The Business School Celebrates International Women
Michaela McCombie is a student who overcame a debilitating illness that saw her leave school with no qualifications to secure a place at the University of Aberdeen.
During her time studying at the University’s Business School she has helped organise student and employee networking events and has secured a valuable internship with Aberdeen-based chartered accountants Anderson Anderson & Brown LLP (AAB), also acting as a campus brand ambassador for the firm this year. Reflecting on the challenges she faced as a teenager, Michaela said: “I always expected to go to university but when I was 14 I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, at the very point that I was doing my standard grades.
“I had school work sent to me in hospital and at home, but after a while I was too ill to carry on even attempting to keep up, so I left with nothing.
“When I recovered I decided that I had to get myself back on track. I knew that I wanted to come to the University of Aberdeen so I ended up doing a year-long Access to Degree Studies course here. It was honestly the best thing I’ve ever done.”
Having secured a place at university, Michaela was determined to make the most of the opportunities that came her way, and in her first year she secured a part-time banking role which gave her valuable early experience of working in a corporate environment.
At university, her natural enthusiasm saw her selected to work as part of a group of student volunteers to deliver the First Year Revisions Skills Event, a major event that delivers crucial skills development to first year students and put them in touch with their older counterparts, and perhaps more importantly, potential employers.
“The event is important because it reminds students that although they are at university to get a degree, they have to get a job at the end of it,” Michaela said. “We introduced the speed networking element to the event and this has proved really successful. We’ve now got second year students applying for, and securing, internships which is a fantastic way to get your foot in the door during a four-year degree programme.”
It was at a networking event hosted by the Business School that Michaela met a representative from Anderson Anderson and Brown LLP, an encounter that eventually led to her securing a valuable summer work placement.
“When I arrived there on my first day I was amazed to be told that I was going out to work with a client the following day,” Michaela said. “A lot of people are told by peers that their work placement will consist of making cups of tea and doing photocopying the whole summer, but in my case it was just the opposite, which was brilliant.
“While I was working there I was in contact with big clients and there was a lot of variety in terms of the types of businesses I was dealing with. From that perspective it was a really valuable experience that helped me to develop my professional skills.”
Now preparing to enter her final year, Michaela reflects positively on her university experience so far.
“I’ve always looked at Aberdeen as a great University and I always wanted to come here,” she said.
“There are so many positive things that you gain from the experience, especially through involvement with groups like the business society and events like the business ball.
“There are events held here all the time that can really help you develop your skills, and plenty of opportunities to meet people with similar interests. You can also meet employers in a more relaxed environment than you would necessarily experience elsewhere, so that’s another really important aspect that makes the experience here so valuable.”
Dan Hai is a final year MA (Hons) Accounting and Finance student at the University of Aberdeen Business School.
Originally from the city of Zhengzhou in China, Dan moved to the UK five years ago to pursue her dream of a career in business, and since her arrival in Aberdeen in 2012 she has embraced life in the city and at the University, where she has excelled in her studies.
Explaining her reasons for choosing Aberdeen, Dan said: “I came to the University of Aberdeen through the Sir Thomas Sutherland scholarship, but I wanted to make sure I liked it here before I made my final decision.
“I visited all of the universities that I applied to in the UK and Aberdeen stood out above all the rest. I was impressed by the library and the sports facilities, but what impressed me most was the friendliness of the people here.
“I arrived here without an appointment but I was given a great introduction by the people here, who gave me a guided tour of the campus and told me all about the University’s history.”
Dan studied finance initially before adding accounting to her degree in her second year, a decision she took in order to improve her employment prospects.
“I’m very glad of my choice,” she said. “I realised it would be more beneficial to me if I added accounting to my degree, and I was fortunate that the University offers the flexibility to do that as not every university offers this as an option.
“The courses that I have enjoyed most are auditing and corporate finance. In auditing we have workshops and lectures from the big four global employers, KPMG, Delloite, EY and PWC.
“This really helped me to understand the basic concept of auditing, while in corporate finance I learned all about investment banking, mergers and acquisitions and restructuring.
“As part of my studies I led a team on a two-month project that focused on personal finance and at the end we had to deliver a presentation, which really helped me develop my team working, presentation and communications skills. I now use this as an example of my skills when I speak to potential employers.”
Embracing University life from the outset, Dan quickly volunteered to teach local schoolchildren through the Confucius Institute of the University of Aberdeen, an experience that helped her learn more about the local culture and language.
“I was teaching the pupils Chinese language and culture,” she explains. “It was hard at first but after two or three weeks I got comfortable in speaking to the pupils and was able to find common ground with them through art.
“In one class I taught the Chinese zodiac and showed the pupils how to draw the characters and the cartoons. The class really loved it and I was even complimented by the head teacher who said it was an excellent example of teaching. I was very proud when she told me that!”
Now in her final year, Dan looks back on her experiences of the University of Aberdeen as being crucial in preparing her for a professional career in business.
“I have come very far since I arrived in Aberdeen, particularly in terms of my language skills,” she said.
“When I first arrived I got involved in so many societies at the University so that I could talk to people and improve my spoken English.
“This gave me a lot of confidence, so in my second year I became a student ambassador. I was very busy, but I had a lot of fun leading campus tours and getting involved in other activities.
“Overall my experience of Aberdeen University has been very positive. It is an amazing place and I have achieved everything I set out to do here. It is a very international university and there are a lot of Chinese students here now, which I’m glad to see.”
Sarah Smith graduated from the University of Aberdeen in 1999, with an MA in Management Studies. She now works as a Talent Manager for Aberdeen Asset Management and maintains close links with the University through her role as a visiting lecturer on the Business School’s Management Consultancy MSc and MBA programmes.
“When I came to the University I initially studied Countryside and Environmental Management, however I soon discovered that I enjoyed the management element the most, and that is why I transferred to Management Studies.
“During the course I found that presenting and public speaking felt more natural to me, and I was fortunate that my degree allowed me to nurture that. The practical element of my course proved vital for me as we didn’t have a placement year, and I worked in an office over the holidays to gain work experience and apply the practical skills I had learned during term time.”
Since graduating Sarah has spent the majority of her career with Aberdeen Asset Management, working in many areas of the business, from Operations to Human Resources. Through her job she has also kept in close contact with the University.
“Working at Aberdeen Asset Management has also allowed me to give a lot back to the University. Before becoming a Talent Manager I held a position as a Graduate Recruitment and Programme Manager, and through this I was able to connect with students directly which was very rewarding.
“Since 2012 I have been a visiting lecturer on the Management Consultancy MSc and MBA programmes, and this has allowed me to pass on what I have learned to students working towards a career in business.
“Through our links with the University I have also been able to organise work placements for several students, and I was also lucky enough to be asked to contribute to the course textbook, which was something I really enjoyed! “
As part of her role Sarah has qualified as a Professional Certified Coach (ACC), and she uses these skills to offer mentoring at The Aspire Foundation, which is running a campaign - ‘Making a Difference to 1 Billion women by 2020’ - that aims to inspire and empower women working in charities and social enterprises around the world.
She also holds a volunteer Directorship at Aberdeen Cyrenians, a charity that offers a variety of services to ease homelessness in Aberdeen.
“Looking back at the feedback I received from my lecturers and tutors at University, it’s no surprise that I enjoy working with people and I am lucky to have a job that allows me to do that, and to give something back to the community and the students I work with,” she said.
“The main piece of advice I would give to current students is to build up as much relevant work and personal experience as possible before you graduate. I can’t stress enough the importance of using your time wisely. It’s a competitive jobs market out there, and today’s graduates have to stand out from the crowd. So the sooner you start building up your CV the better it will be for your career prospects.”