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Kara OwenWhat was your first job after graduating?

I left Sheffield University in 1993, already having secured a job in the Diplomatic Service.

What have you done since graduation?

Since then, I've had a huge range of jobs and life experiences and can honestly say that I can count on the fingers of one hand the days I've not wanted to go to work. Not many of my friends can say that of their 20 years in the working world!

I chose to study history at Sheffield because of the quality of the teaching there, and because the academic staff there matched my personal interests. I also thought that the structure of the course, where I would be required to study things I hadn’t previously been attracted to would challenge and stretch me. I was attracted to Sheffield itself because of the quality of life in the city and how famously welcoming it is to students.

In my diplomatic career, I've worked on a UK development programme with newly capitalist Russia, helping them transform their command economy to a market economy in the early 1990s. I've learned two difficult languages (Cantonese and Vietnamese) and perfected my French. I have provided consular support – in everyday situations and crisis response – to Brits abroad. I have worked as Private Secretary to the Foreign Secretary, seeing at close quarters how Ministers take decisions and how parliament and media influence our policy making process. I have led the FCO's efforts to become a more diverse organisation. I have been deputy Ambassador in Vietnam and am now Deputy Ambassador in Paris. I've travelled all over the world, including to many countries that haven't been on people's top tourist destination lists (eg Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Sudan, Libya). And along the way I've had the opportunity to learn new sports, compete in endurance events in fabulous locations, learn how to ride a motorbike through the countryside of Vietnam, develop a love of Asian culture and food and develop an international network of excellent friends......

How did your time at Sheffield and your history degree help prepare you for your roles?

Academically, I found the high expectations of the staff helped prepare me to work in an environment where excellence is expected and delivered. They taught me not to let any assumption go unquestioned and also they taught me to look for ways in which I could make a genuinely unique contribution and make a difference, both of which I'm still seeking to do. We were pushed to develop rigorous thinking, to consider all angles, even those that were least fashionable or obvious. I still push myself to do this now. My dissertation was not allowed to be a "pregnant essay" or regurgitation of others' work. I was encouraged to seek out my own untapped primary sources add something to what was already published. I loved the diversity of the student body. And, my fantastic social life in Sheffield prepared me to be confident making contact with complete strangers to help me achieve my objectives at work. (Diplomatic receptions aren't fun and glamorous, by the way. But at least they can be useful if you have the skills and confidence to make and pursue contacts during them).

My dissertation focused on Foreign Office documents. When I returned last year to what I wrote, I expected to find my conclusions immature and ill-informed – I’d written it, after all, before I’d entered the world of work. But I didn’t. All of my conclusions still stood, and still spoke to the challenges of the FCO today. I think that says a lot about the quality of the academic experience at Sheffield.

I've spent more years at work than I did at Sheffield. But I'm very aware that I'm still drawing from my Sheffield experience to perform.

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