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An unconventional career path: how environmental design led me to consultancy

We spoke to MSc graduate, Siyang Zhou about how her experience at Bath has helped pave the way to her role at leading consultancy firm, Boston Consulting Group.

In 2016, Siyang graduated from our MSc Architectural Engineering: Environmental Design. From there, she became an Acoustic Engineer before moving to China to become a Senior Director for the commercial team at the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI). Now she works in one of the Chinese branches for the leading global consultancy firm, Boston Consulting Group (BCG). We caught up with Siyang to hear about her career journey to date and how her experience at Bath has helped shape her success so far.

Making an impact through consultancy

BCG is one of the top tier consulting firms in the world with over 20,000 employees. We help corporate companies with strategic planning and solving problems. I've worked in building industries for five years now so in my role I provide planning and solutions for companies in the building and construction field. My team works with the government, organisations and private developers in a range of areas. For example, we cover growth and diversification, globalisation, governance and organisation, and urban and economic development. One of the best things is that I can see the value and impact of what we do: how we can help a company develop and grow. That is a big achievement!

This role has given me the chance to learn different perspectives. Firstly, from my clients: working with leaders in large corporations shows me how they perceive a problem and ways to solve them. Secondly, from my peers and colleagues in BCG: they have excellent problem-solving skills I continually learn from. Thirdly, I have learnt from the deliverables of my company. We work on a global scale so there is a wealth, a library even, of the cases we have worked on and the successes of our employees.

It's a challenging role but it fits me very well at this stage of my career. It's providing me with the chance to learn and improve myself and know that what I do has value.

A diverse and cultural learning experience

I don't think my career development is typical for people working in sustainable engineering but I wouldn't be working as a consultant today without my engineering master's. There are three things that have helped me in my journey that I have either gained from my study experience at Bath or that have lead on as a result of that.

The first of these was the cultural diversity of our class. We had students that came from the UK, Azerbaijan, Italy, Greek, Colombia, China, Thailand, India and Israel. Some were new graduates whereas others had come from full-time employment. I didn't realise at the time but this first-hand multicultural experience would be very useful for my career. It has developed my understanding of other cultures and how to listen and show respect to people with different views and backgrounds. This was so important after I graduated and started work. I realised that I was already equipped to listen openly to clients from all over the world to understand what they needed. Compared to many of my peers who were still learning this skill, it was a great advantage.

I am also still in touch and friends with many of my classmates from the Environmental Design course. I still have this photo of us that I treasure fondly - eight students from eight different countries coming together on this one course.

Developing professional knowledge in decarbonisation

My knowledge of sustainable building and decarbonisation is the second important factor in my career so far. My degree covered the topics that are so relevant for the development of the construction industry. I learnt all about green buildings and certification including acoustics, lighting, thermal comfort and building systems.

Thirdly, my experience of working in the UK gave me the foundation to return to China and ultimately get to where I am today. After I graduated, I went to work at MACH Acoustics in Bristol as an Acoustic Engineer. The role was with the company my acoustics lecturer at Bath, Professor Nunes set up. This was my first experience of what a 'real' work life involves. Acoustic engineering is different to consultancy; it's very technical and focused. You need to do a lot of simulation, calculation and measurements. But it built on what I had learnt at Bath about acoustics, building certification and decarbonisation. It also gave me a platform to build a global acoustic network, which helped me with my next career move.

New horizons in China

From Bristol, I went to China to work at the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) in Shanghai. It was then that I saw the value of my degree again. For all the universities in China, there were not many who had master's courses like Environmental Design. Yet, the international companies were looking for people with that understanding in sustainable buildings and who knew about green buildings and green building certification. These were skills I knew I could offer. In my time at IWBI, I was able to help many projects achieve sustainable certification. I worked closely with the Global sound concept lead to develop WELL building standards in sound concept. This role was the stepping stone to my current role as Consultant at Boston Consultancy Group.

Find what matters to you and follow it!

I was studying Architectural Engineering: Environmental Design but I never imagined I would work in consultancy at the time. Yet, I think engineering is such a useful degree because it has allowed me to move into this field. I was able to learn and practise skills in critical and logical thinking and they are a good fit for many jobs like consultancy, or industry or finance.

I really want to tell people who are still studying or those applying to study think, in the long term, about what kind of person you want to be and what will fulfil you. I asked myself that all the time at Bath and the answer changed all the time too! But that's okay as long as you have a plan you can find your way forward and the direction you want to go.

MSc Architectural Engineering: Environmental Design

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