Panel Discussion: Entering the World of Science & Technology 

Annabel Jenkinson provides her account of the panel discussion that took place in November on the topic of Science & Technology.

On Thursday 17th of November we were lucky enough to welcome alumni Ben Medlock MBE and Jacqui Sutton MBE, and SCR member Abhinav Naga. They participated in a panel discussion and shared their personal experiences from their careers, offering advice to students entering careers in science and technology. This event preceded the Science, Tech & Innovation themed formal held the same night.

The first topic discussed was what a typical day entailed for our panelists, all of whom had very different answers. Jacqui said her usual day consisted of three parts, as did Abhinav. For Jacqui, these three parts were time with the team across the world, external meetings, and internal business meetings to keep operations going. For Abhinav, it was reading and writing papers, research matters such as going into labs, and, finally, generating ideas for grant applications. Ben had a completely different answer; his day consists mostly of being a dad. He also compared having a child to starting a business, he said both things require substantial emotional investment as they are always on your mind, although he also joked that when running a business there are usually lots of people who want to listen to what you have to say, your children, less so! 

Another question asked was: “What advice would you give to current students?” 

Abhinav’s principal piece of advice was to look at your supervisor as well as your project because you will have to work together. 

Ben advised those who want to start a company that there is no right way to do it. What is important is to start with a real problem that matters to you, because if it matters to you, it is likely that you are not the only one who feels this way. You can then begin to think about how you can solve your problem. 

Jacqui’s main piece of advice was to be flexible – if you don’t know what you want to do after being a student, give things a go! Don’t be afraid to approach the world of work with trial and error. She is a modern languages graduate who has now ended up in the aerospace industry! She advised the best thing to do is to get your first step on the ladder, even if your first job isn’t exactly what you want to do, but if you are in the right area, you will eventually end up where you want to be over time. 

What stuck with me the most was Jacqui’s description of a project that stuck with her, because it really highlighted the importance of teamwork and diversity. She recalled a time when a colleague gave a presentation proposing their solution to a problem with fuel tanks in specific aircraft. There were two companies proposing ideas, and theirs was much cheaper and quicker to fit. However, at the meeting with the engineers, they kept on asking questions and seemed really negative towards this suggestion. Her colleague afterwards was frustrated and thought there was no way that they would get the deal; however, Jacqui correctly recognised that the engineers were only so harsh because they wanted the more expensive, fancy option and were therefore trying to find a problem with their suggestion. Lo and behold, Jacqui’s team did get the contract. She read the room completely differently to her colleague and encouraged him not to give up. Had they not been in a team together, the project could have ended differently as her colleague could have given up and flown home. 

The discussion ended with Ben and Jacqui sharing a favourite memory from their time in John’s. Ben remembers feeling initially nervous being a fresher but when he first sat down for dinner in Haughton he saw a picture of his father as a football captain on the wall and this just calmed him and made him think that he was in the right place. Jacqui recalled an amusing time when she was involved in an amateur dramatics society that was putting on a comedy sketch in Johns, however, many of her friends couldn’t find their way into John’s and this was before the days of mobile phones, so her friends only made it to Chad’s bar! 

What did current students have to say about the panel discussion? 

The panelists were very engaging, and it was very thought-provoking to hear about such a variety of careers in the STEM subject area.” – Jonjo Palmer, 2nd Year 

It was great to hear from alumni who had gone into a range of fields and see how their careers progressed.” – Thomas Jackson, SJCR President 

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