Within a year of leaving Lancaster University, David Cutts was heavily involved in project managing a £½billion project for Network Rail as part of the graduate training scheme he says changed his life.
The fact that he was successful in being accepted on the scheme at all, he believes, is largely down to the Lancaster learning environment, the cutting-edge teaching he received and the research in which he was involved, whilst still an undergraduate at university.
How many undergraduates can boast having written model software for British Aerospace, to guide unmanned aerial vehicles like drones through valleys, mountains, dodging enemy aircraft? This was part of David's dissertation – a real piece of work for industry.
In three years as a student, he transformed from an 18 year old who set off for university from his home in Chorley, Lancashire, convinced that his chosen place of study was a good four-hour drive away, rather than the 30-minute reality, into a young man capable of taking on a project to help redevelop Kings Cross station in London.
"Lancaster University is fantastically current," says David. "It really guides students into the reality of the world and the jobs market. Many of the lecturers are teaching subjects that are leading industry."
Today he is a project manager for the Wessex railway route based in Woking, with a range of successes under his belt including the refurbishment of railway bridges leading into the Olympic village at short notice in summer 2012.
He arrived at Lancaster intending to study computer science, but was not enjoying it, so switched to the more practical computer systems course, with its emphasis on business technology. He soon found being at the cutting edge of contactless card payments (credit cards and debit cards, key fobs, smartcards or other devices that use radio-frequency identification for making secure payments) and mobile phone technology exciting and stimulating.
Student life suited him well - in particular his involvement in the university's Army Officer Training Corps, which he joined immediately, and which he regards to have been one of the most important influences of his time in Lancaster. For the first year his every spare minute was spent on courses, gill scrambling, adventure training, rock climbing and parachuting.
He left after the second year because of the impact the OTC had on his academic results, but the people he met there became the core of his social life and he has retained almost all his links. "The OTC really helped me," he says. "It has made me good at assessing scenarios and working out what you have to do to complete a project successfully."
At the end of university he did not know what career he wanted, except that he wanted a "proper job" which made him happy. He began applying for graduate schemes, with the University careers office helping him redo his applications if they were substandard. After nearly 50 rejections, he was running out of options, when he was accepted by Network Rail on its one-year training scheme.
A changed person
This guaranteed him a job, if he passed the training. This started with a three-week course, introducing participants into the mysteries of coordination, motivation and communications in managing projects, at the end of which he says he was 'a changed person.' This was followed by two six-month placements, one of which was at Kings Cross.
Following his first job as a junior project manager on the Anglia route, he has swiftly been promoted to his current job.
David's enthusiasm for the role Lancaster University played in helping him into a job which excites him, has been translated into a desire to help current students. He has acted as a Lancaster University careers mentor and has attended careers fairs in an advisory role.