Analytical skills, problem solving, and research and critical thinking

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m Sofia and I live in Milan, Italy. At The University of Manchester, I studied BSc Physics, and I graduated in 2021. I now work at Snam in its hydrogen business unit. Snam is a transmission system operator (TSO), operating the largest gas pipelines network in Europe. It aims to decarbonize the gas sector by injecting low carbon hydrogen in the gird in the long term. Within the business unit, I have covered several roles. I worked in the innovation team where I looked at different hydrogen technologies which will be critical in the future hydrogen sector, I also worked in hydrogen merges and acquisitions (M&A) and venture capitalism (VC), aiming to acquire shares of hydrogen energy related companies which have high potential of growth and impact in its value chain.

How are analytical skills, problem solving, and research and critical thinking important in your current role?

When scouting for start-ups (for innovation purposes) or when performing a due diligence in potential target companies (for M&A), analytical skills are essential. To evaluate a start-up or company, I need to understand its market context, the uniqueness of its solution, the solidity of the business model, and the technological feasibility and potential. Therefore, analytical skills together with research abilities – which involve understanding complex content in depth, summarizing content, and finding the key elements – are essential to gather and organise information, which then allows me to make informed decisions.

Critical thinking is also important. Once key information is gathered, I have to look at opportunities in a wider context, and evaluate critically whether something is strategic for its company’s aims, and whether there are further elements to consider which may go beyond typical business strategy – not only technological but also social and political factors.

How did you develop each of these skills during your degree?

In my physics degree, I developed analytical skills mainly in the laboratory context. For example, after gathering data for an experiment, I had to interpret it, verify if the data matched the physical behaviour, understand if something had gone wrong, and analyse how to improve the results. In the physics curricula, problem solving is at the core of all activities. All my physics modules were oriented to develop an approach of solving problems; teaching how to simplify the scenario, approximate, and how to find viable methods to get to reasonable solutions.

I developed research skills in several occasions. In laboratory, I had to refer to research papers and to confront them to my own experiment. I also had to come up with different or new methods to improve the execution and thus outcome of the experiment, in a way researcher might do. Additionally, professors often explained extra topics - for example the frontiers of their research activity - together with the future challenges in their area of interest. They cited material to refer to if students were curious to understand more in depth, specific physics related topics. This incentivised students to learn more independently and research topics by themselves.

I improved my critical thinking skills especially thanks to some optional modules I picked, such as an entrepreneurship module and a history of nuclear energy/weapons. In the nuclear history class, assignments required me to analyse a historical source and then to develop a critical opinion about the fact and the way that the author reported it or changed the perspective. The module asked students to identify bias and to contextualise information – this impacted the way we saw the global picture of the historical event. Furthermore, the aim of the entrepreneurship module was to help to develop entrepreneurs with critical skills, so that they would be able to evaluate opportunities and businesses, considering a wide range of information and data.

How did these skills help you get your first graduate job?

Recruiters know that physics graduates, especially from a recognised university such as The University of Manchester, have a solid background in physics and that by the time they graduate, they have mastered the associated skills.

Being able to navigate the internet, find opportunities, discern them, and finding a way to stand out to recruiters was an application of my research, analysis, and critical thinking skills. In the recruiting process, showing an analytical and problem-solving oriented approach, when answering to recruiter’s questions, was highly appreciated.

What were the main factors that influenced your choice of first graduate job?

The factor that most influenced my choice was working in a field with high growth potential, where I would be able to give my contribution to the pressing problem of the climate crisis. I wanted to contribute to something that would hopefully make the world a better place, so the ethics behind my job or my role was a crucial factor. The fact that there were many opportunities to learn from qualified professionals was also an important consideration, since this allows to further increase and improve the personal skillset. Additionally, for me, the ability to have a healthy work-life balance was also an important aspect, so working in a company where working hours are reasonable was a requirement for me.