A-level to Analyst


This is a story/blog about one person's journey through from studying at A-level to getting a job after graduation. The paragraphs are colour coded as follows to highlight their key themes in case you just want to focus on some parts.


Jobs and Skills


Sixth Form

Full disclosure, I have always loved maths. Perhaps surprisingly then, I originally didn't want to do a maths degree. I knew that most university maths courses required further maths and didn't want to use up half of my time in sixth form studying nothing else! So I chose to do maths, physics, computing and chemistry. During sixth form you have lots of time to think about uni, careers, and what you actually want to do in the near(ish) future. I came to the realisation that I didn't have a clue, but that by doing a maths degree I could keep as many doors open as possible until I decided. This meant I should probably do further maths, so with the help of my fantastic maths teacher Ms Gerard and some timetable shuffling I took it on as a fifth A-level half way through the first year. This decision wouldn't have worked out as well as it did without support from all my subject teachers and parents, and the self-motivation to cut out any coasting and work HARD for a year or so.

I was on a rollercoaster of work with very little free time, needing to catch up on the further maths work I'd missed and having also just started a weekend job at a garden centre. I used to be a shy person. It turns out that being outside your comfort zone can fast-track confidence building though, and this job was the beginning of me becoming far more of an extrovert. Time management was crucial too in this busy period. In retrospect, a part time job at high school gave me way more than a form of small income, it was a jumping-off point for skills I have needed many times since.

I dropped chemistry after the AS year, and with a maths degree in mind I started going to university open days to look at different courses. I was only slightly less clueless about the future but figured maths could lead to a career in anything from software to mechanical engineering, finance to academia. Check out mathscareers.org.uk for some great examples. In the end, the University of Nottingham was the right choice for me, and after the UCAS process and the right exam results, I was on my way there to begin the next chapter in my education.

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University Years 1 and 2

Most courses at university have a fixed set of modules which all first years do so that everyone is on the same level by year 2. As the course progresses, more options and paths can be chosen. At uni I tried to avoid statistics and probability, focussing more on pure and applied maths. There are so many areas of maths which get introduced at this level which are never touched upon at high school, especially for those who hadn't previously done further maths. For instance, pure maths tends to revolve around rigorous proof which had only been hinted at before, and applied maths deals heavily in solving differential equations. I was so glad to have done further maths (this course didn't actually require it) so I wasn't overwhelmed with new topics from day 1!

I couldn't get much 'real' summer work between years 1 and 2, so I took some work helping at open days at uni as well as building nextlevelmaths.com from scratch. I'd done some tutoring before, so it seemed a sensible outlet for programming interests which were sparked during my computing A-level. I can't overstate how vital this project has been in all my job applications since. It's shown self-motivation and skill development, given me something interesting to talk about in interviews and the feedback I've received from visitors has just made it feel generally worth doing. University is for life experiences and a degree, but employers want someone who has WORKED, so whether it's a summer job or a self-run project, do something with those stupidly long uni summers!

By the end of year 2, I had switched from the 3 year BSc course to the 4 year MMath course. I was just enjoying Nottingham and uni so much, and putting 'real life' off for another year seemed a good idea, I still had no clue about careers. I was beginning to focus solely on applied maths and computing modules, so decided the next step was to get an internship somewhere to find out what I wanted to do when I could put off graduation no moreā€¦

University Years 3 and 4

In the summer before year 3 I was lucky enough to get a 13 week internship at a global engineering and project management consultancy in Birmingham. This meant 3 hours a day on trains to work as a data analyst in a great team of highways and transportation engineers. I learnt loads about programming, office life, commuting... the list goes on. The absolute best way to find out what you enjoy doing is to do something! I wish the careers advisors had told us this, there never seemed to be much emphasis on internships and yet it's essentially a really extended interview to see if you like the company and they like you, with a view to come back after graduating!

Choosing a mini-dissertation project in year 3 was trickier than choosing the modules. I ended up choosing to study and write about water flows in a damn breaks and tsunamis; models which are more linked than you might expect. Between this and my growing interest in fluid dynamics, my route over the next couple of years was set. I just needed to decide on what career I wanted!

In between years 3 and 4 I wanted to work as something completely different to get a broader view of possible jobs. By applying early again (this is key to getting internships and grad jobs) I got an internship at a leading professional services firm in an audit role. Indeed, I had a totally different experience, I wasn't passionate about the job but there were some fantastic learning points like a 2 day residential to develop our presentation skills. I decided I wanted to do something more along the lines of the previous summer, in an analytical or engineering field, but took so much from another great couple of months' summer work.

In fourth year I continued my project work under the always helpful Prof. Billingham to write a dissertation on pipeline flows. Both of these uni projects can be seen here if you fancy some (heavy) bedtime reading. I hadn't really worked hard enough in year 3, so had to call on the grit I'd used in A-level to catch up in year 4. Spotting weaknesses is vital in deciding where work needs to be put in, for instance I realised I was succeeding in coursework more than exams so I tried to choose coursework-heavy modules and play to my strengths.

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I have now graduated and am soon starting my graduate job as an engineering analyst for a leading name in motorsport. The application process started in August 2015 (a full YEAR ago) and was one of the hardest things I have ever done. It required a comprehensive application form, online tests, and two full days of interview. The things I relied on to get the job wouldn't have existed without the journey you have just read as well as past experiences which I haven't even mentioned from sports to Duke of Edinburgh. Time management was key to juggle interviews for multiple jobs alongside exams. Presentation skills from the previous summer's workshop and technical skills from the summer before that. Vitally, I'm confident that I'll enjoy the work because of the job-exploration I've done before now. Going forward I feel very lucky to be where I am, but looking back it's easy to see that I've been accidentally on this path for a long time. I hope this serves as motivation or insight as to how you can build a future whilst not knowing what you want it to look like!