"I’ve sat a lot of exams in my life – school exams, GCSEs, AO levels, A-levels, degree exams and professional exams. I remember thinking at the end of the last exam for my Masters that it was odd that this would be my last exam ever – how utterly wrong I was!
As soon as I got settled into my first proper job (a signalling engineer at London Underground) I was told about the professional exams that the Institution of Railway Signalling Engineers (www.irse.org) organised, and decided that I ought to have a crack at these to help me in my new career; they’re a bit like the exams that doctors, lawyers and accountants take before they become fully professionally qualified.
I joined London Underground’s internal study group to help prepare for the exams; there was plenty to learn despite me having recently completed an engineering degree, and I found that I liked the content a bit more than university work as it was practical and directly relevant to my day job. However, I was also studying alongside people from a very different background to myself – people who had left school at 16 and completed an apprenticeship and then learned on the job. I quickly learned that this was a great environment in which to study – I might be able to churn through the theory, but my colleagues taught me the importance of practical considerations so we would learn from each other! Very quickly we forgot our differences and just became people bringing our own viewpoints to the questions that we were trying to solve in our group.
I also support a study group for candidates from a variety of organisations to prepare for the exams, and I sit on the IRSE’s Education and Professional Development Committee that sets the exam syllabus. We’re trying to ensure that there are entry routes to our profession for people from a wide variety of educational backgrounds, and have just launched a foundation level qualification to help people work towards the full professional qualification