Swimming Lessons

I first heard about the Catalyst programme in November last year. I had just started the final year of my Physics BSc, and I’d come to the conclusion that I definitely didn’t want to stay in academia. This was quite a big deal for me, as I’d been talking about becoming some form of scientist since I was about 16 years old. It turns out 16 year old me didn’t know what she was talking about. Thankfully I attended a talk given by the careers advisors of the physics department (shout out to Kathy and Sarah! Even though you’re probably not reading this), which was specifically about careers for physics students outside of academia. They spoke about Catalyst, and it sounded almost too good to be true. An opportunity to explore and develop so many different skills; to get first-hand experience helping businesses get started, and to dip your fingers in so many pies, until you figure out which ones you like best. All whilst being supported by an affiliate of the university. I remember coming out of that talk and meeting up with a close friend of mine, and excitedly telling her I knew what I wanted to do now. She lit up, until I explained it to her, to which she replied, “you only want one specific job?” I felt a bit miffed, but she was right. You shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket.

So you can imagine how simultaneously happy and bewildered I feel to be sitting here now, writing this blog post about my first week. It feels so weird that ten months ago Catalyst was, to me, just some words coming out of Kathy’s mouth. And now it’s what I wake up and do every day. It’s real! And if you’re reading this, and you want to do Catalyst, maybe one day these words on the screen will become your reality too!

Full disclosure, I was pretty nervous leading up to my first day. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d been hired by mistake, that I don’t know anything about business and when I get found out I’ll get kicked out straight away. Fortunately I’d heard of imposter syndrome before so I ignored those feelings, and on day one I just tried to absorb as much information as possible. And within a couple of hours, everyone was so friendly I already felt much more at ease.

After meeting everyone and having nice chats with Lucy and Liam, in which I was filled in on what to expect for the foreseeable future, I was given a whole bunch of online reading about the techniques often used by the Sussex Innovation Centre, which was so useful for getting me in the right frame of mind to start. Again, I was just a physics student, and I had really no idea how businesses work. Not that I know that much more now, but I definitely actually feel that I’m learning and I can do this. Around midday Lucy told me she wanted me to meet a hairdresser the next day, to help out with a new venture of his. This lead to my first project: investigating how new products end up on the shelves and websites of major retailers. This consists mostly of a combination of online research, and attempting to make contact with the right people through phone and email. I’ve found myself doing new things, like emailing important members of John Lewis, which has made me really hone my professionality skills.

I suppose I still feel out of my depth, but not in such a bad way. Like, I’m treading deep water, but there aren’t any sharks around. And I’m surrounded by people who are ready to throw a life ring when I need one. And currently Lucy is basically swimming next to me with armbands at the ready. And soon I know I’ll be strong enough to swim long distances alone. I hope this analogy still makes sense.

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