Graduate Profile

Kit Millar, BSc 2012, Accountancy

I chose to study astrophysics because I had every intention of becoming a rocket scientist and someday working for NASA. However, as I went through my degree, I realised that although I had a passion for science and learning, my main skills seemed to centre around people – whether that be meeting others, working with them, talking to them – and not purely based around academic abilities as I had previously thought.

During my degree, the subjects that I enjoyed the most outwith my core modules were Transferable Skills for Physicists and ID4001 (the interdisciplinary communication module). These allowed me to use the knowledge I gained in my degree and taught me the best ways to communicate with other people – whether that be the primary 1-3 children I taught or my peers.

Coming into the 4th and final year of my BSc, I was unsure what to do with my future. The options of a communications-based masters were appealing; however I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to doing another year of university before going out into the “real world”. I liked the idea of continuing to learn – I don’t think I’ll ever lose that thirst for knowledge, but also wanted to start earning money, and was very aware that a masters and even PhD in physics would definitely not have been the right direction for me.

I then started looking into ways of gaining more qualifications whilst still getting paid, and came across the idea of doing accountancy. I went to the Careers Centre’s accounting and finance fair, picked up a copy of the Times Top 100 guide to graduate employers, turned to page one and started applying!

Fortunately for me, I was successful in gaining a job working for PwC, an international professional services firm. Working for them seemed to give me the best of both worlds – a move to Edinburgh (following in the footsteps of both my sisters), a salary, but also the opportunity to complete my CA qualification to become a Chartered Accountant. I knew a few Chartered Accountants, and they had such a wide variety of jobs and pretty different careers, so I knew that following this path wouldn’t be closing any doors to me.

At PwC, I worked in their public sector audit department. This meant that I performed both internal and external audits for a variety of public sector clients. Internal audit is all about testing clients’ controls – making sure that they are doing the best they possibly can to run a smooth and efficient business, and making sure that the business is as secure as possible. External audit is where you check their financial statements and ensure that every figure, every judgement and everything they disclose is accurate, is complete and giving the shareholders a true and fair view of their accounts. This job was great for me as a new graduate – I was in an intake with 29 other graduates, so I got to experience the world of work whilst still being in a group of like-minded other graduates. There was a brilliant social life, which helped with the change of pace from university, but I also got to work with all sorts of different clients – from members of the accounts team at a small charity right up to the financial director of an NHS board. I also got to build on research skills I had gained from my degree to ensure I always knew what I was talking about to clients, and also used my transferrable skills to work out how best to discuss some fairly technical financial concepts with my clients.

As well as it being my first job, and giving me valuable client experiences, PwC also put me through my CA training with the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS). This is a 3 year programme where you combine studying towards three levels of exams with gaining relevant work experience to come out with a qualification which is the equivalent of a masters degree with the added bonus of it being internationally renowned (there are over 21,000 CA’s across the world), which again would give me the ability to perform a wide range of careers.

When I qualified as a CA in September 2015, I did a 6 month secondment into student recruitment at PwC. I found this a massive challenge – for the first time I was leaving something mathematical and focussing more on building on my soft skills. As well as the standard recruitment procedures, I also got to host some audit skills sessions – teaching prospective employees what an audit was, and giving them an insight into what a career at PwC would be like. Towards the end of my secondment I realised that whilst I was enjoying having a more interactive role, I missed numbers and the data analysis that I was used to from both physics and audit.

Fortunately for me, at this time a lecturing job came up at ICAS. This seemed like the perfect combination to me – I would get to use my people skills and teach students, but would continue to be learning – whether that is a whole new subject (I currently teach 5), or the changes in legislation or standards that take place each year meaning we have to continually update notes. I applied and was thrilled when in April 2016 I took up my new job. I am loving my time at ICAS - I have the chance to be involved in writing teaching materials, taking classes and am constantly building on the knowledge from my time studying.

Even though I have left physics behind me, I don’t think the skills which it taught me, or the thirst for knowledge which first led me to physics will every go away. Although no one ever asks me to calculate the distance to starts any more, or describe quantum mechanics, I have been able to put into practice so many of the skills that you need just to make it through a day of a physics degree! Being used to handling large numbers, and understand them easily means when I am faced with a new, complex idea at work – both when I was in audit and now, I am not phased by this at all. I also got used to thinking up solutions to issues when we were in physics labs – and education and the way of teaching is changing so rapidly that this is a great skill to have. I was also used to working long hours and having to take on a lot of information – which was useful not only in my work for PwC but also when I was studying towards my professional exams – being able to concentrate from 9am until 5pm is a lot easier when you have been doing this through most of uni!

The way the other people I currently work with have made it to here have all been very different, but I think that the route I have taken has given me skills which would have taken me many more years to learn – after all there’s not many people who are lecturing graduates as they go through their professional exams when they are only 26!

My four years studying physics were probably the hardest of my life – it’s an incredibly challenging subject and I struggled with going from being the top student in school to being in a class with the most intelligent people I’ve ever met. However, the support I got from the department, and from my classmates (who all became like my brothers and sisters over the 4 years) gave me the confidence to go out into the wider world and know that whatever challenge was thrown at me, or whatever situation I was placed in, I would be able to tackle it head on and hopefully come out unscathed at the other end!

Plus, I’ll never get tired of being at accounting events and, when asked where and what I studied saying “I did astrophysics at St Andrews!”

First posted BDS 28.10.13
updated 10.11.17