Alumni profile - Niva Thiruchelvam
As a civil servant for HM Treasury, it's really motivating to work on issues knowing that the solution can have a positive impact on millions of people’s lives - I'm currently working on tackling climate change!
What did you study at Queen Mary and what are you doing now? I read Law at Queen Mary – but I’m now a civil servant working on tackling climate change in HM Treasury.
Why did you choose to study at Queen Mary? What do you think is unique about Queen Mary compared to other universities? Queen Mary has a fantastic academic reputation with world class teaching staff. It also combines a campus environment with access to the centre of London and all it has to offer – both socially and professionally.
What did you enjoy doing during your time at Queen Mary? I loved contributing to CUB. Mainly because I enjoyed writing and sharing my views with everyone. But also because I’d get free CDs (remember them?) and gig tickets every Wednesday afternoon. All I had to do was review them for CUB. For a music geek with a student loan, this was the dream.
What would you say to other students who similarly wish to write for QMSU’s student media outlets but who haven’t yet made the leap of putting their own voice and views out there? Go for it. If you have something to say, say it and be heard.
How did your time and study at Queen Mary help your career and development? I developed some great skills through my degree programme which have transferred well to a career in the civil service. Rigorous and critical analysis of issues. Strong communication and interpersonal skills. A good awareness of what’s going on around you in society and also in politics.
How did you get into a career in the civil service? What steps did you have to take? There are formal routes – the Civil Service and HM Treasury have graduate and non-graduate programmes. However, there are also ad hoc opportunities that come up. I fell into it and loved it so much I applied for a place on a graduate programme (fast stream).
Why is it exciting to do what you do? I’m helping people by working on the biggest problems facing society. It’s really motivating to work on an issue knowing that the solution can have a positive impact on millions of people’s lives.
I’m currently working on tackling climate change. The Government changed the law to commit to net zero emissions by 2050. My team will be developing an economic and fiscal framework to guide decision-making as the UK’s economy transitions over the next 30 years. We’ll also be sharing this with other countries grappling with the same problem ahead of Cop26 in Glasgow next year. Issues and moments don’t get bigger than this!
How do you cope with the pressure that accompanies such an important job role? A good work-life balance is so important for personal resilience and perspective. I also have great support at work – formal and informal through mentors, networks and friends – and thoroughly recommend a lunchtime run around St James’ Park/Green Park to help to clear the mind!
What has been your career highlight to date? There have been so many. Something that stands out is when I was responsible for EU Free Movement policy in 2015. I was asked to develop a plan and conduct international negotiations with my counterparts in capitals across the EU and in Brussels as part of the re-negotiation of the UK’s relationship with the EU. It was a remarkable experience that I will continue to draw on in future roles.
Do you have any role models that you look up to, both inside and outside of your field? Lord Heywood of Whitehall, former Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service. Jeremy was a great mentor – and the greatest public servant.
I had the privilege of working closely with Jeremy in a few roles. He had the sharpest mind, cared deeply about making the country a better place for everyone, and would inspire civil servants to be the best they could be. He also juggled a thousand balls at once at the highest level of government, yet his kind and generous nature meant he always made time for people – including Queen Mary students when I asked him to chair the inaugural Civil Service taster event in 2017.
I would dearly love to be at least 10 per cent Jeremy. He’ll always be an inspiration to me.
You sound like an inspiring woman yourself. If you could encourage current and future students and our alumni to do one thing in life, what would it be and why? Help people. Have impact. Make a difference. It can be on a global, national, regional, local or on an individual basis. Just do something that you can look back on with pride, knowing that you made someone’s life that bit better.
Is there any advice you would give to current students or recent graduates considering their career options? Find your passion and you’ll find your career.
If you join the civil service, you’re guaranteed to find something that excites you. It has such a diverse range of posts – in terms of skills, policy areas and locations – and you’ll be helping to make the world a better place to live in.