Hannah Swift (BSc Geology with Science Communication 2006) was recently appointed Virgin Atlantic's Country Manager for the Caribbean. She tells us about her time at Royal Holloway and the career journey that led to her current role.
Why did you choose to study at Royal Holloway?
At the time of choosing a university, I was determined to be a volcanologist – I wanted to save lives like my heroes of the time (Maurice and Katia Krafft) and make films about volcanoes to be shown in developing countries to educate people. When looking around for courses, Royal Holloway was the only university in the country offering me the option to do both media and geology – so I of course immediately applied. I was accepted to other universities to study straight geology or earth sciences, but Royal Holloway had my heart!
What did you enjoy most about your course?
My science communication lecturer, Alun Lewis, he was just brilliant. I think the whole staff at Royal Holloway in the Earth Sciences department are phenomenal, and all made sure to make each and every student feel welcome and part of the family. Apart from that, of course the Stumble was home to many a great night out! I was lucky enough to be involved in a few societies too – like the Rock Gospel Choir, Talk Science and as a referee for the 6th team!
Please tell us about some of your favourite memories of your time at Royal Holloway.
Gosh, so many amazing memories. Picnics in the woods, long lazy days on the field watching cricket. The hilarious field trips. I had some of the best days of my life at Royal Holloway and made some lifelong friends. Friends who have gone on to do amazing things!
How did Royal Holloway help you to discover opportunities and prepare you for life after university / to find your purpose in life?
When I first arrived on campus, I had only just turned 18, I’d never lived away from home and was 4 hours away from my family. Being at Royal Holloway gave me my independence, but with a safety net of friends and lecturers to help me along the way. I had to quickly learn how to navigate life as an adult, whilst studying and making new friends. I have to say, freshers fair was a great time for me each year, seeing so many sports and societies and the passion people had for their hobbies and interests. The lecturers and research staff speaking about their careers and the opportunities they had taken part in was also really inspirational.
Please tell us about your career journey since leaving university and what you do now.
I’m nearly ashamed to say that I didn’t follow all the advice given at university. I left it until the last minute to start applying for jobs, and as such ended up as an asbestos analyst. That didn’t last long, and living in the Twickenham area, I needed to pretty quickly find another job and fast! So I ended up doing advertising sales for a mobile phone magazine. From there, I made some contacts and got a job as a marketing exec for Mobiles.co.uk, which was part of the Carphone Warehouse. After that, I specialised in affiliate marketing, working for an agency in Plymouth for 3 years. Eventually I decided I could go it alone, and built my own agency back in my home town. In between all of that I was lucky enough to win a spot on a trip to Barbados. I fell head of heels in love with the island and the people, and made it my mission to come back one day. So fast forward a few years, I closed the business and hopped on a plane and came to live in Barbados for 6 months. It’s almost 7 years later and I still love it! Since being here I’ve taught scuba diving, worked in radio and spent over 5 years as the Digital Director for a leading advertising agency. On Valentine’s Day of 2020 I started at Virgin Atlantic as the Caribbean Marketing Manager, 2 weeks later the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Not the best time to join an airline you may think, but actually I rose to the challenge, pitched in and did what I could. I recently started a new role in the company as the Country Manager for the Caribbean and am ready for all the challenges 2021 will bring!
What do you enjoy most about your line of work?
In both my career in digital marketing and my current career I have been laser focused on driving results. I really enjoy seeing the results come in after the hard work happens. I also love the fact that I am getting to use my Science Communication skills when talking to the media or trying to understand the inner workings of an aircraft. Even though I’m not in Geology, I have been a communicator for my entire career. I just geek out on volcanoes every so often!
What is your greatest professional achievement to date and what are your aspirations for the future?
I’ve won several prestigious awards in my career which I have been super proud of, but I have to say, surviving 2020 has been pretty impressive, especially for a new person in the airline industry! I hope the future is a little more positive than this year, and I can get to do more good work and deliver strong results in my new role, then who knows, onwards and upwards for sure!
What advice would you give to students thinking about a career in your industry?
The world needs more scientists, but it also needs people who can explain science to the masses. 2020 is testament to that. I would say experiment with your communications, test a bit of science to your Gran or your Nephew and see if they look confused. Other than that, listen to your tutors and lecturers, they have done this before! Apply early for the job you really want and ask for help.
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