Case study: Chris Fifield and Safe Training Systems Ltd
Project duration: 2 years
End date 17/04/2013
How did you find the support once the partnership began?
I had a reasonable knowledge in business but certainly not in a comprehensive sense, so coming into an established company felt quite daunting as the focus changes from academia and research to corporate. That's the contrast between academia and business; academia is always looking for the pinnacle of design, research and innovation, whereas business is more about the functionality and, ultimately, the profitability. Because of that juxtaposition, the adjustment for me should in theory have been quite difficult, but every party offered continued and unhindered support whenever I needed it, and suggested business courses for me to complete which I did and helped no end. No one assumes that you'll know exactly what you're doing from the offset, so STS, the University (the KTC), and my Academic Supervisor were always more than happy to give me their time to talk me through anything I may have otherwise found overwhelming.
How did the triangular relationship between the business, the University, and yourself result in being a key factor in your development?
The KTP network works as an anchoring point so you know you always have support. My Academic Supervisor was supporting me with my technical and scientific work, and the company fully embraced the spirit of KTP and didn't divert my focus away from the KTP project by asking me to take on any other internal projects unless I specifically requested to do so. All parties left me to my own devices to manage my KTP project in a positive way so I always felt in control of the project, but I knew the avenues were there should I have needed any additional help. There were bi-weekly meetings to ensure everyone was on the same page and that there were no underlining issues to be made aware of, so the relationship of everyone involved was key to my develop and the success of the KTP.
Please could you describe the other benefits of becoming an Associate, especially with regard to after the project had finished?
In the two years I was an Associate I went from being someone with only a knowledge background in physics to actually having to apply all that knowledge. I had to learn how to design circuits, how to write software, and doing all of that from the bottom up. The initial learning and advanced development of those skills are so valuable in my own personal progress as well as the progress of the project and the company as a whole. I also gained a Masters of Research (MRES) in Systems Engineering, which was a dissertation based qualification which I created using STS and the KTP as a reference. As a result of this, I was also able to obtain some electrical and software training which helped me fill any gaps in my knowledge and further develop my individual capabilities.
How do you think being employed under the partnership would differ from a standard post-graduate employment?
A standard post-grad job would most likely entail moving around departments so as to understand all levels of a business when that isn't always relevant, whereas in the KTP it's clearly laid out from the beginning what you're there to do, and you in turn take control of that focus and the project itself. There's a very clear objective with a KTP, and there's something immensely satisfying at the end to be able to point to a physical product, or culture change, or system development, and say "I did this, I developed this, and this is something I can put on my CV". Also, I couldn't envisage that the support you have available to you in a standard post-grad job would be comparable to the vast levels of knowledge readily available in an Associate position; there simply wouldn't be such a varied level of expertise which in a KTP you get from the Academic Supervisor, the company supervisor, the University, and anyone else affiliated.
Would you recommend KTP to other graduates? If so, why?
Absolutely; it's a great transition from academia to a work place. You may not have ever experienced any fundamental business ideas, but you will get brought up to speed very quickly. There's always the safety net in that you'll be provisionally measured on the project you've been brought in to do, but as you develop you gain the ability and the confidence to offer more which you're supported to do. It's a great way to start a momentum in building a career as you can really take control, steer your own ship, and capitalise on all the levels of expertise available to you for you to develop.
What one piece of advice would you give to a graduate considering KTP?
Once you start to build up your momentum, maybe even as early as a few months in to your Associate position, take a look at your project plan and revise it. When I started STS had a plan of what I was meant to be doing, and after I found my feet I could see that some of the components weren't actually beneficial to either the project or me. You have control of the project and only you truly appreciate exactly what it is you're doing, so if you feel strongly about changing the focus to something else or that one route is better than another, then don't be afraid to speak up about it. The company or the University may decide to disagree, and if so then fine, but it may be that you have been able to see something that no one else has which could be key to a far more successful project outcome. Just be confident and voice your suggestions and ideas in a professional and respectful way; even if they don't agree, the University and the company will always listen and discuss your points constructively.