Sam took part in our Summer School programme back in 1998, and it offered her invaluable guidance on her path to her current career with the Department for Transport. She shares her memories of the scheme below.

Can you tell us a bit about your background?

“I’m from Portsmouth and went to a standard state school where there wasn’t much focus on stretching yourself or achieving more… I remember the deputy head once saying they only had time to deal with the badly behaved children! My school had a tiny sixth form where I stayed to do my A-levels. I don’t remember hearing much about careers or our options, we were just left to our own devices. At the time, I wanted to be a barrister and I remember someone telling me that was far too difficult, and I should look for something easier. Occasionally, I wonder what I’d be doing if I’d had more guidance at that age.

How did your career progress after your Sutton Trust Programme?

“After some good application advice on my Summer School, I was accepted to Cambridge to study natural sciences. I spent 3 happy years at Corpus Christi College making the most of the academics and sporting opportunities on offer.

I didn’t have a plan for what I wanted after university, so I ended up doing a variety of things – I worked in science and the private sector and did some travelling. Then I became a Civil Servant, working on military operations at the Ministry of Defence’s Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL). This included deploying multiple times into military HQs abroad before joining the Permanent Joint Headquarters in the UK. Once I joined, I knew the Civil Service was for me. It felt like my work was making a difference and I made friends for life. I liked fast-paced work and so moved around the MoD and DSTL and eventually transitioned smoothly into the Department for Transport.

I love working in the Department for Transport as there’s so much going on that affects everyone’s day to day lives. Immediately after joining I was working on exiting the EU and since then the pandemic has taken focus. I’m currently concentrating on providing the modelling support to underpin how we safely restart international travel. The work I do is live and current and I am motivated to ensure we make the best, evidenced based decisions for our country.”

What are your ambitions for the future?

“There’s definitely more I would like to achieve within the Civil Service. The more senior you are, the bigger impact you can personally have and I’m still on that journey. I also want to make sure that I balance work and life – to give my children opportunities that I didn’t have growing up. For instance, my family didn’t have a car and now I live in a village, so couldn’t get by without it (although my team have challenged me and we will shortly be switching to an electric vehicle and getting the bus more!).

I’d also like to work more on diversity and inclusion, to hopefully give something tangible back rather than just talking about it. My department champions diversity, and with some of the most senior female job shares in Whitehall, it sets a fantastic example to working mothers and others with competing pressures. I’ve also enjoyed getting involved in our social mobility outreach, for example working with schools to introduce students to the civil service analytical careers through a six-week programme.”

What advice would you give to a future Sutton Trust student?

“Make the most of your Sutton Trust programme, grab it with both hands. Who knows where I would be if I hadn’t sent in my Sutton Trust application form? I now see it as the single biggest decision which lead me to where I am now. I’m not suggesting going to Oxbridge is the be all and end all, more the confidence it gives you and the people you meet inspire you to other things. Grab all the opportunities that are out there.”

If, like Sam, you’d like to share your story with us – just get in touch with the alumni team via [email protected].