Sylvia de la Peña de la Vega

Sylvia de la Peña de la Vega

MSc Public and Environmental Health Sciences (graduated 2015)

"I acquired knowledge of environmental protection and I had the opportunity to develop a prevention program for a public health issue affecting my country."

What have you been doing since graduation?

When I was about to finish my course, I received an invitation in my university email to apply for a job as a Health and Safety advisor in the travelling industry for Argent Health and Safety. I applied and was selected, so right after I finished my course I started to travel to beautiful places to carry out health and safety inspections in different hotels. I inspect the hotel facilities to identify general safety and hygiene risks and I compile a report to suggest the relevant changes that must be carried out in order to comply with the guidance provided by the Federation of Tour Operators.

How did your course benefit you?

Public and Environmental Health MSc is a very broad course and I loved it. I learned a lot about food safety, I acquired knowledge on environmental protection and I had the opportunity to develop a prevention program on a public health issue affecting my country. I also developed the basic skills for being a health and safety officer and had the opportunity to practice during a field visit to an entertainment company. And finally, the most challenging experience was to write my dissertation, where I learned the different methods for carrying out a strong research project and the best way to analyze and present it. During my course, I also learned how to manage my time to meet deadlines and became a more responsible and organized person. Interacting with classmates from different countries and cultures helped me to develop leadership and interpersonal skills.

What made you to decide to study at the University of Birmingham rather than in your home country?

Birmingham University caught my attention when I was looking for a specialist occupational safety MSc because of its complete Public and Environmental Health Science MSc, which included the topics I liked the most; Occupational Health and Safety, Environmental Protection and Climate Change, and Food Safety Control. I wanted the experience of studying overseas, in a different culture and with a different language. I selected the University of Birmingham because besides being the University of the Year (2013-2014) in the United Kingdom and one of the top universities worldwide, it offers scholarships for Mexican students, which I applied for.

How did you find your time in Birmingham?

The year I spent in Birmingham was full of great experiences. First I found the full support of all my teachers and course advisors, as due to issues with my visa I arrived late to my course programme. I established good relationships with all my professors and learned a lot from all their experiences and from their passion for the topics they taught us. I also had a lot of fun in all my team projects and made really good friends with whom I am still in contact. Although being away from home and getting used to a different culture is not easy, and the different language and different weather was challenging, it was also worth it. 

How did going to University benefit you?

Attending the University of Birmingham was an experience I would not change for anything. It helped me to improve my skills, especially my English, as I am a native Spanish speaker. I had the opportunity to meet many people from different countries and learn from their experiences. Besides, the University of Birmingham is a beautiful and enormous campus and it is always full of fun activities for students. I got my Masters title and a job right after finishing my studies thanks to the opportunities that the University provides.

How did you find campus life? 

The advantages of studying in Edgbaston are that it is very easy to get to the university; it has its own train station, which is only two stations from the city center. You can find everything you need in the university, there are cash machines, bars, supermarkets, restaurants and food courts inside the University and very close to it (within walking distance). The surrounding area is full of students; you can find student residences inside the University and at a walking distance also. Selly oak is mostly for undergraduate students and has a good nightlife, while Harborne is more for postgraduate students and it is a more quiet area. 

How did you find living in Birmingham? 

Birmingham is a really nice and calm city, and it is very international. You can find people from all around the world studying there. I made a lot of friends from different countries and had a great time when sharing our culture. The student community is very supportive, they have all kind of very useful services for students, for instance, I attended some sessions to improve my CV. Professors and staff are also very helpful and supportive, they take good care of the students and are always attentive to our needs. Overall, it exceeded my expectations. 

Did you join any student societies or take part in any events during your studies?

I joined the basketball team for the first semester and the salsa dance classes in the second semester. Both experiences were amazing, as I have loved those two activities for a long time. Practicing exercise or dancing was relaxing for me and helped me to have my mind on other things rather than university work or any personal issues.

Any tips or words of wisdom that you would like to pass on to other students thinking of coming to study here?

Try to balance your studies with some other leisure or fun activities that the university offers. Work hard and learn how to manage your time to meet deadlines (try making your own time schedules for projects and assignments). Wander around the university and try to find all the hidden places. Get involved in student life, check your university email constantly so you don't miss trips, big events and rescheduled classes. Travel around Birmingham, so you can get to know the city and its beautiful canals. Enjoy your student life while it lasts, it really is a golden time.  

What are your future career aspirations? 

I want to start my own health and safety consulting business to improve occupational health and safety in my country. At the same time I plan to continue developing the prevention program to address public health issues in the city I live in. I would love to have the opportunity to be part of the government department in charge of developing legislation to address public health and environmental issues. And in a few years, I would like to do my PhD abroad as well to repeat this great experience.