Catching up with our graduates

Nine Durham graduates tell us about their careers since leaving university. (Photo: Ian Griffiths – far right)

Name: Ian Griffiths

College: St Aidans

Year of graduation: 2001

Subject studied: Maths (MMath)


Prior to beginning my degree at Durham I would describe myself as “uninformed” at best with regards to business, finance and investing. That however all changed in my final year as I stumbled on the milk round where bankers, traders and bond salesmen repeatedly told stories of a career that not only rewards those involved in monetary terms, but also with a job that really pushes boundaries in creative thinking and problem solving.

Eight years later, after being at my desk every morning for 6:30am, witnessing potentially the worse financial crisis in history and being as close as anyone to the collapse of Lehman Brothers, I decided that it was time for me to leave.  I can however, safely say that if I had to do it all again I wouldn’t change a thing and I can’t think of a better working environment that a busy trading floor.

It was time for me to pursue other interests.  Being a self-confessed “petrol-head” I decided with my business partner to create a used car website Make and Model. Our first attempt at cracking the online world has proved extremely interesting and the competitive landscape is such that every day brings a different challenge. We are on track to taking the UK’s fifth most recognised brand head on.

Alongside Make and Model we have just launched Who Can Fix My Car a unique servicing solution for drivers nationwide.  The idea has been embraced by mechanics and drivers alike and we are already making inroads into a tough marketplace.

My advice to students with an entrepreneurial idea is to carefully analyse the market opportunity as well as potential risks to the business and demonstrate that the service or product they are offering genuinely solves a problem.  If this is the case then there is an abundance of support available from government schemes to private mentors and angel investors ready to hear your ideas and assist you in bringing your project to the market.

Name: Hals Baggaley
Year of graduation: 2008 (BA Hons) 2009 (MA)
Subject studied: Theology and Religion
College: Hatfield
Current company and job title: The Co-operative Group, Project Officer
Location: Manchester
Starting salary for graduates: £23,000

My role involves working on and managing a variety of projects across our different businesses. I first completed a mini-project in Food Operations, looking at till point efficiency and queuing times in stores. I then took a four month project in Food Commercial, focusing on raising the profile of Fairtrade with internal colleagues and delivering a variety of elements for Fairtrade Fortnight. I am currently working in Funeralcare in the Marketing department, developing a new product range and Point of Sale.

The responsibilities of my role vary depending on the project I am working on. It varies from creating and managing a project plan, engaging key stakeholders, chairing project meetings, undertaking research, report writing, delivering presentations, developing and issuing creative briefs and acting as the key contact for suppliers.

Employee members receive an annual dividend of £500, and the Group invests heavily in the development of its graduates, offering us regular management training, a personal development budget of £1000 to spend as needed and the option to undertake a professional qualification, such as CIM and CIPD.

One of the perks of my job is that I’ve had lots of chances to meet and network with people. We change projects every four months, so I have made contacts during my different roles. The graduate scheme is also very sociable, holding regular events.

Name: Jenny Downey
Year of graduation: 2007
Subject studied: Spanish and Italian
College: Van Mildert
Current company and job title: Metal Derivatives Corporate Sales, BNP Paribas

I work within Commodity Derivatives, marketing base and precious metals hedging solutions to corporate clients based in Europe, Middle East and Africa.  We work with the producers, mining companies and smellters on solutions to hedge their production as well as the consumers and ultimate end users of metals such an engine or car manufacturers (nickel is a key element in stainless steel and aluminium is used for the bodywork) or the beverage industry who require aluminium, tin or steel cans.

As for highs and lows, there is a fair amount of travelling involved – going to meet clients and getting to know and understand their underlying business is a key part of the job.  It is very much a people business so contacts and networking is vital.  However, the hours can be long and being a sales role, there is always pressure to meet targets, but it is ultimately a very rewarding career.

Commodities in particular is entering an exciting new phase as China comes into the fray and the developing world becomes increasingly industrialised, which of course creates a demand for raw materials such as steel rebar and copper wiring on the metals side.

Durham leavers take note: you don’t necessarily need a degree in Economics or Finance to get a job in banking – any good degree will bring its own set of skills.  My Spanish and Italian have also really come in useful on a day-to-day basis.  The interview will of course assess a broad understanding of macroeconomics and you do need to be prepared for a steep learning curve .  In what is a very competitive field, demonstrating drive, tenacity and willingness to learn are key.

Name: Hannah Moffatt
College: St Cuthbert’s Society
Year of graduation: 2010
Company: Teach First

I’m a first year participant on the Teach First Graduate scheme.  Essentially graduates are trained for six weeks over the summer before being placed in exceptionally challenging schools as full time teachers.  It is Teach First’s mission to address ‘educational diasadvantage’ and whilst this is certainly one aspects that motivates graduates to apply you also receive a teaching qualification for free whilst being paid a teacher’s salary.

A further attraction for graduates is the corporate connection.  Teach First has highly influential sponsors with whom  many participants do an internship and subsequently work for after their compulsory two years in their school. 
Despite these perks Teach First is a brutal option for any graduate.  The days are long: I get in to work for 7 am and leave at 6 pm, and in my first term I worked at home until 11 most evenings. 

The behaviour is also incredibly challenging.  On a daily basis students are rude, uncooperative and disruptive.   This is punctuated by more marked and extreme behaviour: tables overturned, punches, arson and being told in no uncertain terms to f*** off. 

However, working with young people is incredibly rewarding.  Many of my  students are kind and giving. They are incredibly entertaining in an obvious way; the pupils’ Black Death performance to Beyonces’ Single Ladies was a particular highlight, but they are often unintentially hilarious too.  In our first lesson on Medieval history I asked a student why the year 1066 sounded familiar and she responded by saying that it was the devil’s number. 

Not a day goes past when I don’t feel overhwlemed that at 22 years old, I  am responsible for over 300 students’ learning.  However, this soon passes when I am confronted with a group of year 8 students whose performance of the ‘Good Samaritan’ seems to be turning into a scene from the exorcist and I have to step in.

Name: Ed Levy
Year of graduation: 2007 BSc, 2009 MA
Subject studied: Geography BSc, Management MA (Durham Business School)
College: Hatfield
Current company and job title: Accenture, Analyst
Starting salary for graduates: £31,500 (plus £10,000 split over two years).

The aim of my role is to help global sales and marketing teams at major pharmaceutical companies to disseminate information out to the companies’ regional and country level practices as efficiently as possible.  I spend most of my time talking with client and third party stakeholders on the phone, face to face and over email to get things moving, monitoring activities, risks and issues on the project, training people, and helping to plan new projects.  My role also allows me to make time to help Graduate Recruitment reach out to new members of the Accenture team, with a particular personal attachment to Durham!

Apart from the financial bonus, we have a host of deals, vouchers, coupons and performance bonuses available that cover most aspects of non-working life, from a free coffee maker through to a driving experience day or a night in the company box at the O2 Arena or Twickenham.  There’s always opportunity to travel:  I’ve travelled to Zurich and Vienna with the company, and members of my team have only just back from Miami last week.  Meeting people is what we do a lot of and it’s a big asset to the company if you can do it well.  I’m rarely in the same office on a given day, so I am always meeting new people, whilst at the same time enjoying working as part of a close knit team of around 12 people.

The salary and perks are competitive for the hours I currently do (circa 45 hours per week), and the people I work with are all highly intelligent, great fun to work and socialise with, and keen to be team players.  But sometimes the work can get a bit hard going, but no harder than a dissertation cramming session and you get paid for this one!

My advice is to stay true to yourself. I love my job now, but with the benefit of hindsight, I should probably be a Geography teacher…

Name: Rosie Kinchen
Year of graduation: 2004
College: Castle
Current job: Home News reporter at The Sunday Times

Languages have helped my career as a journalist because they gave me an opportunity to offer something that other aspiring journalists  couldn’t. I studied French and Italian at Durham and spent two years working in marketing and not using either.

When I decided to leave and do a journalism course, having kept up my language skills helped to land me a job as a trainee on the Sunday Times Foreign desk. It meant that I was able to contribute more because I would be monitoring the French and Italian media and be able to contribute ideas. It also meant I could help correspondents with stories if they needed interviews or research done in languages they couldn’t speak.

I am now a reporter on Home news so there ought to be less of a demand for them, but I find that with the EU ever important, I’m using them as much as ever.

When I chose to study languages, I did it out of pure enjoyment and I had no idea that they would come in as handy as they have. It’s been a very pleasant surprise in terms of career and I still love getting foreign films out of the video shop to help keep me up to speed…

It’s too hard to call regarding my most exciting project with this job- there have been lots of weird and wonderful ones: being in the kettle outside Fortnum and Mason with the anarchists at recent protests, interviewing Brits who’d been stuck in Libya after a marathon 30 hour journey home…

What are the downsides of my work? Anti social hours and high pressure.

For those who wish to enter a media-related career, I would say it’s important to be enterprising and it’s more about making good relationships than it is about amassing great stuff on your CV (though I’m sure that helps too).

Name: James Knowles
College: John Snow
Subject studied: Business
Year of graduation: 2009
Current company and job title: Graduate Merchandising Trainee, John Lewis

Starting salary: £24,000

John Lewis is such a well regarded company that I actively researched what graduate schemes were on offer.
One highlight in particular was my first Christmas there, and the experience of trading in the Gifts Buying Office – there was such a buzz and a huge amount of energy around the office and it was great to have responsibility for my own area (games, i.e. board games, jigsaws etc) to maximize sales. I also enjoyed the exposure I have had with senior managers in the business – it really is an environment where you can become very much involved and openly challenge and contribute to wider scale initiatives that are going on.

To be honest there really haven’t been any lows that stick out in my memory! Perhaps the more frustrating things are those which you can’t do very much about e.g. overseas shipments coming in late and missing product launch dates.

I have worked on two main projects so far alongside some of the other grads. The first was looking at our shop-floor service proposition in Fashion and recommending future changes. This was really exciting as we presented to two of the Board of Directors and we are now looking to implement some of our ideas. The second was centered around the John Lewis Value Range and analyzing our current offer. Again this is something that we are taking forward and that shows you really can have an impact at John Lewis on how the Partnership runs the business.

My advice to this year’s leavers would be to understand what competencies the specific job or grad scheme is looking for and think of work and University examples that show some of those character traits. If you focus on those attributes this will stand you in good stead. And finally, don’t be put off by the number of applicants applying for jobs. Ultimately some grads have to get the jobs, why can’t it be you?!

Name: James Sparks
Former college: Trevelyan
Subject studied: Geography
Year of graduation: 2007


After I graduated in 2007 I went through a tough patch looking for a job. I had two unsuccessful stints as an estate agent, though I was fortunate to have some part-time work in a horse-racing syndicate to fall back on.

It wasn’t until eight months after my graduation when I was hired by British Airways, where I’m still employed today in staff training. However, I’ve always possessed an entrepreneurial streak and I’ve been involved in numerous (many unsuccessful!) business ventures over the years. My current project is, where I’m part of a team that gives presentations to men on how to make themselves attractive to women… not your normal everyday business, I’m sure you’ll agree!            

To people who are leaving Durham this year the most important thing to remember is that each year there are a lot of graduates who are all going to be in the same boat as you, so you have to make your job applications stand out. Tens, if not hundreds, if not thousands of people are all going to be applying for the same positions so it is crucial that you make yours different and catch the employer’s eye. It is pretty easy to guess what points the majority of applicants are going to be saying about themselves – keep these in mind when constructing your own, and then make yours stand out with an undercurrent of genuine enthusiasm about the position in question. I’d be delighted to answer any questions. Please email me at

Name: Rachel Parlett

Year of graduation: 2011

Subject studied: Maths and Psychology

College: St Aidans

Current company and job title: Teachfirst, maths teacher

Location: Chaucer Business and Enterprise College, Sheffield

After six weeks training at the Summer Institute at Warwick University I will start teaching maths on a full timetable to 11-16year old pupils. Next summer I will return to uni to complete my masters in Education so by summer 2013 I will have my PGCE, masters and 2years teaching experience.

A massive bonus of the scheme is that you do not need to take another year at uni to gain your PGCE and you get the opportunity to do your masters for free. Instead, I will be paid a good salary from September and begin full time teaching. After the two years Teachfirst also has loads of opportunities and offers support to help find new employment, either in teaching or elsewhere. I personally want to go to do an Educational Psychology Doctorate for which I need a masters, two years teaching experience and a PCGE. Therefore Teachfirst is ideal for me as it is the quickest way for me to get on the course.

I think the next two years will be the most difficult and challenging of my life but I am so excited to begin. It is going to be very demanding to plan and deliver a full time table of lessons and aim to make them fun and interesting. However, I think because of the school I can make a huge difference and really shape the future of the pupils there. I think it will be hugely rewarding and satisfying to see the pupils confidence build throughout the year.

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