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17 Feb
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Life as a Student Planner

Often, when I speak with my peers about what ‘Planning’ is I am met with the notorious blank faces and questions of ‘what do you plan - parties?’ (I wish!). When explaining to people what I do, the most logical starting point seems then to be to define what is meant by ‘planning’. Planning, to me is an interdisciplinary process that seeks to deliver a coordinated response in the organisation, design, and decisions on matters of the built environment to ensure high-quality and sustainable living spaces.

Given the breadth of the discipline, it is unsurprising that upon commencement of planning-related courses, students can feel overwhelmed by the quantity and diversity of academia in the field. Furthermore, navigating the difference between the theoretical and practical disciplines is something I have worked hard to master. As a current MPlan student and Planning Intern at NJL, I am currently tackling the challenge of putting my theory into practice and hope to be able to impart some wisdom to other students in a similar position.

Whilst at school, my two main passions were Geography and design. Before University, I wasn’t aware of what planning was, or the wealth of opportunities that lie within the discipline. Fortunately, I stumbled across a University Prospectus which included a section on Town Planning. I was excited by the content of the course as it seemed to combine my two main interests and presented me with an opportunity to enact change in my local areas. The four-year integrated Town and Regional MPlan is designed for those who wish to pursue a professional career in planning either in the UK or abroad and is accredited by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). The course delivers an interdisciplinary research-led approach drawing upon the expertise of academics in planning as well as Geography, Sociology and Architecture to mirror the collaborative nature of the built environment sector whilst bringing the latest planning theory and practice into the classroom.

My decision to study planning, and pursue a career in the sector happened by chance. It was not an area widely advertised to sixth form students, which is something I am seeking to change as I move through my career. Planning affects everyone and as such, all people, regardless of background, should have the skills, ability and interest to be involved in the process.  Over the course of my studies, I have been fortunate to be involved in a number of not for profit organisations, who provide the vital exposure of planning and the wider built environment to the masses. Placed Education and Regeneration Brainery work avidly to ensure all young people benefit from introductions into the sector and gain vital work experience if warranted. Volunteering as a student ambassador for both organisations is mutually beneficial in terms of being rewarding and networking for any young planner and something that I would strongly advise to any current students wishing to enter the profession.  

Top Tips for Students

One of the first things to learn as student planner is that your network is your most valuable resource. The advantage of studying an RTPI accredited course is the free student RTPI membership which allows access to a wide-range of CPD and social events. Use this membership to your benefit, and proactively engage with planning in practice.  There is no greater example of this than the securement of my planning internship at NJL Consulting which was generated through connections I made from siting on the RTPI North West Young Planners Committee as the ‘student lead’.

NJL Consulting is committed to supporting students gain a wealth of experience across a diversity of sectors involving residential, commercial, retail, and leisure development so that upon graduation, students are competent for employment. Whilst my degree has taught me so much about the theory of planning, the jump to working has been significant and one that takes commitment from both an employee and an employer. In order to assist the transition for other students, I have outlined my top 10 tips for embarking on a work placement or internship:

  1. Become familiar with the different types and requirements of planning applications by reading planning policy guidance notes and the planning portal.
  2. Explore local planning authority websites and recent applications that your place of work commonly advises on cases for.
  3. Understand the requisite sections of planning documents (i.e. planning appraisals, pre-application advice requests and planning statements).
  4. Maximise the potential of LinkedIn to document skills and knowledge gained from the placement.
  5. Keep up to date with policy changes and understand the implications (if any) for planning applications.
  6. Read cover letters attached to different types of planning applications to appreciate the necessary information and structure.
  7. Ask questions: ask your superiors about their experience and aspirations; ask if you can sit in on meetings; ask if you need further explanation; and ask if you need help! You can never ask a ‘stupid question’ and if you don’t ask you don’t get!
  8. Understand the nature of the environment you work best in, whether that be a co-working space, individual office units, fixed or flexible working-hours.
  9. Acknowledge that the work you prepare is not isolated nor final, it is part of team process to safeguard professional standards; do not become deflated when written work is returned with more tracked changes than text!
  10.  Enjoy it!

In the end, life as student planner can be depicted as learning curve, which does not end when you graduate or are promoted. However, the incline of the curve is dependent on what you make of the opportunities before you, and the resultant opportunities you create for yourself. So, it is perfectly natural to be nervous, but be brave, determined and excited about academically succeeding, while progressing your career.

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