Confidence, initiative and problem solving

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Yanna and I currently live in London. I studied a BSc in Psychology at The University of Manchester, followed by an MSc in Cognitive and Decision Sciences at UCL. In 2020, I joined professional services firm PwC on their emerging technologies graduate scheme, and I now work as a consultant specialising in the metaverse and related technologies, such as virtual and augmented reality.

How are confidence, initiative and problem solving important in your current role?

My role is very people facing; I often present to other teams, clients, at conferences and events – so being confident in engaging with new people enables me to educate them about the value of immersive technology and the metaverse. It also helps me build my network and learn a great deal from a variety of interesting people working across all industries.

I have found that showing initiative unlocks countless learning opportunities. Being enthusiastic about your role and carving out areas you are passionate about makes the job more interesting and colleagues will naturally enjoy teaching you new skills. When I first joined my team, I got involved with a range of ongoing projects by offering to pick up work that interested me, without being specifically asked to do so. This showed my team that I am keen to learn and eventually led to further exciting opportunities. For example, I was very interested in researching virtual reality (VR) start-ups that offer their own headsets and technology, so I regularly updated the team on new developments in the market. When an opportunity to test out a new vendor’s VR headset in Paris came up, I was asked to go on the trip to meet the vendor, review the headset, and assess its value for our ongoing projects. If I had not shown initiative, we might not have pursued this opportunity or I might not have been asked to lead the assessment.

Working with cutting-edge technology means that not everything always goes to plan – so being creative and confident helps to navigate technical issues and stay calm under pressure. Many projects I work on have never been done before, so embracing the unknown and finding ways to make things work is essential to success – and it’s very exciting!

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

Designing experiments, structuring arguments in essays, and upskilling in programming and statistics throughout my studies allowed me to develop solid problem solving skills across a range of application areas. The variety of topics I learned about as part of my degree helped me to think creatively when approaching a problem. Learning about many different areas in psychology, coupled with the experience of being an international student also helped me build my confidence and expand my comfort zone. The University of Manchester's many societies also helped me with this; seeing how much many of the societies achieve based on students taking initiative and being proactive inspired me to take more initiative in both my professional and personal life.

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

When interviewing for graduate roles, I learned that you should never be put off a career in a specific sector (such as technology!) because you think you lack the relevant skills and experience. Most companies instead really value proactivity, passion and enthusiasm. I had little practical experience in technology, but I tried relating my skill set and experience back to a technology role, for instance by talking about how I enjoy learning new processes, how I’ve approached and overcome problems in the past, or how I broke down complex information for a non-technical audience during research presentations. I found that recruiters appreciated this approach and these skills - technical skills can be acquired through training, but it is difficult to teach someone to be proactive or passionate.

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

The main factor influencing my choice of graduate job was my interest in the role and the nature of the work. Throughout my studies, I became more and more interested in the intersection between technology, psychology and neuroscience. I was fascinated by topics in cognitive science and the idea that our perception, cognition, even consciousness can be broken down into a series of computational processes. I considered a range of careers, from PhDs over UX design to technology consulting, and eventually landed the role on PwC’s emerging technology graduate scheme. I completed a summer internship with rotations across the Artificial Intelligence and the Metaverse Technologies teams, and enjoyed the work so much that I knew I wanted to return. I felt that I would learn a lot in the role from people that are really passionate about what they do. It was also great that the position came with lots of opportunities to travel and was based in London, a big hub for emerging technology and research.