy those who’ve always known that they were destined to become partners in international law firms, diplomats or merchant bankers. My career has had no such sustained focus. Eight years ago, at the last of countless job interviews, I was accused of ‘... having only done those things which interested (me).’ I got the job, but had to agree that this interpretation of my random-walk CV was pretty accurate.

Driven by the urge to please parents, a dearth of self-determination, the need to eat and a pathologically low boredom threshold, I have tried a number of different directions. These have included becoming Britain’s first web architect, earning a PhD in Mechanical Engineering, managing an MP employed as a salesman, running a business from internet cafés in Canada, failing two different degrees in computing, advising numerous start-up founders, being sacked several times (once by fax, which ages me), working at universities from Tallinn to Stanford, blogging commercially, and developing some clever software (

At St John’s, I quickly came to accept that I was a mediocre scholar and a glacially slow learner. I’d like to express my heartfelt thanks, however, to Dr Tom Hynes who stepped in to help when my friend and supervisor Professor Fergus Campbell was taken ill and died. It was at this time that I had my first brush with the patents system and was recognised by one Fellow as ‘having ideas incompatible with (my) status as a research student.’ Although not intended as helpful, this comment was actually perceptive and I have since turned having such ideas into an unconventional career.

It began when I was forced to acknowledge that, as an employee, I wasn’t earning enough to afford even a modest midlife crisis sports car. My wife reminded me that I seemed to generate a continuous stream of often viable product ideas. I thus became an inventor (although product developer is my more usual title, since inventors are inexplicably seen as hard to deal with). For the next seven years, I published one new product idea per day, partly as a protest against our silly, unaffordable, Intellectual Property system and partly as an advert for this unusual skill. It’s easy to overlook talents that don’t get measured by our education system.

I now greatly enjoy running a small company that works to license new product designs and technologies in the US. If you’re unwise enough to drink coffee from a machine in California, there is a good chance that I designed the internal mechanism. Should you find yourself with wet feet on board a yacht, it may be my self-priming bilgepump design that is to blame. Gas piped to your home may depend in some small way on the explosive burst tests I have undertaken on hoses in the North Sea (‘Stand well back – Norway should be ok’).

With my track record, I wouldn’t presume to give anyone advice, but the message is that it’s quite legitimate to recognise your real abilities – even if they don’t form the basis of any traditional syllabus.

Contact Patrick: Website:

Claude Schneider (1997) - Founder of Portfora, web developer and photographer
23 July 2014

I loved my time at Cambridge so much that I stayed for another 11 years after my BA in Natural Sciences. While the city is beautiful and so liveable, the real draw was being surrounded by myriad intelligent, driven and competent people. The connections I made, and opportunities I had, were more valuable for my career and adult life than my BA material of Astrophysics, though the postgraduate diploma in Computer Science certainly helped! Although now based in London, I spent the last year in Vancouver and was amazed at the great developer and start-up community there. Even in 2012, I found there weren’t many Cambridge students with web development skills – something that is vital for launching new start-ups, but is also increasingly useful for improving and promoting traditional businesses. I’m fortunate that I knew at 21 to focus on my passions, and so chose to start my web/business career, rather than wait four years by undertaking a PhD in Astronomy.

During my post-BA decade in Cambridge, I remained involved with several student societies, and even became the UK Acrobatic Rock ‘n’ Roll dance champion thanks to my years with the University Rock ‘n’ Roll team. I developed websites for academics, University departments and several companies, and also photographed for Varsity student newspaper, covering all of the student dance shows. Meeting the shows’ dancers led to the creation of The Cambridge Ballerina Project – a three-year series of photoshoots with Cambridge’s student ballerinas, amidst the wonderful architecture of the University.

Professionally, I worked in three small and medium technology companies in Cambridge as a developer, technical consultant and product manager over five years, before taking my freelance web development work full-time, and I’ve never looked back. A career highlight was creating software for Adder (a successful University spin-off company) that is used in thousands of important organisations around the globe, from the BBC’s studios to the Swedish Parliament. Having the full breadth of personal, design and technical skills to be able to fulfil all of my clients’ needs means I’ve never lacked work (often a problem for freelancers), but I’m now working on my long-standing goal of founding a web start-up.

Following two years of development, I launched Portfora in January 2014, combining my two passions: photography, and the possibilities afforded by web technology and the internet. It is a web/mobile platform for creative talents to showcase their portfolios and facilitate working collaborations, as well as making the industry more transparent, honest and safe. My vision is for it to become the go-to search engine and directory of talented people, including models, photographers, actors, singers, performers, producers and all surrounding organisations. The site has grown organically to over 700 members internationally and I’m now looking for a co-founder, interns and investment to help ensure the business succeeds beyond its promising start-up stages.

Ben Alden-Falconer (2011) - Associate Consultant, BCS Consulting
11 July 2014

When I first told my parents I wanted to study History, instead of Architecture as I'd always planned, they took some convincing. 'What does History lead to?' they asked, as no doubt many parents of other would-be art students did too.

As a 17-year-old, I didn't have a good answer: ‘Law? Politics? Teaching…’ I guessed. The truth was, I didn’t really know; all I knew was I wanted to pursue History. During the first six months of my gap year I tried a few possible options: a short stint at a national newspaper, the History Channel, a think tank, and eventually a longer stint in the finance department of a big UK law firm. It was here that I first worked with consultants.

I discovered I loved the problem solving, the innovation and also the positive impact change could bring to the business’ performance. I also learnt that I didn’t just want to theorise about the changes but be involved in making them happen.

After three years of studying History I left university to work for a consulting firm that promised to do just that: find and implement solutions. In my first month I was flown out to Bangalore for a crash course in technology, but the trip gave me a glimpse of working life in India too. The local population worked Western hours and being asked to stay late by someone in London meant missing the last bus, adding hours to journeys home on bad and congested roads. In the subsequent two years I worked across a range of sectors, including banking, healthcare, government and consumer goods. It wasn’t all glamorous – I worked hard, learned to deal with some demanding clients and after six months living in a hotel in Bolton, I couldn’t wait to be back home in London. But it is an experience I would recommend to anyone who doesn’t know precisely what they want to do (arts or science students). If nothing else it will help you pinpoint what you enjoy, or at least what you don’t.

For me, after two years in a large international company, I realised I wanted to be closer to the decision making and have now moved to a small consulting firm (BCS Consulting) that focuses on financial services. My client is still a large investment bank (I am helping them with regulatory-driven change), but I am given far greater contact with senior clients and I feel less of a small cog in a very big wheel.

As is evident from the other blogs by fellow Johnians, consulting is not an uncommon starting point and is a brilliant springboard to other things. Who knows, maybe in a few years’ time I, like them, will be using my experience to start my own business or pursue my active interests in politics or the arts. Or maybe I will still be consulting. Whatever comes next, it’s been an excellent first step.

Shree Mandke - education reform NGO worker, India
04 July 2014

Until recently, I worked for a very small grass-roots organisation called Link Ethiopia, which aims to improve primary and secondary education in Ethiopia. I immensely enjoyed what I did; however, I left Link Ethiopia at the end of May to take up a new challenge. I will be relocating to India in early July to work with a non-governmental organisation on education reform in Indian government-funded schools. This sounds quite straightforward, but let me assure you my career has been full of twists and turns!

As an undergraduate in Mumbai in the early 1990s, I knew that I wanted a really well-paid job – there’s a surprise! The only way I could get a well-paid job in a populous country like India was through excelling in my education. So, I worked hard to achieve top grades at college and was awarded a gold medal for my Master’s in Economics from the University of Mumbai. I had three job offers and accepted one as a research associate. The pay was much less than I had expected, but my mentor and lecturer assured me that it would be a ticket to a brighter future.

While working in Mumbai, I was also applying for Master’s programmes overseas. When I was offered a full scholarship at Cambridge, I was ecstatic. I arrived at St John’s in autumn 1996 and whilst there I got interested in development studies and the economics of poor countries. After finishing, I was hoping for a job in economic policy or research in the UK, but after six months of failed job applications I ended up accepting a position in a very small consultancy in Cambridge; I was their first ever employee! It was a real shock to the system as the consultancy was nothing to do with economic policy or research, and I was expected to carry out quite a lot of admin work. I kept agonising about how this job would lead me into my dream career. Because of the small size of the consultancy, I quickly got pushed into more interesting work, including researching how professionals maintained their employability. One of the findings was that a career is not just a linear progression, but a dynamic journey that includes stagnation, horizontal moves (across sectors and sometimes countries), career changes and progression. This was an epiphany for me!

I worked in charities, local authorities and the civil service before changing my career and relocating to Ethiopia. Throughout, I was guided by a search for what makes me tick, but the things that made me tick kept on changing and so did my plan for my dream career. In the early days it was all about money, which then morphed into power and influence. I realised that I was always interested in shaping and influencing things and making a difference. I believed that I could have a bigger impact if I climbed high enough – this belief and my efforts led me to a senior management position in the civil service.

I’ve had numerous achievements, including designing and winning multi-million-pound funding from the European Commission for a variety of multi-country programmes, and being rated as an excellent team leader amidst the environment of change and job cuts. However, my proudest achievement has been the confidence I’ve developed to keep experimenting with my own career and to keep making tough choices.

For some people, it is important to have a high-flying, well-paid job and a certain status in the society; in my formative years, I was no different. However, these days, I liken myself to a hummingbird – trying things and making small differences to leave this world a better place.

Patrick Browning – Clinical Hypnotherapist
28 May 2014

I read Economics Part I and Law Part II at St John’s, and my career initially followed a well-trodden path. I read for the Bar while doing an LLM (then called an LLB) and joined Arthur Andersen to train as a Chartered Accountant. At the back of my mind was the thought that I might practise at the Tax Bar but exposure to the increasing volume of tax legislation and the fact that I was now married and had a mortgage suggested that was a bad plan.

I stayed at Arthur Andersen for a while and then joined Orion Bank, to take up postings in Tehran and Hong Kong, and enjoy the challenge of doing things for the first time. After 16 years at Orion, I then had three other positions as a finance director, all of which unfortunately ended in redundancy for various reasons – recession, company mergers and insolvency. In all my jobs, the law I learned at St John's was useful; though not a legal practitioner, I have enough law to be confident in my dealings with lawyers.

By now, on reflection, I was not a very saleable product. I was beginning to feel that being self-employed had its attractions. One day my eldest daughter said that somebody in her office had a husband who had spent 30 years in the City but was now training to be a Clinical Hypnotherapist. This seemed a very strange thing to do, but the more I thought about it the more interesting it seemed. I got some books out of the library and then started to look for places to train. That was 10 years ago and since then I have built a Clinical Hypnotherapy practice in Kensington and I also see people with cancer at Paul's Cancer Support Centre in Battersea.

So what are the attractions of practising as a hypnotherapist? Most practitioners probably have relatively modest incomes so it is more appropriate as a second or subsequent career rather than for those who have just graduated. Having some life experience also makes you a better therapist. I get an enormous amount of job satisfaction from what I do and I think this comes in the following ways:

  • Helping another human being, as a catalyst or guide, to make some change that is beneficial for them.
  • Researching new issues or problems, alongside the more common issues of quitting smoking and weight management.
  • Finding imaginative language that will communicate with the client's unconscious mind.

I recently ran a pilot study at the National Migraine Centre where I taught self-hypnotic techniques to people with migraine in groups. This has the potential to be a very cost-effective form of treatment and I'm currently looking for funding to carry out a randomised controlled trial on a larger scale. Another recent initiative was to launch a series of apps that can be purchased through the Apple App Store.

To find out more, visit

Ian Simm (1985) - Founder and Chief Executive, Impax Asset Management plc
15 May 2014

Finance? You’ve got to be kidding! In my final year at St John’s studying Natural Sciences, all I wanted to do was go to Africa. Post-graduation, the two years that I spent avoiding the ‘Career’ question and setting up an expedition project in Niger fundamentally changed my perspective on the C word. As well as an adventure, I got a taste for management, being an entrepreneur and, above all, an appreciation for how fragile the planet is. Although I still didn’t really know what to do next, I realised that a physics degree by itself wasn’t a sufficient qualification, so over the next six years I studied for a Master’s degree in economics/business at the Harvard Kennedy School and then spent time with McKinsey’s primordial sustainable development team.

Consulting? Yeuk! I couldn’t kill the bug of being the boss of my own venture. I tried to launch a company selling solar lighting systems in Africa and, in 1998, having picked up a contract from the World Bank to design and subsequently run an investment fund targeting renewable energy, was able to start Impax Asset Management – a company focused on helping investors find opportunities to make money in environmental markets such as renewable energy, water treatment and recycling.

Fast forward to today: Impax is the leading investment management firm in the environmental sector. With about US$4 billion from 100 major investors to manage, we’ve been able to demonstrate that investing in this area is profitable, and hope that we’re making a contribution towards a sustainable society.

Day to day, we’re constantly scouring the globe to find companies that have innovative, profitable ways of solving environmental problems. If these businesses are listed on a stock market, we’ll look to buy their shares at a low price and sell if the price gets irrationally high. If they’re not listed, we may look to help them grow by investing and then aiming for an exit at some stage through a stock market flotation or sale to a larger company.

Looking back, it’s been hugely rewarding to have been part of the grassroots of a new area of finance, i.e. targeting environmental markets. Earlier this year we became the first investment manager to receive a Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the Sustainable Development category.

In the late 1980s, careers advice was truly rubbish. If it’s not improved, no worries: a degree from St John’s opens an unbelievable number of doors, so be bold and confident, and don’t be afraid to experiment a little to try to discover what you’re truly passionate about. Life’s too short to be chained to the wrong treadmill!

Sophia Bennett – children’s author
07 May 2014

I’ve always wanted to be a writer. My long-term goal, possibly based on reading too much E Nesbit when I was young, was to write novels at my scrubbed pine kitchen table while my children played at my feet. Doing a PhD in Italian literature (1991–1994) gave me the chance to examine modern literature more closely and to form my opinions about the experience of reading fiction, but when I left Cambridge I still didn’t feel ready to write. Instead, I took a job as a junior management consultant for McKinsey for a few years, travelling round Europe, using my languages and mastering the ‘pyramid principle’ of communication via endless PowerPoint slides.

It was the publication of the first Harry Potter book in 1997 that gave me the courage to give up McKinsey, dig into my savings and write my first novel – an adult detective story. It sparked a bit of interest, but I didn’t sell it. So I wrote another. Didn’t sell that either. I joined a concierge services company as a strategist on the management team and over the next ten years I freelanced as a project manager, took more time off to write, got more rejections, got married, had two boys and became part-time stepmother to two girls.

I loved those freelancing years, but eventually my fourth book, Threads, won a competition for unpublished children’s writers and the prize was a £10,000 publishing contract. My sixth published novel with the same publisher, Chicken House, comes out this year and I’m starting book seven.

All those years of persistence and practice have helped me be the writer I am today. The media tends to focus on overnight sensations, but most of the people I know who are working successfully in creative fields took years of dogged determination to get there. Now my days are split between planning, researching and writing the new book, and editing, proofing or marketing the last one. Publishers like to see a book a year, so the workload is quite relentless, but I like it that way. I spend a lot of time at home with my laptop, but also plenty of time at schools and festivals, meeting young readers and talking about what I do.

Along the way, I’ve learned a few things. For example, working at home full-time with young children is almost impossible: you still need childcare and support. My early vision was never going to work. Novelists are expected to do a lot of public speaking and their own online marketing, so it helps to have given countless presentations and been an early adopter of social networking in my previous lives. The editing process can be harsh. Once again, having worked on high-pressure teams to produce reports, I’m good at taking criticism. Although I don’t write about my past careers, they inform everything I do.

What would I tell my 21 year-old self? Be brave. Take risks. You are more entrepreneurial than you know. Save money whenever you can, and try and find a partner who believes in what you want to do. Not many people mention this last point, but if you want to do something out of the ordinary, it helps immeasurably.

Email: Website:

Simona Giunta - Research Fellow, Rockefeller University
17 April 2014

Sometimes, you have to let yourself dream beyond your expectations and beyond what’s possible. Two examples of the impossible (or so I thought!) happening in my life are: getting a PhD from Cambridge – and, not least, from St John’s College – and working as a scientist in New York City. These might sound like no big deal to some of you, but for a 19-year-old Italian moving to the UK from a small rural town with a luggage full of dreams and not much else, including a lack of knowledge of spoken English, those were not just long shots, they were plainly beyond what I could dream of at the time.

Looking back, it certainly took a huge amount of determination (bordering on stubbornness), a lot of passion, a fair bit of sacrifice and a pinch of luck to get here. Currently, I work as a Research Fellow at the Rockefeller University in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, where I also live just a few steps away from my lab. I research how cells work and what happens when they don’t work, which was also my interest during my time at Cambridge. I specifically study how a cell can ‘lose the plot’ and become cancerous, and what changes are involved in those very early steps of a cancer cell’s life.

While this all sounds tremendously exciting (or at least it does to me!), the day-to-day job of a scientist is made up of doing experiments, reading papers and scientific journals, and thinking about the right questions to ask and smart ways to test the hypotheses. While the routine of performing experiments can often be tedious and repetitive, it is peppered by some amazingly exciting moments when, looking down the microscope on any random day, you see something that no one has ever seen before. That first glimpse of a discovery is, for me, the single most enthralling moment of science. What follows is many more months of work to prove what that discovery actually means! Once you figure it out, the next exciting chapter of a scientist’s life is presenting your findings to the world, mainly through international conferences but sometimes even through mass media, depending on the impact of your discovery. Then, the work of a scientist could and should go further than that and extend all the way outside the Ivory Towers of our scientific institutions to bring science to the people!

I feel that science isn’t just for nerds like myself; it is all around us. It’s relevant for people’s lives to know about scientific research, understand how our body works and how the biology of life works. That’s why I founded kNOW SCIENCE – an international outreach organisation that bring scientists like myself, who are actively engaged in research, to present their latest discoveries to the public.

Science can be so much more than working in the lab. Beyond the bench, I recommend to all current and future scientists to expand your skills and take every opportunity through internships, summer placements and gap years to enrich your CV and your soul, to help feed your passion for science and discoveries.

Sometimes, you have to let yourself dream beyond your expectations and beyond what’s possible. Two examples of the impossible (or so I thought!) happening in my life are: getting a PhD from Cambridge – and, not least, from St John’s College – and working as a scientist in New York City. These might sound like no big deal to some of you, but for a 19-year-old Italian moving to the UK from a small rural town with a luggage full of dreams and not much else, including a lack of knowledge of spoken English, those were not just long shots, they were plainly beyond what I could dream of at the time.


Looking back, it certainly took a huge amount of determination (bordering on stubbornness), a lot of passion, a fair bit of sacrifice and a pinch of luck to get here. Currently, I work as a Research Fellow at the Rockefeller University in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, where I also live just a few steps away from my lab. I research how cells work and what happens when they don’t work, which was also my interest during my time at Cambridge. I specifically study how a cell can ‘lose the plot’ and become cancerous, and what changes are involved in those very early steps of a cancer cell’s life.


While this all sounds tremendously exciting (or at least it does to me!), the day-to-day job of a scientist is made up of doing experiments, reading papers and scientific journals, and thinking about the right questions to ask and smart ways to test the hypotheses. While the routine of performing experiments can often be tedious and repetitive, it is peppered by some amazingly exciting moments when, looking down the microscope on any random day, you see something that no one has ever seen before. That first glimpse of a discovery is, for me, the single most enthralling moment of science. What follows is many more months of work to prove what that discovery actually means! Once you figure it out, the next exciting chapter of a scientist’s life is presenting your findings to the world, mainly through international conferences but sometimes even through mass media, depending on the impact of your discovery. Then, the work of a scientist could and should go further than that and extend all the way outside the Ivory Towers of our scientific institutions to bring science to the people!


I feel that science isn’t just for nerds like myself; it is all around us. It’s relevant for people’s lives to know about scientific research, understand how our body works and how the biology of life works. That’s why I founded kNOW SCIENCE ( – an international outreach organisation that bring scientists like myself,who are actively engaged in research, to present their latest discoveries to the public.


Science can be so much more than working in the lab. Beyond the bench, I recommend to all current and future scientists to expand your skills and take every opportunity through internships, summer placements and gap years to enrich your CV and your soul, to help feed your passion for science and discoveries.

Joanna Lewis - CEO, Littlefox Communications
18 February 2014

Joanna LewisIt's not such a long stretch from reading history (1984-87) to running a digital communications company – via analyst at Bain & Co, Director at KMPG, special projects advisor to the Chairman of BT and now co-founder of Littlefox Communications. It’s all about listening hard, absorbing lots of information and distilling it down to tell stories in such a way that people change what they do as a result of what they see.  

Back in 1987 we spent hours meticulously hand-drawing slides with bubbles and graphs. By 2007 PowerPoint ruled the day but now in 2014, after decades of email overload and company intranets groaning under the weight of words, we are rediscovering the power of speech.   Cisco’s ‘State of the Internet’ review forecasts that 66% of Internet traffic will be video by 2017.  With geographically dispersed and time-poor staff and customers, companies are looking for new ways to engage people using short, highly engaging, films that are accessible any time via any mobile devise. 

The digital age has not only allowed me to build a business it is also fundamental to the way I work.  As a mother of 4 girls I need flexibility in my day.  I also need to work with the best talent wherever they may be. So we have deliberately structured Littlefox to run on the ‘cloud’. Recently we worked with the Gates Foundation to support the launch of a new Global Health Investment Fund in New York – you can see the film here. We used local crews in Europe and the US, directed the interviews over the internet, then sent the footage back to our editors and graphics teams and reviewed the rough cuts with our client via our on line video editing and sharing platform. Not only is it more efficient but we also like to think we are doing our bit to save the planet.

Each summer we host work experience students on a ‘virtual work inspiration’ week.  It takes some convincing of careers advisers that it really is OK for students to stay in their pyjamas all day should they choose, or play football half way through the day, as long as they are prepared for the twice daily Google hangouts with their mentors.  It’s what you produce that counts and we trust the people who work with us to do their very best work.  People ask, ‘Don’t you miss the office banter?’ and the answer is no.  My day is full of Skype chats, screen-sharing and lots of client meetings. No, the hardest thing is switching off. With clients all over the world sometimes the day never seems to end. 

So what advice would I give to my 21 year old self? Careers don’t happen in straight lines so look behind every door you never know where it might lead and, remember ‘we have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak!’ Epictetus.

Contact Jo:


Danae Mercer - PR/Freelance Journalist/Writer
15 January 2014

On a given day I will meet with leading journalists, see a client for lunch, ghost write an article for a magazine, stare at an excel sheet for far too many minutes, have a conference call with people all over the world, and drink numerous cups of coffee. In the evenings, I'll meet people for events or hide away for writing. It’s all part of my life as a media professional in London.

My main role is in public relations (PR) for a lovely company called Kwittken. As an Account Manager, I work with companies to get their message out. I'm the person that, if you're a CEO and you want to get on the news, or if you're a brand and you want to meet journalists, you would come to me.

Most of my clients are 'techy tech' or background financial. They're large, corporate, and not really anyone the average person would know. They make things work but operate behind the scenes. It's my job to make them newsworthy. Given the nature of media, things are often quite manic, very busy, and slightly stressful. If you like fast environments, you’ll thrive.

I also freelance and write. Currently I'm working on a digital book for the Guardian featuring another Cambridge graduate. It's in my writing I get to be more creative, playing around with topics that I’m passionate about. I've written for the Guardian, The Independent, The Telegraph, Marie Claire, World Travel Guide, USA Today, and more. It's all very fun. My goal is to write numerous books.

If you want to become a PR, I'd recommend building up those social skills (you're always interacting with people!) and interning. Companies like to see you're keen. If you want to become a writer or freelancer, start now. It's never too soon to pitch ideas to publications, to learn about the media, to read, and of course to write. A lot of papers now have online segments dedicated to students. Why not pitch an idea their way?

I would also recommend creating an online portfolio, and thinking strongly about your online brand. How are you portraying yourself on Facebook? On Twitter? Now’s a great time to think socially and digitally.

So there we go! That’s me. Do feel free to drop me a line should you ever have any questions. You can find my contact information at, where I also discuss the unique Davies-Jackson Scholarship that sent me to St John’s.


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