So I’m pretty much at the end of everything now. The Celebration Event is next week (it’s in the House of Lords, which I suspect I won’t get the opportunity to visit again). I’ve just clapped through my graduation ceremony. And now that there’s some time to reflect, I realise how big a part of my life the Alumni Leadership Mentoring Promgramme (ALMP) has been for the past year. I’ve had four meetings with Cilla, yet the Programme has been so much more than that. As Cilla said at the start, the idea of the ALMP is that the mentor only gives a ‘light touch’ to help guide their mentee, with the mentee doing most of the work. Each meeting has been the culmination of a lot of introspection, a lot of thinking, and even a fair bit of doing. For instance, I’ve had a host of meetings or phone conversations with different contacts that Cilla has put me in touch with to get a feel for different industries. Each one was not only very knowledgeable but also incredibly happy to talk to me, and were brilliant at helping me realise what work in each industry might involve and how to get there. I was touched that everyone wanted to keep in touch and help me further via email: from this it feels like I’m not only getting one mentor out of the scheme, but a whole set of them, with each one ready to help me in their own specialised way.
Each meeting has been instrumental to helping me decide what I want to do. For instance, I got the chance to visit the offices of a national newspaper and talk about journalism, and from that realised that the industry wasn’t quite suited to me – while very glamourous (and full of some very driven people), journalism is most often a highly collaborative effort, where an individual’s own creative input is only a small part of the process of getting an article published. Talking with Cilla had made me realise that I like a large measure of creative control over my own work (writers naturally being egomaniacs, of course), and this style of working didn’t fit my overall aims. What has been incredibly useful after all these meetings is the chance to debrief with Cilla, to talk through my thoughts and feelings and explore why I felt a certain way – for example, why did I find the ‘people’ focus of HR work attractive? This helped me build my own self-awareness, which in turn meant I was better able to decide where I wanted to focus my career efforts.
Even if these meetings hadn’t been so helpful, they were worth it simply for some of the experiences I’ve been lucky enough to have. I got the opportunity to go for lunch with Cilla’s Head of HR, an absolutely lovely woman called Kelly, and the experience of being out with some ‘London Professionals’ was just really fun and cemented my realisation that to be successful does not mean you can’t be compassionate and down-to-earth (we even talked about some exciting London related topics such as the housing market). Similarly, I managed to get a whole hour long phone call with Kathryn Parsons, head of a well known tech company called Decoded who is famous for her inspirational talks about Computer Science. Talking to her injected me with new passion for the subject, making me look at it in ways that I never had before.
All these talks helped me come to a decision about my future. In my second meeting with Cilla I had around ten potential ‘careers’ I was considering. In our last one, I had narrowed it down to two – either to go into the non-profit sector, hopefully by getting a graduate internship at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, or to take an MSc in Advanced Computer Science in Birmingham. After a long talk, which took in everything from my own skill set to potential salaries to what my family thought, we finally settled on going into the non-profit sector – and I think the telling thing about the decision was that it did feel like we made it. I needed Cilla’s help to talk through everything, yet she didn’t just tell me what to do – as always, she took everything into account, respecting my opinions or natural instincts but also challenging them. I’m now happy to say I got the job at the Children’s Hospital, and what’s more feel like it’s the right step for me in general – for the first time in four years I finally know what I want to do in the year after I graduate. The ALMP has given me this certainty, and I don’t think its value can be overstated. However, it’s also made me realise that it’s okay to change my mind –that deciding what you want to do is a constantly developing process. Cilla’s help and guidance has been the bedrock from which I gotten all this knowledge from. I can’t thank her enough, and whoever gets to be her mentee next year is very lucky indeed.