Confessions of a KCL Student – Bruce, PhD Student, Civil Service Fast Stream

We’ve got a slightly longer blog post than usual today, as one of our Marketing Assistants, Emily Lemaire, sat down with Bruce Fanshawe, a PhD student here at King’s who’s secured a job through the Civil Service Fast Stream. Read below for more about Bruce’s story, how King’s Careers & Employability assisted him along the way, and his top tips for success.

Interested in submitting your own tale of success, or chance to give advice to our students? Get in touch with us!

About you

Can you tell me about your PhD?
I currently work on imaging skin cancer preclinically. I have worked on developing a model to track cancer cell spread and test novel therapies that could halt the spread of cancer around the body.

About the job

Congratulations on receiving a job offer! What job did you apply to and what was the application process?
I applied to a number of streams within the Civil Service Fast Stream and was successful for the Digital Data and Technology (DDaT) Stream. The first part of the application process was online and comprised two questionnaires (situational judgement and behavioural), an e-tray exercise and a video interview. Once successful I submitted a motivational statement and proceeded to the assessment centre stage, covering leadership, analysis and group exercises. Finally, once successful here, I proceeded to a final selection stage which consisted of a traditional interview and a stream specific fictitious government scenario.

Editor’s note – you can practice the tests mentioned through GraduatesFirst ( ), which we have a subscription to.)

Wow, that’s a long process! Which part of the application process did you find the most difficult?
All stages were demanding! The video interview was particularly tricky due to the artificial setting: answering questions in a given time and formulating relevant responses to fill that time (not a commonly encountered scenario!). The assessment centre day was also intense and really pushed me to think outside my normal boundaries.

(Editor’s note – We have a subscription to an online video interview simulator, InterviewStream, which allows you to practice recording answers in this format, and hopefully make the artificial environment for a real video interview more familiar and less daunting)

Can you tell me about the main responsibilities you will have at work?
I will have the opportunity to learn a lot on the job in a diverse range of Digital, Data and Technology roles. I do not know which department I will based in just yet, more broadly I could be involved in a number of areas from helping formulate digital and technology policy in government to improving the government’s own digital infrastructure.

Why did you apply to the Civil Service Fast Stream Programme?
I always had the Civil Service at the back of my mind as somewhere to go, and I chimed with its ideals and goals as an organisation. Career progression and support were also important factors for my application, both key reasons for my decision to move away from academia. Moving into the Civil Service I knew I would be able to apply the many skills I had developed during my PhD and at the same time have a range of opportunities and challenges. Finally, I knew I did not want to be in the lab: writing up my PhD thesis has been something I have enjoyed quite a bit more than lab work.

How did you prepare for the application process?

  • Being up to date with current affairs through The Economist and other general news outlets. I particularly focused on news items with a data and technology focus such as artificial intelligence and its application in society.
  • The Fast Stream Assessment Centre Guide which was provided was very useful and allowed me to become thoroughly acquainted with and aware of the Civil Service competencies being tested. The guide gave me confidence in the testing process and to try and enjoy it.
  • Book an appointment with King’s Careers & Employability! The practice interview provided a way to audit my skills, self-evaluate and try and address my weaknesses. There is also a free online book about assessment centres.
  • It was particularly useful to look at possible competency questions and reflect on my own PhD experience and how I had demonstrated such competencies.

What advice would you give to students interested in a similar career to yours, including how to get their first job?
Perseverance! The Fast Stream process is long and can be daunting, but if you’re driven and motivated its more than possible to do very well. I always kept in mind that whatever the result, I would have learnt a lot about myself and government from the process. The feedback you receive after the assessment centre is very useful whatever you decide to do. Don’t be put off by the odds!

Your experiences with King’s Careers & Employability

Can you tell me about the times you came to the King’s Career & Employability office, to help you along the way?
I first met Careers Consultant Morag Walling (Embedding Employability Consultant) to talk about the assessment centre process and careers more generally. It was really useful hear about the KCL specific resources provided to students which I was not aware of, specifically those concerning assessment centres. Once I knew I was through to the final selection stage I then booked an appointment with a Careers Consultant for a practice interview, which was a real confidence booster.

Was this your first time coming to the Careers office?

Why did you decide to come to the Careers office?
Having a practice interview with Sue was great, as it put me into the mindset of being in an interview environment coupled with preparation for a fictitious data and technology related scenario. It allowed me to practice with a complete stranger and gave me confidence going into the final selection interview. I did my practice interview at the Careers Office on Tuesday, with my actual interview being on the Friday. Ultimately, I was able to use and act upon the feedback from Sue on the day.

How can the King’s Careers & Employability service improve?

From my own experience PhD students continually grapple with the question of what to do after the PhD, whether it is in academia or not. For those wanting to leave academia the challenge is arguably greater as the choices are endless, furthermore those with knowledge outside the academic sphere are often not as readily accessible as those within. You end up reaching the end of your PhD and asking, ‘what next?!’. For such end stage PhD students I think the Careers Service could try to be more visible. PhD students go through a very tough and topsy-turvy three to four years and finding a job at the same time as writing a thesis or paper (or both!) is very demanding. I believe most students know the Careers Service exists, but it’s at the back of their minds: they need a real push to go due to their intense PhD focus.