22 January 2019

A previous mentor once said to me, 'you're not learning if you're comfortable' – when I reflect on the last six months with England's Economic Heartland (EEH), this theory feels particularly apt.

Balancing my professional career with academic studies has taken me way beyond my normal level of comfort – but I wouldn't want it any other way.

In September, I enrolled on a part time Transport Planning and Management MSc at the University of Westminster. The two year course had been a long held ambition, but the investment in my development from EEH enabled it to happen.

The reason for my application was simple. My academic background outside of transport planning has meant the knowledge I have acquired over the years was learnt through practical application – but I want to round this off with academic theory.

On a more strategic note, transport challenges aren't going anywhere; in fact it's the opposite. The surge in demand, impact on our network and volume of people making trips may soon reach a breaking point - the impact of transport on health and air quality is quite literally life and death.

The further skills which my fellow students and I learn from this course will be crucial if a new generation of transport planners are to rise to these challenges.

It's fair to say that balancing my academic commitments with my role at EEH has required military style discipline at times and certainly isn't for the feint hearted.  As the dust settles on Semester 1 and I received my final result last week, it's so far so good – four distinctions from four. Trust me when I say that even at the age of 30, the anxiety of sitting an exam doesn't leave you.

But more importantly than the relief of not having to stay after class, is the way I can apply academic teaching to my ongoing work developing key strands of EEH's Transport Strategy. It is equipping me with the technical skills to perform at an advanced level, providing a richer understanding of best practice principles across the Heartland.  

University has provided a conduit between my studies and role as Project Lead. For example, tutors have opened doors to logistics suppliers as part of my freight and logistics work, peers act as an unofficial steering group when I encounter challenges and guest lecturers have become trusted colleagues.

So yes, the pace of development and learning during the last six months has been far from 'comfortable' but the satisfaction I get in being able to develop original work, grow in confidence and support the EEH Business Unit has been without doubt, the most rewarding six months of my career to date. 

Antony Swift is a Project Lead at England's Economic Heartland