Soumya Singh

  College: College of St Hild & St Bede
  Subject: Computer Sciences
  Class of: 2019

Your Durham Inspiration

Do you remember why you first chose to study at Durham?

Being an international student, I was honestly not very aware of what made Durham different from other universities. The biggest factor that shaped my decision was that Durham was one of the top 5 universities in the UK, top 100 in the world and also the best for my subject out of all the five universities I applied to.

It was only when I had spent a couple of years here that I realised how the collegiate system made it stand out – you have another community of your own in addition to all your classmates with a more accessible support system for each student and being a small, mostly student-populated city just makes life so much easier and saves time.

Tell us about any sports, societies or clubs you were involved in at Durham.

Extracurriculars were like an indispensable part of my time at Durham – I tried out loads of things each year from debating to learning Mandarin, plenty of volunteering, attending Business Psychology lectures etc but the ones that I stayed committed to pretty much from start to finish were playing for the Hild Bede Badminton team, serving as a Computing Society exec where I also helped organise Durham’s annual 24-hour hackathon called DurHack, hosting about a 100 people from all over Europe and writing – be it for Palatinate, the Bubble or the student blogs – in fact I still contribute to the student blogs at times!

I also did two part-time jobs – one as a demonstrator (or teaching assistant) for Year 1 Programming Practicals – helping students learn to code in Java and another one with the Marketing & Communications Office.

What work or moment were you were most proud of at Durham?

Definitely my graduation – it’s like the culmination of everything you have done at Durham and something we all subconsciously anticipate right from the moment we step in to Durham but only hits you on the day. In addition, having your family, friends and teachers celebrate the end of your journey in such a festive manner makes it even more special. I also got a lovely surprise on the day in the form of a special award called Dr Sue Black Award for Technology Evangelism for my endeavours towards spreading technology and digital skills in the community outside Durham throughout my time there.

I also felt quite proud upon being felicitated with the Durham Award towards the end of my penultimate year.

What are your fondest memories from your time here?

I’d say the meal times with my college friends! We do not realise when the college community becomes a family and amidst working almost all day long, going back to your very international group of college friends for dinner was the time you put work aside and built real friendships, which was not only the time for light banter but also learning things about the world as we all came from very different backgrounds.

How has Durham inspired you to get to where you are today?

I just love the fact that the people, despite being so brilliant and busy in their fields, have always had the time to guide and inspire students - some of them include prominent alumni who have done some revolutionary stuff in the field of technology - teaching me the importance of mentorship and humility. Perhaps this is the reason why I am dedicated towards all these knowledge sharing and mentorship initiatives.

What have you been up to since you left Durham?

I started working as a software engineer at Deutsche Bank in their London office, following a successful summer internship, also as a software developer the year before.

What are you doing that is most meaningful to you now?

I have also been involved in a number of volunteering initiatives, especially focused on mentoring school students with employability skills, literacy skills and giving an insight into technology careers, especially in the finance industry. I also got trained as a Mental Health First Aider, thanks to Deutsche Bank, so that I can serve as the first point of contact for anyone who may be struggling and needs help, or just someone to listen to.

Is there anything from Durham that has stayed with you and still inspires you now?

The thing that impacted me the most about Durham is the diversity of the student body. Having spent four years with people from completely different age groups, cultural, religious and socio-economic and academic backgrounds has inculcated a massive respect for diversity in me and has helped me understand its merits and necessity in all aspects of our lives, particularly our professional environments. It has made me so much more tolerant and has taught me to consider things from different points of view.

Tell us about your latest news or developments.

I recently visited Durham as a panelist in an event hosted by Durham University Women in Business and Talk About UK where we discussed how technology is transforming different industries like finance, law, life sciences, geophysics etc.

The week before, I also had the honour to share the stage, again as a panelist, with the Chief Operating Officer of Deutsche Bank, one of our Managing Directors and a Vice President to open up about mental health, the stigma associated with it, how it does not discriminate by age and how the young generation can be instrumental in spearheading the change towards a more hospitable social and professional environment.

I also collaborated with Vicharvedh, a non-profit in India, that encourages discourse to spread knowledge about new topics, to talk about my dissertation on how machine learning can be used to combat cyberbullying. I may collaborate with some non-profit in London to spread this knowledge to schools in the UK in near future. You can watch the video here.

Personal interests

I am very fond of languages and am learning Mandarin – something which I picked up in my first year at Durham but could not continue due to a hectic schedule. This interest also feeds into my flair for writing and thus, I write blogs now and then. I am also a member of Toastmasters International, a public speaking club, at Deutsche Bank.

I have also been involved as a volunteer with Duolingo, the world’s most popular language learning app, where I worked on creating their Hindi course a couple of years ago and still contribute to it whenever I find time.

Now that having a job has left more time and money at my disposal, I spend more time exploring London and other beautiful spots in the UK every week!

Pass It On

What would be your top piece of advice for current students and/or recent graduates?

It is easy to feel lost in the sea of opportunities and get caught up in the lookout for “the best company out there” - you may feel like only a particular company or a particular kind of role should be the key to a successful career. As much as a particular firm might be coveted, it is important to realise that everyone’s experience will be different - there is no one set path. A big project that teaches you several new skills might be worth more than something not-so-exciting at a coveted corporate giant. Therefore, try to figure out what is right for you instead of relying on popular opinion alone.

Also, always remember that rest and relaxation is a necessity, not a luxury. Work hard, play hard but do not neglect your physical and mental health at any cost and seek help immediately if you need to. We may often make the mistake of glorifying hustle (I am guilty of it) but no one should make you feel incompetent or ashamed for finding it hard and seeking help.

Is there anything that you know now that you wish you’d known when graduating? 

We often assume that any problem we are facing is exclusively our own and tend it keep it to ourselves, silently struggling with it alone. However, often the chances are that it is common to a lot of us and coming together can make all the difference. Therefore, be a little shameless (not in a jerk way) and voice what you want. Chances are way more people are interested and willing to make it happen than you realise. It does not have to be a pressing issue, could simply just be something of interest you want to explore. If there is absolutely anything you're interested in at all - be it a club or a society or a peer group or whatever - but it does not exist, you can, and should, just start your own thing. At the worst, the response might not be great, you have nothing to lose.

It was only when some other student started things like the Business Psychology lecture series or a peer support group for women in tech, so many of us realised it was something that we needed all the while but for some reason, never occurred to us. Therefore, towards the end of my degree, I just randomly decided organised this event focused on tech careers different from the conventional ones like UX Design, Technology Journalism, Scientific Publishing, Digital Humanities, Scientific Computing etc. and was blown away by the interest shown by students from various disciplines, professionals from all these fields and the CS department in helping me organise this without having to spend a single penny.


Related links

My first big publication was my article about my experience at Durham, titled Computers and Harry Potter, published in The Hindu – India’s leading English-language daily newspaper – in 2016.

I also co-authored a blog about our struggles with and triumph over burnout with a friend from university which was recently published in Thrive Global, an initiative by Arianna Huffington, the founder of The Huffington Post, focused on mental health and well-being.

Another favourite and much-appreciated blog of mine, called Moving Abroad for Higher Education was published in an online magazine called Scientists are Humans and highlights my key takeaways from my experience as an international student.

I regularly contributed to the Durham University Student Blogs during my time as a student. You can find all my posts here. I was also published in Palatinate and the Bubble quite a few times!

You can connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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