The best & the brightest

We’ve been busy finding out what our alumni are up to

Since 1963, when founding Vice-Chancellor Lord James asked heads of schools to send “their best and their brightest”, more than 100,000 students have crossed the University’s threshold. We’ve been busy finding out exactly what our graduates are up to…

More than 10,000 graduates took part in our 2013 Alumni Census and we’re excited to present the summary of findings here. It’s clear from our research that the ‘best and brightest’ who came to York for their university education have, in many cases, capitalised on their abilities and channelled their passions into making a difference to our world.

Shaping the world

The University of York has never been a ‘cookie-cutter’ institution – but one thing we do know is that York graduates, more perhaps than those from any other institution, have a deep commitment to improving society.

When sharing their stories about life after York, many alumni reflect on the fact that they fully realised their ambitions after a long, hard journey, sometimes taking them to unexpected places. This resonates with our graduating students as they decide which path to choose when they leave York.

Through York’s professional networks – open to current students and graduates – our students and alumni are finding role models in those who’ve gone before.

Advice is being shared virtually through our mentoring programmes and face-to-face at our networking events.

What drives our graduates?

Dan Roberts, Guardian Bureau Chief, Washington (PPE, 1994) says: “Rapid change is what keeps me fascinated in my job as a journalist – both change in my own industry and in the world around me. Studying at York was a great preparation for that, particularly a multi-disciplinary degree like PPE, but my advice to anyone entering the workplace now would be to remember that pace of change and not be too rigid in your expectations of how, and where, your career will unfold.”

In some cases it takes both zeal and a little dogged determination to get to that coveted dream position or, as John Witherow, Editor, The Times (History, 1975), self-deprecatingly claims: “fear of failure and a juvenile desire to win” can also spur you on.

I am driven by the idea of a humane and just social order that upholds human dignity, embraces difference and diversity, prizes inclusion, and ensures that all people are able to flourish and lead secure, healthy, rich, productive, and rewarding lives

Dr Saleem Badat, Program Director: International Higher Education & Strategic Projects, The Andrew W Mellon Foundation

Much ado about media

Sarah Ward-Lilley, BBC Head of International Bureaux
Sarah Ward-Lilley, BBC Head of International Bureaux

Journalism and the wider media industry have long appealed to York graduates.

In fact, Media and Communication is the fourth most popular sector in which our graduates choose to make a difference, The BBC is number three in the list of top employers for York graduates – surely an endorsement of York’s reputation across the arts and humanities.

 Sarah Ward-Lilley, (English, 1983) in her role as Head of International Bureaux at the BBC, is: “… driven by the energy, commitment and responsibility we need to deliver news of world events, using amazing technology and working in remote regions and dangerous places. It’s a fast moving environment, full of very creative, talented people. It’s competitive, endlessly fascinating and no day is ever the same.”

As any York graduate will know, York alumni are extraordinarily engaged, active and driven individuals. The fact that York has more student-led clubs and societies than any other university in the UK is testament to the desire of our students to interact and engage with the world around them. Sarah’s advice to any graduate making their way in the world today is to: “… be curious, absorb information and contacts, build your network, have a goal but be prepared to be flexible about how you get there. Think about role models – aspirational people, and leaders who do the job but also do it in the way you want to do it.”

Public sector performers

Around 40 per cent of our graduates work in the public sector and Jonathan Duff, Deputy Director, Academies Delivery at the Department for Education (English, 1999) is a shining example of someone driven to improve society.

He says: “I believe not just in the idea of public service but also that public services can be well run. I am driven by a sense of responsibility and by the belief that the civil service is a professional, committed and innovative group of people.”

Driven by making a difference

Joanne Dooley, Diversity and Inclusion Specialist at Olswang LLP
Joanne Dooley, Diversity and Inclusion Specialist at Olswang LLP

Of course, many of our alumni find themselves in the private sector too – the top two recruiters of York graduates are Pricewaterhouse Cooper and Ernst & Young, and the legal profession is joint tenth in terms of chosen sectors. There too, many graduates are driven by making a difference – whether in the area of human rights law, an area in which York has become recognised as world leaders through its Human Rights Defenders programme, or in Joanne Dooley’s case by working to make the sector more fair and equal in her role as Diversity & Inclusion Specialist at Olswang LLP (Economics, 1997).

Joanne says: “Even in today’s workplaces,  talents go to waste because people do not fit the mould. This frustrates me personally and it is also bad for business. I enjoy the challenge of taking down the complex range of barriers that hold people back. Knowing that I am tackling some of the injustices of the modern workplace and helping people reach their potential gives me energy and drive in my work.”

Over the last six decades the passion and talent of our 100,000 strong community has been applied across a range of roles and sectors; from Finance (which is the second most popular sector to work in) to Conservation and Heritage (joint tenth). Wherever they go and whatever they are doing, they’re making a big difference.

Mark Laity, Chief Strategic Communications at NATO (History and Politics 1977), now based in Belgium, urges those in his wake to: “Do something you think is worthwhile…
you can do a job for all sorts of reasons for a short time but to keep going over the long haul, when the novelty is gone, you really have to believe in what you are doing.”

It is too easy to get caught up in conventional ideas of success. Define what success means to you and know that it will change at different stages in your life. Be bold enough to do what makes you happy and don’t be afraid to change direction.

Joanne Dooley, Diversity & Inclusion Specialist at Olswang LLP

Advice from York graduates…

Steven Burkeman

“I was incredibly lucky, 12 years after I left York, to find myself back here, working for the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. Now I’m retired, I’m a trustee of another, entirely separate Rowntree organisation – the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. I continue to be inspired by the example of Joseph Rowntree himself – as a young man he wrote that: ‘Charity as ordinarily practised, the charity of endowment, the charity of emotion, the charity which takes the place of justice, creates much of the misery it relieves, but does not relieve all the misery it creates.’

“I hesitate to offer advice in such a changed world but if I have to I’d say: ‘Take risks while you’re young; follow your heart, or your gut. The time will come when you have to be more cautious – when you have responsibilities to family etc – but finding your true calling can take time; don’t get caught up in a career ladder too soon.”

Kevin Quorn

“Do something you really enjoy so you can do it with passion. Be a source of drive and energy for a company, this is valued at least equally with technical ability and intelligence. I have always been driven by wanting to change and improve things wherever I’ve been. Quorn provided a great opportunity to do this as it was not fulfilling its potential and it is now.”

Dr Saleem Badat, Program Director at the Andrew W Mellon Foundation
Dr Saleem Badat, Program Director at the Andrew W Mellon Foundation
John Witherow

“However good your exam results, and however talented you are, you cannot beat sheer dogged perseverance and lashings of charm.”

Dr Saleem Badat

“Use your knowledge and expertise not just for your private gain but for the benefit of society; exercise, with humility, leadership wherever you find yourself; critique, speak truth to power, create, innovate, build, renew and reenergize so that we may inhabit a more equal and sustainable world.”

At university, in your company and outside of it, I have always taken on extra projects – at university it was college events and services, and now I’m a community governor at a local special school. It gives you a broader range of skills and experience, a wider network and keeps you in touch with the real world.

Jonathan Duff, Deputy Director – Academies Delivery, Department for Education