Graduate success stories: where a degree from York took them

Group of students stood outside Heslington Hall in their graduation gowns, throwing their caps in the air

Last month we welcomed the class of 2023 to our alumni network and to celebrate this we caught up with five alumni to see where their degree from York took them.

Neil is holding onto a rope in a zero gravity aircraft wearing a blue all-in-one suit with an ESA logo

Neil Melville
Class of 2002, Physics with Philosophy
Role: Parabolic Flight Coordinator and System Engineer at the European Space Agency

“My Masters in Physics with Philosophy from the University of York formed a solid basis for my career. As a Payload System Engineer I’m responsible for taking requirements from teams of scientists, translating them into engineering terms, and then running projects to design, develop, build, test and deliver hardware to perform those experiments. 

In my 20 years with the European Space Agency (ESA) I’ve been responsible for many experiment payloads, some flying on suborbital sounding rockets or uncrewed orbital capsules, but most to the International Space Station. Since 2016 I’ve also been responsible for coordinating ESA‘s parabolic flights, for which we fall out of the sky hundreds of times in a special Airbus A310 to produce periods of 22 seconds of zero-gravity, in order to do scientific research, technology testing, and astronaut training. We can also produce reduced gravity, such as Lunar or Martian gravity for example, for preparing humans and hardware for future space exploration. I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to participate in these flights as part of my work!

The physics and mathematical parts of my degree enable me to understand enough about all the various engineering disciplines which report to me to effectively coordinate their entangled interactions, constraints and requirements, whilst iterating towards a system-level solution. My philosophy background helps me to apply a logical and structured approach, maintaining detailed control from an overview perspective of these multi-disciplinary projects. Furthermore, whilst studying for my degree both the Physics and Chemistry departments provided significant extra-curricular support to my first projects working with the ESA Academy, helping me gain invaluable real space project experience before I had even graduated, which I know has been crucial in my career development.”

Kristina Weymss
Class of 2022, English and History
Role: (Incoming) Daily Mail Sub-Editor

“At university I got involved with the student newspaper ‘Nouse’ where I made a lot of great friends and gained my first journalism experience. I loved being a part of student media but I knew that journalism was a competitive field and not the easiest for people from low income backgrounds to get into. 

During my second year, I luckily secured a York Futures Scholarship to go to a summer school at News Associates, which confirmed to me that I wanted to do journalism full-time. After university, I wasn’t able to fund a journalism masters, so I started looking for jobs. After lots of applications, I got a job in production for Penguin Random House, covering for someone who was unexpectedly signed off for a few months. I loved that role but when I managed to secure funding from the Journalism Diversity Fund, I knew that I wanted to go back to News Associates to become a qualified journalist. I’ve just graduated from there and I will soon be starting as a sub-editor for the Daily Mail. 

My advice to anyone from a low income background would definitely be to seek out opportunities that the university offers. If I hadn’t come across the York Futures Scholarship I’m sure I wouldn’t be where I am now!” 

Find out more about the York Futures Scholarships and the difference it can make.  

Osas Ogieva
Class of 2019, Software Engineering
Role: Founder and Chief Software Engineer at Novart Technologies

“Looking back at my time at the University of York, I can say with confidence that studying there was an experience that exceeded my expectations. It was the step I needed to take my career to the next level. Since graduating from York, I have been able to make the transition from building solutions for tech companies to building the tech company of my dreams. 

Thanks to the knowledge gained from my Masters, I was able to get my start-up off the ground and aligned with industry standards. I got involved with the York Strengths programme as a postgraduate which prepared me to adapt to the evolving world of work and to stay in business during Covid. 

The university’s international reach opened doors for me to Friendships Without Borders and a global network of professionals to leverage. Since graduating from York, I have maintained ties with the university, as its pioneering mindset and support for sustainable development makes it a desired lifelong partner.”

Osas is currently the Regional Coordinator for York alumni in Nigeria. Find out more about alumni-led groups in the UK and around the world.

Samara Jones
Class of 2019, Mathematics and Philosophy
Role: Head of Student Finance at University of Winchester

“I graduated from York with a degree in Mathematics and Philosophy in July 2019, before completing a year as University of York Students’ Union York President during 2019/2020. Most of my time at York was taken up by being involved with my college (Alcuin) committee and sports teams, which gave me a chance to be involved in a variety of things that contributed to the student experience.

Since the end of my sabbatical year (mid pandemic!) I moved home and began working within Student Support Services at the University of Winchester and my involvement in my college committee and then working in the SU played a huge role in me working in Student Support. I have since had a chance to use the maths part of my degree as I am currently working as the Head of Student Finance, supporting students at Winchester with funding, money management, bursary allocations and hardship assessments, as well as being involved in the financial planning and modelling for future bursary offerings. 

I have been lucky to be able to continue volunteering with the Duke of Edinburgh Award at their Gold Award Presentation days, something I did throughout my time at York. I have also found a passion in Ballroom and Latin dancing since taking part in ‘York Dances for Sport Relief’ in 2019, so what started as a bit of fun to raise some money has become my main sport and hobby, as I am dancing most days of the week! I have found that the things I did outside my degree have really helped me get to where I am four years on in my career and in what I do outside of work.”

Neil is smiling and wearing a black suit with a black tie while holding a glass award

Elliott Duke
Class of 2017, Economics and Finance
Role: Audit Manager at EY

“After graduating I joined EY on the Corporate Assurance Graduate Scheme. Six years in, I have progressed through to Audit Manager, worked with clients from a range of industries and across the world, gained two additional post-graduate qualifications, and supported a number of charities through my contribution to the CSR agenda in the firm. I’m very proud to have been awarded ‘Most Valuable Person’ category winner at the Young Accountant of the Year (2023) industry awards ceremony.

Although it would seem a degree in Economics & Finance would naturally lead to a successful career in Finance, it was the soft skills that I’ve developed at York that have allowed me to get to where I am today. Whilst at York, I volunteered as a listening volunteer in Nightline, worked at the now-defunct YUSU Shop, got involved with Halifax college life, volunteered on the street with NightSafe, joined a number of societies, and even had a brief stint as a mostly social player for Halifax rugby. All of these experiences shaped the person I am today, as well as giving me excellent tangible examples to use when applying for internships and jobs. 

I will remember my time at the University of York not by my degree certificate, but by the experiences I had and the friends I made, many of whom I expect will be friends for life.”

If you’re a recent graduate and wondering what the next steps are, check out the careers webpages for graduate support.

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