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Case Study: Caroline Buchanan

Personal details
Degree:Environmental Biology and Geography Profile picture
School(s): School of Biology, School of Geography and Geosciences
Year of Graduation:Jun-2011
National of: United Kingdom
Employment details
Organisation: The Building Research Establishment (BRE)
Job title: BREEAM Communities Senior Consultant
Occupational Sector: Sustainability Consultancy
What has been your route to getting your current position?
I applied for the role of BRE graduate during my final semester of university. My application involved the submission of a CV and covering letter, followed by selection for an assessment day. The assessment day entailed; numeracy and literacy tests; a group challenge; delivery of a presentation and an interview. Key to a successful application was an enthusiasm for sustainability and the built environment which was demonstrated through academic achievement and work experience.

My career at BRE has been varied, having started with BRE on their graduate scheme, I have quickly progressed to senior consultant level within the BREEAM Communities team. This progression is largely down to an enthusiasm to learn and seeking good mentorship from those within industry.
What does your job involve ?
As part of a relatively small BREEAM Communities team, my role gives me exposure to a wide range of business areas from finance management to the technical research, development and maintenance of the scheme. On a daily basis I balance providing technical support to our assessor network with the operational project management aspects of the scheme and strategic business planning, to support its long term growth.

As a lead trainer for the scheme, I deliver BREEAM Communities training to professionals across the built environment, including planners, sustainability consultants, architects, developers and engineers. In additional to this, I am regularly asked to present at conferences and to design teams, planning groups and local authorities, to communicate the benefits of using the BREEAM Communities scheme.  This requires me to effective and dynamic in my presentation and training style.

This role also requires me to be up-to-date with current policy and legislation surrounding communities and planning, to ensure that the BREEAM Communities scheme continues to align with and complement the requirements of our planning system and wider construction industry.

During the two year graduate program I undertook four six month placements across different areas of the business. The BRE graduate scheme gave me a good grounding in numerous business areas across BRE, enabling me to develop strong commercial awareness of the sector and strengthen my ability to adapt and pick up new and complex projects effectively. My placements included:

  • BREEAM Refurbishment
  • Housing and Energy
  • Sustainable Communities
  • BREEAM Communities

These placements enabled me to further strengthen my knowledge and experience in a range of areas from energy modelling, to community engagement and sustainability assessment scheme development, both within the UK and internationally. The graduate scheme provided me with intensive training opportunities to support my development in management and leadership.

What are the best bits of your job ?
I could not even begin to try to single the best bits of my job. However working with likeminded people who are motivated and committed to improving the sustainable and safe performance of the built environment makes working at BRE very satisfying. Furthermore the varied nature of BRE’s business activities means there is never a dull moment; every day I learn something new from our hundreds of experts.
Why were you successful?
Being able to demonstrate my commitment to sustainability and environmental issues during my academic career through; sitting on the Geographical society committee, attending conservation work camps during my summers, focusing my dissertation on topical conservation and ecological issues and membership to the Society of Biology.

Vital to any success is an enthusiasm for what you do. This in turn motivates those around you and demonstrates you would be a valued team member.

Finally the graduate scheme gave me exposure to multiple business areas, each with their pros and cons, these observations have supported me in contributing more in my current position. The scheme has also meant that I have made lots of contacts from around the business, this is key in terms of knowing the best people to advise and support you.
What skills/ knowledge from your degree have you found particularly helpful in this role?
There are many obvious links between my current job and the modules I undertook at university such as the climate change module and modules linking to sustainability and environmental biology. However perhaps some of the most useful skills I have applied from my academic career are those gained from the numerous statistical courses which formed part of my degree. Furthermore the transferable skills that I gained from St Andrews are invaluable, such as the delivery of presentations and scientific report writing, although intimidating at the time they have served me well in my professional career.
What advice would you give to students wishing to follow the same path?

Stick to the academic subjects you enjoy (which aren’t always those you are best at), this is straight forward advice but it means you are far more likely to end up in a job you enjoy. Gain as much experience as possible and don’t be afraid to contact those in the industry you are interested in. Lastly don’t be put off by an unsuccessful application, this often is not a reflection on your ability but rather it has come down to having to select ‘like over like’ due to high numbers of applicants.