Ellie Morris is an Assistant Project Manager for Lendlease based in London.
I completed a BSc in Physical Geography at the University of Exeter and I have to be honest, I absolutely loved the content of my degree, each module was so varied and different. After this I spent two years working in an informal geographical research role as part of a team conducting extended research expeditions gathering and analysing data on the North Atlantic. These expeditions took place on board small research vessels and were collaborative trips where scientists from various institutions internationally gathered data from water samples collected from a large number of sampling points.
I really enjoyed the practical, hands on work that was required on research expeditions and liked to be involved in the organisation/management, but the theoretical side of the research eventually got too much for me. So I decided to look for careers in project management and I started my career at Lendlease around two years ago when I joined via a graduate scheme.
One particular thing that I felt really helped me stand out in my graduate scheme interviews was my practical experience on board research boats. Interviewers seemed to love hearing about the challenges that we faced on these expeditions - I really sold the fact that if you can solve a problem in the middle of the ocean, you are probably going to be adept at solving problems in a busy and demanding workplace. Whilst I did my degree I undertook a number of paid internships for the geography department, and it was having these additional lab/practical skills that allowed me to be involved in the ocean research.
My current role is project management and I tend to work within the construction industry. So far I have worked on a number of projects including a new building which will be the headquarters of Google, a dual carriageway tunnel that is being built under the Thames, a new sustainability initiative that is being implemented at a large commercial development near the Olympic park in Stratford, and the installation of digital advertising screens across London’s underground stations.
What I love about my role is that it is really diverse - every day is very different. I usually spend four to six months on a project and work directly with a client team. A large portion of my time is spent managing and interacting with other people, ensuring that they get documents and works complete by a particular deadline or to an agreed standard.
Day-to-day there is often a lot of problem solving and one of the key things is to know when you have the knowledge to come up with a solution, and also knowing when you should defer to the wisdom of your subcontractors, suppliers or other stakeholders who may have more knowledge than you. I also undertake site inspections and visits as part of my role, to ensure that all the works we have planned are being done in a safe manner. The main thing is to monitor progress on my project and make sure that any risks and issues are being managed effectively.
Good communication skills are a must, as so much of my time is spent managing different people and stakeholders. The ability to convey information and feedback in an effective and productive way should never be underestimated. I think organisation is also really important, and being able to think on your feet and come up with solutions to problems as quickly and effectively as possible.
It’s also important to be able to see the bigger picture and take into account a series of different factors that may affect your project, rather than just focusing on the smaller details. The other thing I apply often, which is fairly unique to geography, is a willingness to get involved and get your hands dirty to understand an issue – in some ways this parallels a lot with fieldwork and research projects that I had to undertake when I was studying.
Geography doesn’t feature directly in my role but it helps a lot with my understanding and the context of my working environment. For example, I understand the reasons for sustainability initiatives and have often used that to think of effective ways to reduce carbon output to develop or evaluate site sustainability/waste plans. The skills that I had to learn and apply throughout my degree such as writing reports, evaluating/analysing data and organising fieldwork are used on a daily basis.
I think the main thing I enjoy is that I get to work with lots of different people and this really broadens my perspective, both at work and in life in general. I also love that it is always changing - the environment can be challenging and no two days are the same.
I would say one of the main things I’ve learnt is that you don’t need to have specific knowledge on a topic to be able to understand it and manage it. Understanding where a team’s strengths and weakness lie and knowing how to get the information you need are key parts of any role. Additionally, I would say don’t be put off by the ‘stereotypical’ or perceived view of a working environment. Both in my current role in construction and in my previous role in ocean research people consider the environment to be difficult and unpleasant - I have found the absolute opposite to be true. You really never know until you try!
I chose geography because I enjoyed it...and I really mean that. During Sixth Form I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to be, no thoughts on a career path and eventually I just decided to study the topic I found most interesting. I think by studying geography it allows you to build up an arsenal of practical skills which can be applied in many different contexts, which is one of the reasons why people who study geography go on to have such diverse careers!
* This interview was undertaken in 2019 and was correct at the time of publication. Please note that the featured individual may no longer be in role, but the profile has been kept for career pathway and informational purposes.
Job title: Assistant Project Manager
Location: Headquartered in Australia with Global Operations – I am based in and around London depending on my project
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