We’re excited to dive into the stories of King’s community via its staff networks. Today, KCL alumna and King’s Sustainability Officer Alexandra talks about her career journey so far, what she values in staff networks, and why it’s useful for students to know about workplace communities!
My name is Alexandra (Ali) Hepple, I work as a Sustainability Officer in the King’s Sustainability Team. I’ve been working in the team for the past two years. I’m originally from Gateshead (North of England) and have been living in London since coming to King’s to study Geography in 2014.
From student activism to working at King’s
I was lucky in that shortly after graduating, I got myself the role in the King’s Sustainability Team. I had been volunteering with the team (and King’s Food) for a year before that, with another King’s student, to get King’s its first Sustainable Restaurant Association rating (and star!). It was a great role to fully understand the breadth of King’s. Before that I’d been in my Geography faculty bubble – so it was interesting to learn how much work goes into progressing the sustainability of a university. I also volunteered with Humane Society and the University of London in my second year, to get more plant-based meals into the catered halls of residences across London.
However, I’d done a variety of paid roles before this – starting off as a newspaper delivery girl age 13, working in retail for several years, and a (very) short stint in a local fish and chip shop. Making a difference was always something that mattered to me and something I wanted in my future career. Since my GSCE’s, working in the environmental/social sustainability sector is something I’d always had in the back of my mind and would often trawl job ads fantasising about which ones I’d do in future!
Where degree interests and passions meet careers
I remember in my Geography A-Levels learning about ageing populations – it all fascinated me so much, as it finally clicked then that Geography was part of everything we see, do or want to achieve. It’s such a diverse, transferable subject and so relevant to our day-day life and experiences.
Learning more about the subject at university definitely validated my choice of career direction. I was particularly interested in food sustainability, the environmental impact of it (greenhouse gases, virtual water and consumer behaviour etc.), but also the social impact of it and food justice within the environmental food movement. That’s what led me to volunteer with University of London Sustainability Team in my second year, and then the King’s Food and Sustainability Team in my final year as Food Project Assistant.
I am more passionate than ever and try to advocate for that social side of sustainability and it is something I try to incorporate into my role as Sustainability Officer at King’s – but also something I try to learn more about and volunteer around in my spare time.
Navigating early career confidence
Confidence was a big barrier in my career journey and something that is still a challenge for me sometimes! Also, that sense of belonging and imposter syndrome when coming to university and also when entering a new career. I had a working-class and Northern England upbringing, so coming to a university like King’s and moving to London was a challenge and quite a culture shock. I often felt like a fish out of water. But I eventually found my crowd and the people I felt at home with, which helped massively.
Career-wise, passion and dedication can get you far. I had taken a year out to work (in retail) between my first and second year, so had saved a little bit from that. This then allowed me to volunteer alongside my studies in second and third year, which ultimately helped to gain confidence and connections to the sort of jobs I wanted to do.
What value do organisational networks like King’s Sustainability Champions hold?
Huge value! Organisational networks are integral to progressing organisations -whether that is sustainability, gender and race equality, to providing students valuable opportunities to learn and develop new skills.
My role is all about managing an organisational network (Sustainability Champions) so I may be a bit biased – but seeing the changes first hand inspires me every day and it’s amazing to see the changes that have been made at the hands of these networks since joining as a staff member in 2018.
My advice for students interested in this field
Definitely get in touch with the King’s Sustainability Team if you’re interested in being involved in sustainability work or pursuing it as a career in the future. We’re always happy to have a chat and see how we can support you. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org – or my personal work email email@example.com.
Also, join the societies (or even create a society if it doesn’t already exist) which speaks to your passion.
As well as this, contact people in the field you’re interested in – it will massively help in the long run and something which might not use up too much of your time or energy (especially if unable to volunteer/gain work experience). LinkedIn is a great tool to do this. Plus, once you hear more from those working in the field, it’ll confirm to you if that area of work is something you can really see yourself working in once you graduate.
Interested in careers around sustainability, development or the environment? Our Industry & Sector guides have lots of useful further reading for you to discover.