Our former trainees

Read the profiles of some of our former Graduate Trainees and find out about why they joined the scheme and their experiences on the scheme.

Josh Downey

BA (Hons) American and Canadian Studies and History with a Year Abroad, University of Birmingham 

Josh DowneyWhy I applied for the scheme

Before applying for the Graduate Management Training Scheme, I held a number of part-time and summer roles at the University whilst studying for my degree. Through these experiences, I was exposed to just how dynamic, challenging and rewarding a career in Higher Education can be, and with its ambitious and exciting plans for the future, I knew that the University of Birmingham was the perfect place to kick start my career. 

 As a Graduate Management Trainee, you have a unique opportunity to get involved in a wide range of strategic projects that allow you to rapidly build your skills, develop your confidence and engage with a diverse network of people. I always knew that I wanted to work for an organisation where my work would be both meaningful and impactful and, twelve months into the Scheme, I can certainly say that has been the case!  


One of the best things about the Scheme is the support you can find in both current and former Management Trainees. Not only are they a very friendly bunch of people, but they’re also a great source of support. Having been in my position before, they can relate to the experiences that I’m going through and offer practical advice to help me overcome challenges and make the most out of every opportunity. 

Another highlight of the Scheme for me is the opportunities for professional development, both formal and informal. Since becoming a Management Trainee, I’ve completed courses on everything from taking minutes and facilitating meetings, to leading without formal authority and developing resilience. I’ve also had the opportunity to learn first-hand from senior leaders and to support the University at key points throughout the academic year, including Open Days and Clearing. 

Top Tips

  • Be yourself! Management Trainees come from lots of different backgrounds and degree disciplines, so think about the skills and experiences that you can bring to the Scheme and what makes you stand out from the crowd. 

  • Be prepared to be stretched and challenged…we often say that learning starts at the edge of your comfort zone. 

  • As an American and Canadian Studies and History graduate, the thought of leading a Finance project in January seemed daunting to me at first. However, this proved to be an incredibly rewarding experience that allowed me to develop skills that I would have considered my weaker areas before starting on the Scheme. 

  • Universities run on people…spend time getting to know colleagues and build connections. 

  • Learn from others, embrace opportunities and seek out advice/feedback wherever you can. 

  • Have confidence…you don’t always need a wealth of experience to add value, sometimes bringing a new perspectives can be just what is needed! 


  • Communications and Reputation: I completed a review of the University’s internal communications function, with a particular focus on how to improve engagement with a number of ‘harder-to-reach’ audience groups. I also led on a smaller project to increase the profile of the External Relations division amongst new members of staff. 
  • Director’s Office, Finance: Working with key stakeholders from across the University, I analysed multiple datasets and devised a model to track costs as a proportion of income gained to facilitate effective budgeting for the future. 
  • EPS College Education Support Team: During the period of restricted campus operations due to COVID-19, I supported a portfolio of projects across the College, including the administration of the Programmes and Modules Approval process and initiatives to improve and streamline Education processes to increase resilience, efficiency and consistency across the College. 
  • Strategic Change: I supported the delivery of a number of strategic projects, including the launch of a new University Institute for Interdisciplinary Data Science and AI and initiatives to support COVID-19 related savings & efficiencies. 
  • Additional Responsibilities: Secretarial and administrative support to the University’s Sustainability Steering Group & Sustainability Task Group. 

Roles after the Scheme

  • Dubai Project Support Officer in External Relations

Sandev Panaser

BSc Psychology, University of Warwick; MSc Occupational Psychology, Coventry University

Working in an institution that makes a difference to people’s lives whether that be through research, teaching or other activities and engaging with people who share similar values and beliefs were just some of the main features that attracted me to the Graduate Management Training Scheme.



This was my additional project during the second year of the scheme which saw the conference hosted here at the University over two days, primarily taking place in the new Edgbaston Park Hotel and Conference Centre. I had the opportunity to work closely alongside senior managers at the Institution and beyond, coordinating activities of four organisations to ensuring the conference’s success.

I thought that the scheme would help me to develop the skills and experiences required to take on a managerial role in a large organisation. I had already taken on leadership positions within smaller enterprises and knew that I would be exposed to a much greater range of managerial issues and perspectives.


The scheme offers a robust development package from formal training courses to informal chats and support from your assigned mentor, coach, buddy from the year above, placement and scheme manager. I however would say it is important to seek out your own development opportunities; you are in a privileged position where you can ask to take part in almost anything so take advantage, learn something about everything and most importantly have fun. The aim is to become one of the future leaders in Higher Education so it is important to get involved!

Advice for applicants

If you are successful at the first stage of application and invited to an interview then my best advice would be to genuinely express why you want a career in Higher Education and why Birmingham. All trainees so far have been passionate about making a difference and what better place to do it than at a civic university.


  • College of Arts and Law – Post Graduate Researcher Welfare – Investigated how the College can improve its wellbeing outcomes for Postgraduate Researchers and creating a set of recommendations for senior stakeholders to consider.
  • College of Engineering and Physical Sciences – Marketing and Communications – Researched how to improve internal and external stakeholder engagement in events held in the College. Events experience when assisting with the Birmingham and London Policy Commission, organising a high profile event and travelling to China to assist with admissions interviews.
  • Estates Office – Projects Team – Created a user guide on engaging with capital projects. Organised workshop to discuss matters relating to University/contractor relationships, assisted in organising a Public Consultation Event for the Exchange building and project governance.
  • Association of Heads of University Administration Conference (additional project) – Project Manager - coordinated a high profile conference for our Registrar and Secretary hosted here at the University. Worked across five organisations and closely with senior management to ensure successful delivery of the conference.
  • Institute for Global Innovation – Core Team – undertook a project focusing on understanding and breaking down the barriers to multidisciplinary research across campus. Organised networking events for academics and professional services and engaged with business as usual activities over the year.
  • Newman University – Short term, one week placement at Newman University focusing on policy development around mitigating circumstances. Interviewed stakeholders and reviewed existing processes to create a set of recommendations for senior leadership to consider.

Roles after the Scheme

  • Pause Project Officer, Student Wellbeing (current role, 4 days per week)
  • Assistant Psychologist, Birmingham Women’s and Children’s hospital (current role, 1 day per week) 

Julie Derrien

BSc Management with Italian, University of Warwick

Julie Derrien v1The Graduate Training Scheme at Birmingham felt the perfect place for me to gain skills in the Higher Education sector in a prestigious university known both for its teaching and research and its civic values. 


Although I previously had experience working as a part-time university administrator as a student, the scheme has opened my eyes to the vast number of essential activities that go on behind the scenes and are largely unnoticed by students. In my first placement, I joined a team in HR Strategy and Projects, where I got to discover how the University is committed to creating a fair workplace when it comes to Equality and Diversity. 

Another highlight has been organising the Study Abroad Fair for students going on international exchanges. I got the opportunity to manage the whole event from start to finish, from creating the programme, to contacting partners and running the day itself. This project gave me the skills and confidence to take on bigger projects with multiple stakeholders. 

Best advice

The scheme is really great because on top of very varied placements we also all get a lot of support. Alongside regular catch-ups with supervisors and line managers, you are assigned a buddy from the 2nd year trainees when you start the scheme and a mentor who is a senior leader at the University. They all have been very helpful in helping me to reflect on my experiences and think about my future in Higher Education. We also receive coaching and attend professional development sessions from the get-go which is very useful to make the most of our new positions.  


If you have a particular passion or interest, don’t be scared to look for opportunities in those areas as there is always a project you could get involved in. That said, be open to anything coming your way - it’s sometimes the projects you don’t know anything about that can be the most interesting and rewarding. 


  • HR Strategy and Projects: I helpedproduce the institutional Athena Swan Bronze application subsequently awarded to the university in March 2020. This work included the creation of the 2020-2024 Action Plan that sets out future initiatives to further gender equality. .
  • Business School: I worked on the development of a set of recommendations and a business case to enhance the provision of employability and professional skills development for UG Business School students. 
  • Finance Office: I produced an initial review of the finance internal charging process which aimed to increase efficiencies and implement cost savings within non-pay budgets. 
  • Strategic Change: I am involved in a range of projects across the University including a transformation project linked to HR and Payroll and Pensions. I am also organising the first Virtual Study Abroad Fair for undergraduate students and the Secretary to two Equality and Diversity Steering Groups. 

Paul Bowman, Executive Officer

BA Geography, University of Cambridge

I have always wanted to be a ‘jack of all trades’. I took both English and Maths at A-level, studied human and physical geography at University, and enjoy number-crunching as much as writing, managing a project or public speaking. I have now learned that in Higher Education, we call this a generalist – and the Graduate Management Training Scheme is the perfect preparation to be just that.



There have honestly been many highlights – but I’ll choose just three. For the way it taught me to take a big dataset and turn it into something meaningful, to think strategically about an area as a whole, and for the privileged opportunity to work with some of the University’s senior leaders, I would pick my role as secretary to a Vice-Chancellor’s Review, a strategic review which every academic School undergoes every five years.

For the opportunity to work closely with academics and negotiate some very difficult balancing acts, including between funding research and protecting academic freedom, I also think of my work with the Birmingham Centre for Clinical Trials on collaborative research with industry.

For the complex-decision making, impressive expertise of colleagues and the sheer intensity, the final highlight was my last week on the scheme, which I spent in the Admissions Office during August’s Confirmation and Clearing week (that’s A-level results to most people). The operation required to process thousands of sets of results and make decisions on every application in a matter of days has to be seen to believed, and it was brilliant to be one small part of it.


The scheme offers a range of formal and informal development opportunities. I benefitted from a programme of courses on topics ranging from presentation skills and time management to resilience and assertiveness. I also had mentoring from a senior leader and support from a supervisor in each placement. But more than anything, it’s the variety of work I did and range of people I interacted with that truly developed my skills, and that I draw upon every day in my current role.

Best advice

One of the scheme’s privileges is the breadth of understanding you gain across the University’s many and varied activities. So when you’re asked if you’d like to try something new, make ‘yes’ your default answer. I’ve (almost) never regretted it!

Roles after the Scheme

  • Executive Officer, Executive Support Division

Tom Syder 

MSci Physics and Astrophysics - University of Birmingham

Although I did an undergraduate degree in physics, I decided to do something more business focused after I graduated. I first learned about the scheme when I worked part-time for the University during my degree. It seemed like a great opportunity with the variety of placements on offer and I strongly believe in the aims of the University - educating the next generation and delivering research with far-reaching impact.


Applying for the scheme

I initially worried that you would need to be an expert in Higher Education, but that isn’t the point of the scheme. They aim to train you up, so you don’t have to know everything when you begin. They are looking for potential over expertise.

I came from a science background and the analytical skills I developed in my degree were very useful. I was able to offer a different perspective and it really helps to have an eye for innovation and openness to technology.


My work on the #wearebrumalum marketing campaign stands out for me; it had a real life result and seeing it come to life was a very proud moment. To deliver something from concept, through delivery, to fruition with a lot of engagement from across departments was a highlight. I saw how bringing people together from various departments led to a solution that produced strong results and created something of value for the whole organisation.


When I joined the Graduate Scheme, I wanted to learn more about the business world after my science degree. I knew that the variety of the scheme - working in different departments and on assorted projects – would help me to develop an array of skills.

Being exposed to the wider University has changed my ambitions; I have seen things from different angles, and I’m more open to different careers and opportunities. This is a definite advantage of the scheme.


  • Marketing
  • Legal Services
  • Business Engagement
  • Strategic Planning

Roles after the Scheme

  • Project Officer, IT Services
  • Outreach, Equality and Diversity Officer, College of Medical and Dental Sciences

Chloe Hancox

BA Music - University of Cambridge, MA Musicology - University of Birmingham

When I was reflecting on career opportunities toward the end of my undergraduate degree at Cambridge, I kept returning to one thought: how much I had enjoyed the culture at the University of Birmingham while I had worked here as a temp a few years earlier. That thought led me to discover the Graduate Management Training Scheme through some internet searching. When I read the job description, it became apparent that the opportunities to develop were more suited to me than I imagined a job at the University could be.


Career development

Although I was confident that I was a good fit for the University, I couldn’t make myself settle on an area to work in. Because of this, the placement structure of the scheme was spot on. It is a privilege to have an opportunity to work across the University, gaining first hand of experience of the style of work, the cultures and the skills sets of the various divisions and teams. And now that I am at the other end of the scheme, I have a much clear picture of what I value I can add to roles across the University, which has helped my longer-term career development.


The Scheme provides access to mentoring from the most senior levels of the University. I found this to be one of the most formational aspects of the scheme. Having the opportunity to talk personally to inspirational leaders accelerated my learning curve enormously. Regular meetings with my mentor helped me to understand better what the scheme meant for me, to reflect on what my own learning points were, and also what sort of leader I can be.


“What will you do if you aren’t offered a role on the Scheme?” That was a question that a Senior Officer asked me in my first interview. I vividly remember explaining that the only other option for me was to work my way up through the various grades of the University structure. My Plan B made me all the more grateful that Plan A put me in to the University at the level it did, accelerating my development at a rate that matched my appetite. Of course, taking this approach needs tenacity and determination; it could be easy to shy away from challenges. Yet, it is the challenges that are the real opportunities and the most impactful and long term learning experiences.

Best advice

The Scheme provides a wealth of experiences and opportunities, and over a relatively short space of time too. If I could give the Graduate Trainee version of me a piece of advice, it would be to seize the opportunities there and then, the ones that are right in front of me. It is a once-in-a-career opportunity to have such broad experiences over such a short period of time, and a situation to be relished.


  • Funding, Graduation and Awards
  • Planning Office
  • Vice-Chancellor's Office

Roles after the Scheme

  • Learning Environments, Research and Development Officer, Academic Services
  • Project Officer, Academic Services
  • Change Manager, Strategic Change