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Developing project management skills

Gagan Singh, MChem Chemistry graduate

Gagan Singh is proof that a degree in chemistry can be a solid foundation for any career. When Gagan graduated from Reading with an MChem Chemistry degree in 2014, he took a job in the IT sector.

A year later, he accepted a position with Network Rail on their project management graduate scheme. He gained hands-on experience on several high-profile projects and received training throughout the year-long scheme.

Gagan then accepted a permanent position as a scheme project manager at Crossrail – a £14.8bn project that is currently Europe's largest infrastructure project.

“I've been with Network Rail since September 2015. Project management grabbed my attention because it matched my skillset, which is a combination of communication skills, stakeholder management, analysis and logical reasoning.”

Chemistry as a foundation

While any undergraduate degree would have qualified Gagan for a graduate scheme, he has found many benefits to a chemistry degree.

“I find that I'm good at analysing situations and assessing what needs to be done. One of the things my chemistry degree taught me was how to plan my time. I have friends who did degrees where there is a lot less contact time, so time management was less critical.

"In chemistry, you typically have around 20 hours a week of contact time, so you get really good at managing time for independent study and a bit of a social life around this. Developing these skills at university has been invaluable in my project management career.”

Gagan also credits his degree for helping him learn how to present information in an accessible way as well as providing a good technical foundation for his current job.

“I work within the signalling programme, which can be seen as the 'dark art' due to the technical nature of it. While I don't need to understand all the engineering that's involved, my background in chemistry has given me a foundation for understanding technical terms, which is actually very useful.

"The railway is very safety-principled. There are a lot of processes and demands that have to be met, much like chemistry.”

Being a Thrive mentor

Gagan is now part of Reading's global network of alumni who support undergraduates by providing career mentoring.

Gagan was paired with Ben, a human geographer interested in planning. He introduced Ben to a planner at Network Rail, so he could learn exactly what the job entails. But he also pointed out opportunities that he wishes someone had been able to assist him with while he was an undergraduate.

“If I was to go back, I'd take advantage of courses offered by the University, such as advanced Excel courses. You don't always realise how practical some of these skills are in the workplace while you're still studying. So I was eager to make sure that Ben understood how useful these skills are.”

Inspired by his own mentor within the workplace, Gagan was keen to learn by teaching.

“Having a mentor within the workplace has been really beneficial for me. My mentor has really aided my development. By helping Ben achieve what he wants, I can learn through that process also. It's a two-way street.

"The main reason I volunteered to be a mentor is to give back by sharing the knowledge and skills I've gained since graduating. But it's also knowing that I helped someone get somewhere, which is a real motivator for me.”

Learn more about Thrive mentors

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Gaia De Angelis, MChem Chemistry with a Year in Industry graduate

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