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James Read

BSc Physics with Oceanography, 1992

James graduated in 1992
James Read

What was your first job after graduating?

Scientist, HR Wallingford – a research consultancy role in marine science.

What were your major responsibilities/duties in this role and what skills did you develop?

Scientific research regarding coastal and estuarine environments and processes in support of engineering or environmental projects (civil engineering etc); I developed technical skills in a specialist field, knowledge and experience of working in a large business / organisation, and communications skills.

What is your current job?

Public Affairs Director, Gilead Sciences.

What were your major responsibilities/duties in this role and what skills did you develop?

In my current role I support and lead internal and external communications for a multi-national science-based business.

What has been your favourite job since you have graduated? Why was it your favourite? What skills did you learn?

I was fortunate to work in communications (Public Relations) in the U.S. for three years with AstraZeneca and that was a very enriching and exciting job – learning about a new culture and business environment and gaining skills and experience in completely new business and organisational situations.

What have been the turning points in your career?

In my 20s I left a stable job in a large company to work in a small start-up business in a role I was unfamiliar with; it exposed me to situations, people/leaders and tasks that I would never have experienced otherwise and accelerated my career and personal development greatly.

Do you have any regrets about decisions you have made about your career?

I sometimes wish I had additionally worked in the public sector, perhaps in a government role. Although good business practice and sound finances are essential in any walk of life, in the private sector the realities of short-term sales, profit, costs etc, can limit the opportunity to pursue wider or longer-term goals and ideals.

What are you most proud of?

I am proud to be leading a communications function for a business that makes a real different in peoples’ lives, through live-saving medicines – that brings a sense of responsibility and achievement. But I am not sure I have achieved enough yet to answer this question well.

What advice would you give to new Southampton graduates?

Remember that most employers can only really offer you a job, in the short term; your career is something you will probably need to manage yourself, by making the most of every opportunity you get. Learn how to describe and discuss what you have done and achieved in a way that links you to the next step in your career. Take career advice as much as possible from those outside your current role or employer – create a diverse network of contacts through a range of activities combining voluntary and paid, public and business roles. Finally, have fun – enjoying what you do is often the quickest way to become successful at it.

Why did you decide to do your course?

I was fascinated by the subject and I thought I wanted to make it my life.

How did your education at Southampton prepare you for your chosen career?

It combined a need for self-discipline and self-sufficiency with some inspiring teaching and academic support. The subjects I studied impose a structured, logical approach that is applicable more widely to almost any task or problem in business or in communications. Southampton provided a setting in which I could safely learn my basic life skills (social, personal, cultural… striking out on my own for the first time) while having the support of a student body and university infrastructure that upheld personal wellbeing and conveyed a feeling of security and common purpose.

Why would you recommend studying at Southampton?

All the above.

If you could start your time at University again, what would you do differently?

If I am being honest, I would work harder and structure my time more methodically, to make the most of the social life I enjoyed whilst studying, while mixing it with a little more involvement in clubs and societies and a more intensive focus on my academic studies.

What advice would you give to prospective students looking at the University of Southampton?

You could not choose a better university; it is a place where the only limit to your success will be yourself.

What are your future career plans?

I aim to continue to build my experience of diverse working situations in terms of the kind of business I am working in, the kind of people around me, and the kinds of tasks and challenges that I am engaged with. Within this, I hope to achieve ongoing learning and insight regarding the nature of effective leadership and how to manage teams effectively so that they are productive as part of an organisation or business, rewarding as a place to work for employees, and beneficial in terms of the wider public good.

Are you still in touch with fellow alumni?

Yes, to a moderate extent.

Have you been back to campus since you graduated?

Yes, but only very occasionally (every 5-10 years).

How else are you involved with the University and your alumni community?

Charitable support, discussions with the alumni relations group – I would love to stay more involved.

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