Having successfully completed the programme, the invaluable skills and experience you've gained will set you on your path to a bright future in university management.

However, your learning won't come to an end when the graduate programme does. Surrounded by high calibre colleagues, every day will be an opportunity to hone your skills, strengthen your knowledge and build new relationships.


Current Trainees:

Check out what Caliana has to say about Ambitious Futures

Hear more about the Ambitious Futures Scheme from Emily and Ella


2017 Cohort and 2018 Cohort

Name: Josh

Degree: Law, Lancaster University

Ambitious Futures Cohort: 2017-18

Current role: Research Data Manager, Lancaster University

What attracted you to Ambitious Futures?

Universities are extremely complex organisations. There’s a lot of variety too. From smaller teaching focused institutions to larger intuitions with diversified portfolios, multiple campuses, sophisticated organisational structures, cultures and strategic goals that would rival any large corporation. Ambitious Futures offered the unparalleled opportunity to gain first-hand experience while building a network of current and emerging leaders across the sector. It would introduce me to governance, policy and strategy at the highest levels while enabling me to develop my own leadership capacity too.

Your career aspirations?

It’s my ambition to continue to develop as a higher education (HE) career professional, ultimately securing an executive leadership position. During our Ambitious Futures Induction we heard from foremost leaders, a Chief Finance Officer, a Head of Faculty Administration, a current and a former Registrar. It would be hugely rewarding to be in their position in the future. Discussing HE with the next cohort of emerging managers and leaders.

Brief detail of a project you undertook as a trainee and the value or contribution you made your institution?

I coordinated an institutional wide project within the Research and Enterprise Services Division. The brief was to improve researcher and research support staff’s experience of post award financial administration of research projects, grants and contracts. This involved interviewing relevant colleagues all over the university to evaluate the effectiveness of current provision. We used the findings to inform the improvement and enhancement process which followed.

This project was strategically and operationally significant. Research is our first institutional priority; ensuring the good governance and management of its financial administration is very important. Ultimately, this project was about making colleagues working lives a little easier and optimising our research income.

Details of your current role, what you like about it and how your involvement on the programme has helped you progress your career?

I’m Lancaster Universities Research Data Manager. Research data are the foundations upon which the scholarly discourse is built so managing this vital resource effectively is fundamental. It’s not without its challenges though! I’m the institutional lead for this function across 4 faculties, 28 academic departments, 4 interdisciplinary institutes and 45 research centres. However, developing solutions to the challenges is what makes the role so rewarding. Every day presents an opportunity to contribute towards research that continues to improve lives while changing practice and thinking.

There’s no doubt that Ambitious Futures was key to me securing my current role. It allowed me to clearly demonstrate my capacity for institutional wide researcher engagement, process review and service provision enhancement.

Any words of encouragement for future trainees or institutions thinking about investing in a graduate trainee?

Those of us who have the privilege of experiencing life at a university know that our graduates are enthusiastic, highly skilled and extremely talented individuals. The programme retains our brightest graduates, integrating their homegrown skillsets, competencies and fresh thinking within our professional communities. My initial conviction was well placed, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Ambitious Futures to anyone considering investing in their own future or indeed the future of our vibrant and dynamic sector.

Name: Max

Degree: MSc Evolutionary Biology

Ambitious Futures Cohort: 2015-16

Current role: Student Experience and Learning Technology Lead

I graduated university with a BSc in Zoology and an MSc in Evolutionary Biology / Behavioural Ecology and I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I had worked a little for the university and stumbled across Ambitious Futures, which instantly felt like a great career move. The fact it was placement based really appealed to me so I could experience different sections of the university and gain a wide range of experience, not only that but the salary was competitive with other graduate schemes making relocation from my home in the lake district feasible.

During my time within Ambitious Futures I worked in the careers department, the main university helpdesk, alumni relations and university recruitment. I was involved in a huge range of projects but the most challenging was the organisation of 2 alumni events in Beijing and Shanghai (remotely). At the time I was writing a large report on how the University of York could better its engagement with Chinese Alumni and my line manager simply told me that I had 4 weeks to organise 2 events from scratch! It was a massive challenge but it worked out great.

In relation to my current role, I’ve actually secured my current role with Tribal Group after being contacted through LinkedIn, so keep your profile up to date! Prior to this I was a Student Engagement Officer at the University of Hull. My role was to help improve the student experience for School of Arts students and part-time students from across the university. To summarise I created and worked on a tonne of projects at a variety of levels; Peer mentoring schemes, careers events, online signposting systems (www.bit.ly/uoh-sf), the first ever part-time central induction, digital handbooks, report writing, Facebook marketing, presentation, bid writing, celebration events, you name it I’ve done it!

All in all the scheme was fantastic and crucial to its success is the invaluable experience you gain from working for another university. The scheme sets you up to experience some amazing teams and job roles, whilst also giving back to your institution in bucket loads. You definitely won’t be making teas and coffee, more like strategy and impactful projects.

Name: Elisa

Degree: MA Chinese, University of Edinburgh

Ambitious Futures Cohort: 2017-18

Current role: Connected Scotland Project Officer

  • My time as an undergraduate student in the UK inspired me to stay at university and continue my learning from a staff perspective. This is how I came across Ambitious Futures, which has represented the perfect opportunity for me to explore and strengthen my passion towards HE.

Ambitious Futures placement:

  • Before the start of the programme, I was extremely keen on enhancing skills such as teamwork and relationship-building, whilst directing my career towards an international area of the sector. Rotating across three placements at two institutions has exposed me to working with a wide range of people in different office cultures.
  • In my first placement I undertook a project which involved creating an international research database for the Development and Alumni office. What I enjoyed the most about working on the project was that I was given the freedom and the responsibility to organise its different stages. It was immensely rewarding to deliver something of tangible benefit to the wider institution, encouraging collaborative knowledge-sharing among various departments within the university.

Best bits:

  • The opportunity to liaise closely with the institutions’ senior management teams. Doing so at such an early stage in my career has given me an invaluable insight into HE sector leadership as well as helping me to build useful networks.
  • I was particularly motivated by the need to develop good stakeholder relations, involving consulting and understanding stakeholders’ priorities, which challenged me to build consensus and design a database that met different needs.
  • Working with a fantastic team who supported and encouraged me throughout my entire time.

What I learned:

  • All my placements have been great, but the programme has also provided me with a space to explore areas I am interested in, such as external relations. I have reached out to colleagues, volunteered for extra tasks and grabbed as many opportunities as I could in order to fulfil my interests and progress towards future goals.

What I gained:

  • Thanks to this fantastic experience with Ambitious Futures, I have now managed to secure a job in an international area of HE; the type of role I was hoping to get since before starting the programme.

Name: Jack

Degree: BA in Music (Cambridge)

Ambitious Futures Cohort: 2016-2017

I applied to Ambitious Futures because I wanted a varied career in the public sector. I spent five months at the University of Cambridge, and then came on secondment to the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, where I still work today.
I had thought of the civil service or charity sector while at university but found that HE accomplished many of the same goals and more. Ambitious Futures gives its Management Trainees real responsibility and allows them to develop the skills that institutions want while working in incredibly diverse organisations.

Ambitious Futures placements:

  • developing a system for assessing and recovering the cost of the Faculty’s laboratory equipment,
  • supporting the UNITAID-funded HIV STAR Project with its finances, reporting and logistics,
  • supporting the Faculty Athena SWAN team,
  • and helping organise the Faculty summer party!

Best bits:

  • Diversity of experiences
  • Being given high level of responsibility for project delivery

What I learned:

  • Experience of working in a completely different academic discipline from my degree
  • Developing high level project management skills

What I gained:

  • Upon leaving the scheme, I knew I wanted to continue working in academia – as a project manager and financial manager for research grants. I found a job at LSHTM, and since then have had three different posts there. I now manage a $4 million USD research grant portfolio within the Department of Clinical Research, and also did a secondment as Project Manager of the same UNITAID project that I supported when part of Ambitious Futures!

It’s not an overstatement to say that Ambitious Future changed my life – when I graduated, I didn’t have much of an idea of what I wanted to do going forward. Two years later, I am helping health researchers deliver better lives to people in the UK and in Africa. I line-manage other staff, have traveled abroad for work and go into the office every day as part of a team of scientists that is trying to make the world better.

Ambitious Futures helped me find my happy, and I’m so glad that I took a chance and applied.

Name: Claire

Degree: History, with Management Studies, Cambridge

Ambitious Futures Cohort: 2017-2018

Current role: Accelerate EAST Project Manager, University of Cambridge

After graduating, I trained as a secondary school teacher and taught in London, and Cambridge. I moved into Higher Education by taking a role in Widening Participation. While in this role, I realised HE was the ideal sector for me - but I was unsure which 'bit' I wanted to work in, nor how to get the experiences necessary to build my career. This is what attracted me to Ambitious Futures: a highly-regarded scheme which would give me the chance to explore different roles and two different institutions.

Ambitious Futures placements:

  • Central administration: governance, emergency and risk management; review of Trust Fund expenditure
  • HR and Health and Safety, responsible for an institution-wide staff wellbeing and mental health project. Also responsible for a review of the policy and procedures on student work placements.
  • Development of a departmental workload model for academic staff

Best bits:

  • Learning to consult and negotiate with academics, administrators, management and students
  • Reporting to senior management on controversial matters
  • Variety of projects and experiences

What I learned:

  • Ability to get up to speed with a situation quickly and develop good relations with a variety of stakeholders
  • Learning to deliver high quality results to tight timescales

What I gained:

  • My experiences on the scheme were vital for me securing my current job, Project Manager for Accelerate EAST - a new strategic, partnership based in my first institution, with the aim of co-ordinating and enhancing skills and training pathways across the whole region.

Ambitious Futures has helped me grow professionally, gain vital skills and experience and, most of all, convinced me that HE is where I want to build my career.

Name: Rachel

Degree: B.A. Linguistics, Lancaster University

Ambitious Futures Cohort: 2016-17

Current role: Communications Coordinator, Lancaster University

I first came across Ambitious Futures as a third-year student with no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Instantly, the idea of completing different placements appealed to me, as I was excited about the opportunity to experience different working environments and explore a range of options for my future career. I was also a student ambassador, so I knew that the HE sector was full of interesting people and ways to make a real difference.

Ambitious Futures placement:

  • Student Based Services at Lancaster. My project was on enabling students to make a smooth transition to university, which involved conducting extensive research with students and staff and proposing a framework for a pre-arrival platform.

Best bits:

  • Producing an in-depth final report which had excellent feedback from senior colleagues; as a result of which funding has been secured to develop this project further.

What I learned:

  • The scheme has helped me gain the skills, insight and confidence to progress

What I gained:

  • Through the scheme I gained a range of transferrable skills that all helped me secure my current role as Communications Coordinator. I honestly don’t think I would ever have applied for the role, let alone secured it, without the Ambitious Futures scheme!
  • My favourite thing about this job is how varied it is – I work broadly across the team and get involved with all aspects of comms, from social media and internal channels to research comms and helping to set up media appearances for our academics. I manage content for a large digital screen on campus, which is our newest communications channel and I led on establishing procedure for how this should be used. I also really enjoy getting to meet fascinating researchers and helping them reach a wider audience with their work.
  • My aspirations are to stay in the sector – particularly within the area of engagement – and to continue to meet new challenges as I progress in my career.

Name: Fran

Degree: History & French, University of Nottingham

Ambitious Futures Cohort: 2016-17

Current role: MSc in Higher Education, University of Oxford

Before I graduated I had a frustrating search for months on end for a graduate scheme or opportunity that would lend me a helping hand into a career. I came across Ambitious Futures online and was encouraged to apply for it by friends who knew how much I enjoyed my job as a student ambassador and of my passion for promoting access to higher education.

I started the scheme that September and throughout the 15 months that followed my projects ranged from collecting research impact case studies from academics, reviewing a new degree programme for a senior leadership team and designing a new student focused mobile app. I ultimately didn't know what I wanted to do when I graduated, however I knew what I enjoyed and ambitious futures built on that, providing me with invaluable experience along the way.

I am currently at the University of Oxford completing an MSc in Higher Education. My graduate scheme enabled me to consider the way we run our institutions of higher learning in the UK. From this I hope to work in policy looking to use my research to advise who, what and how we teach individuals to be part of future society.

This huge vision all started with me finding Ambitious Futures online three years ago. If you want something down to earth but with opportunities that have no limit, what are you waiting for?

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