First-class Classics graduate and Senior Policy Advisor, Dillon Patel (BA Ancient History and Classical Archaeology, 2017) shares how Warwick shaped his thinking, the power of soft skills, and how the past isn’t so dissimilar from the present day.
Why Classics, and why Warwick?
Classics is quite a privileged subject that’s often only taught in private schools. I felt lucky to be able to study it at GCSE and A-level at my state school. I knew I wanted to take it further and Warwick was one of a handful of universities that offered it at higher level. When you look back at events and themes from thousands of years ago, you see that although there have been incredibly advances in technology, human behaviour hasn’t really changed and that’s what’s always interested me.
How did you find the university experience?
I think university is important in allowing you to broaden your horizons. This is especially true with the diverse, international community at Warwick. Multiculturalism is one of the most important assets of the university, and it exposed me to new cultures, languages, and fantastic experiences. Another bonus was Warwick’s campus, which really allows you to settle in with your peers in a safe and supportive environment. In my second and final year, I lived in Leamington Spa with friends, and I think that model really works and helps integrate you into adult life. It was a valuable experience dealing with house viewings, estate agents, and all that comes from renting –experiences I still use today!
Tell me about your degree.
I developed a lot of soft skills - how to interact with a wide group of stakeholders, relationship building, communicating, influencing – alongside traditional academic skills like research and critical thinking. I was also very involved in the Warwick Classics Society. I spent a year as the Society’s secretary and then President which gave me the chance to practice these skills in a safe environment. It’s unlikely you’ll have another phase in your life where you have as much support and as many opportunities available, so I wanted to make the most of it.
How was the transition from university to work?
During those last few months of final term, you’re the busiest you’ve ever been. You juggle your course, the job hunt, and seeing friends who soon might not live in the same country, yet alone same city. It’s a lot to deal with and not necessarily representative of a ‘normal life’. There’s a strong sense of competitiveness for grad jobs and it’s difficult not to get drawn in. There’s pressure to answer the dreaded question of ‘what’s next?’. Especially in the lead up to graduation. I was lucky to get my first job at the Civil Service about a month after I finished university but it’s perfectly normal to not find work straight away. I started as a Policy Advisor which involved me understanding the current challenges the UK faces and leveraging expertise, relationships, and international engagement to achieve the best result.
How did Warwick help you get there?
Diversity is incredibly important, as a moral imperative, but fundamentally it allows for more inclusive policy as it represents a variety of views, including those who use your service. Arts degrees require sustained pieces of research, making judgement calls, critical thinking and writing in a persuasive style. In your future job, there won’t be a single answer to a challenge, and being able to weigh up the different arguments and analyse which one is likely to succeed is a key skill. Plus, the ability to do this persuasively is no small feat. These are skills that are applicable to most jobs. Studying Classics doesn’t limit you to one degree path or one job, it opens the door to a range of careers.
How do you know when to move on from your first job?
It’s very personal, and there is no one size-fits-all piece of advice. You need to make an active decision to move on, which for me was difficult because I worked with great people, was on the way to becoming experienced in the team and could see a path for progression. It would have been easy to stay. But I no longer felt stretched and every day felt too ‘business as usual’. After 18 months in one department, I took a role in another department as a Senior Policy Advisor which allowed me to keep the parts of my role I enjoyed, including relationship building, but to a wider audience on a critical policy area.
What’s the key to building relationships?
I believe the most important thing is authenticity. It sounds obvious, but being open and honest means people see you, and trust you. There is no standard approach so you need to display the right hook so the other party can find their buy in. Being part of a university society you’re more likely to experience conflict resolution, which makes great practice for the working world where conflict is unavoidable. Being friendly and punctual both go a long way, too.
Where will we see you in five years’ time?
Five years puts us in 2028, so who can say? I enjoy the core mission of the Civil Service, and it motivates me to know that I’m shaping UK policy and making an impact. I didn’t always know that building relationships and being the change was my driver, I found that out along the way.
In my first role, I had the opportunity to represent the UK to hundreds of international delegates, which was an amazing experience. Now, I get to visit our embassies and talk to foreign ministries about collective challenges we face and I’m tasked with finding a way to bridge the gap. I feel lucky. I fell into a graduate role that was impactful and made a difference, and from there I worked out why I enjoyed it so much and what I wanted my future career to look like. Whatever I’m doing in five years, I hope that it will still be rooted in making a difference.
"Studying Classics doesn’t limit you to one degree path or one job, it opens the door to a range of careers."