Ph.D. student Yana Akhtyrska took up one of our Cambridge Grand Challenge fellowships, working with BP to drive forward elements for the delivery of a 12-month multi-modal mobility hub demonstrator in London.

The objective of the project was to come up with viable mobility solutions that would encourage London’s residents to switch to less energy intensive transport modes. The project aimed to remove current barriers preventing people from using environmentally friendly modes of transport such as cycling and car-sharing. The idea was to create a network of mobility hubs where transport inter-change is seamless and provides a better alternative to driving ICE vehicles.

The aim of the project was to find out the extent to which a mobility hub would be a viable financial opportunity, and how it would fit within BP Advanced Mobility’s current sustainability agenda. This was achieved by establishing a set of key performance indicators against which progress would be measured. It also aimed to engage with a range of stakeholders and find out who would be willing to collaborate and be one of the service providers at the mobility hub.

Yana writes:

“It has broadened my industry knowledge and made me engage with a sector that I am not directly exposed to through my PhD research. This was achieved by continuous interaction with my supervisor and other BP Advanced Mobilitty members, which has made my time there productive and engaging.

The theme of the project is closely intertwined with my own PhD research, which aims to create profitable carbon-reduction opportunities in the commercial sector. Although my PhD is focused on finding such opportunities in the real estate sector, it is evident that in order to achieve a significant reduction in emissions, both of these sectors need to collaborate and come up with new ways for people to live, work and commute. I believe that BP is well-placed to change the status quo with regards to energy usage due to its vast capital resources, strong balance sheet and visible effort to include sustainable opportunities within the company’s business model.

During my placement, I produced several PowerPoint presentations both for internal and external uses. The first presentation was used as an update document internally, which outlined the objectives and benefits behind the project. To produce this document, I was also required to undertake financial forecast analysis and model various scenarios in Excel that this project could take. Another set of work was dedicated to researching precedent case studies of mobility hubs and proposing new ideas to the management as of the improvements that could be made to the product offering at the mobility hub. Finally, I was responsible for engaging with various industry partners on their key performance indicators and how they can be used to benchmark performance of the proposed project. This key performance indicator set was based around various aspects such financial, behavioural, technical and perceptions towards BP and other project contributors.

Thanks to this fellowship, I am now confident that I would like to spend most of my career in the commercial sector. It has also solidified my decision to work in a place that invents solutions to reduce carbon emissions. I was able to hone my analytical and presentation skills as a result of producing reports and presenting my analysis to my team. I have also expanded my knowledge of the energy sector which is relevant to my research. I was not required to undertake any specific training, but I chose to do a Power BI course to improve the outputs of my presentations and create visually appealing dashboards.

I have worked in a commercial organisation before, so I was able to quickly settle into the new work environment. My supervisor was very clear about my scope of work and I was able to work independently after spending one week at the company. I am used to working with people from different backgrounds due to my previous work experience in finance and my current PhD at Cambridge. I was glad to have exposure to people working on many different projects and have also encountered a flat hierarchical structure, which made me engage with people that have a lot of experience working in the field.

Most of my time was spent on analytical tasks which did not require any specific industry knowledge. This is because the project was unique and unprecedented, so I had to pick up a lot of industry knowledge on the job. My technical skills such as Powerpoint and Excel became very useful, especially when it came to conducting financial analysis and presenting my results. I also used my finance knowledge to build a bottom up financial model to predict demand for the proposed offering, which consequently helped me undertake financial forecasting.

I was hoping to be immersed in an environment where I would be able to work independently and be given constructive feedback. I also wanted to spend a sufficient amount of time interacting with the team and learning about various opportunities within the company.”

What advice would you give to prospective applicants to the Grand Challenges Scheme? 

“I would recommend staying up-to-date with industry news during the project and share ideas with other team members and your supervisor. As it is a great networking opportunity where one can get exposure to people with vast industry expertise, I would also recommend asking lots of questions and actively participating during various meetings and corporate events. I would recommend Grand Challenges to any student looking to learn more about their industry of interest and expand their set of skills. It is a great opportunity to learn about potential career paths and work on interesting projects.”

Yana Akhtyrska’s fellowship with BP Advanced Mobility took place between Octobere 2019 and January 2020

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