I use skills and knowledge from my degree every day

Graduate Michelle Howson outside
Michelle Howson
Planning Project Manager, Lightrock Power
MSc Urban and Regional Planning
MSc Urban and Regional Planning graduate Michelle gives advice for students who are deciding what to do after their degree.

Why did you choose to study MSc Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Sheffield?

I chose MSc Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Sheffield because it is a RTPI accredited degree and I love living in the city of Sheffield.

What did you study at University that you still use in your day job?

I use skills and knowledge from my degree every day. Some of the main skills/knowledge that I use are: understanding the relationship between developers (such as Lightrock), external planners and local authorities; planning policy analysis; local plans; NPPF; public consultation; weighing up development pros and cons; sustainability.

Can you tell us what a day in your role is like?

Everyone at my company works from home. Therefore, each day I work in my home office to do a range of planning and GIS related tasks, as well as attend online meetings with external planners, landowners, wildlife charities etc. The work I do each day varies, however some of tasks that I carry out frequently are:

  • Feasibility studies (using GIS and planning policy data to determine if a proposed site is suitable for solar and/or battery development);
  • Writing planning desk-based appraisals;
  • Site finding (for solar and battery storage sites). I then calculate the rent we would offer the relevant landowners and send letters to them outlining our proposal;
  • Communicate with external planners and landowners to arrange surveys, e.g. ecology and topographic (drone) surveys.
  • Assist external planners in designing our sites.
  • Project management – admin, meetings, progressing and finalising planning applications etc.

What advice would you give students who are currently looking for jobs/deciding what to do next?

If looking for a job, it’s very useful to network. Networking may sound intimidating, but it can be as simple as attending events organised by the University (as I often did with my friends, which helped me get my job) or getting an e-mentor.

If you’re not certain you want a particular job, your application will not reflect your best work. Find jobs that really interest you and dedicate a good amount of time to making those applications great, rather than spending lots of time applying for as many jobs as possible (as this will reduce the quality of your applications).

If you’re deciding what to do next, think about what you’re interested in and what you’re good at. In my interview, my interest in climate change was a huge help as the people I spoke to were also very interested in the topic, which made the interview feel more like a friendly conversation. The GIS and organisational skills that I developed at University also really appealed to my employers. Having both genuine interest and a couple of relevant skills was a huge help. Once you have a few interests and skills in mind, see if there are any jobs/courses that relate to these and explore your options.

What advice would you give students wanting to go into your field of work?

Get relevant work experience if you can. This can be tricky, so take advantage of opportunities provided by the uni. If you have worked in the past but it is not related to the career you want, you can still mention it in interviews (e.g. developing organisational skills at an admin job would really help you as a planner).

Genuine enthusiasm for the field of work goes a long way. In my interview, I mentioned that I am a member of the WWF and used to volunteer at the Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust. My employers were keen to learn more about both during my interview, as they are highly related to the field of work, and they evidence that my interest goes beyond academia. 

If you want to work as a planner, some of the key skills are being organised, thinking critically, communication and writing skills. It would be helpful to give potential employers examples of when and where you developed these skills.

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