James Bullen

BA Classical Civilisation (2012)

Summary: James graduated in 2012 and is currently preparing to start on the British Airways Future Pilot Programme.

classics alumni

I left home shortly after finishing school, starting by heading off to Egypt for 3 and a half months, which provided a direct change in culture, and a completely new routine when I studied and qualified as professional scuba dive guide. I then took these skills and used them in various countries around the world over a total of 11 and a half months. The experiences I had really changed my life, how I looked at the world, and even day-to-day situations. I became much more adept at handling changing situations; as a dive guide, I had to meet new people on a daily basis, who formed part of the team that I would take under the water. It was imperative to build a good rapport from the beginning, but I also needed to be flexible, able to change my approach to people depending on their age or their culture. As I experienced these new cultures and situations around the world, it gave me a fresh outlook on life that has shaped who I am today.

Truth be told, I was never the sort of person who knew what they wanted to do after they finished school. There are always people you know who want to become doctors, lawyers or vets, however, I just knew that I wanted to spend a year travelling, exploring and learning about the world, getting away from the bubble of education and school life you live in growing up. I knew I wanted to go to university, and I enjoyed Classical Civilisation right through from GCSEs to A-Level; with that in mind, I chose to pursue it, with the forethought that here was a subject I took pleasure in and which would serve to expand my knowledge base and provide me with a secure set of transferable skills for the future. As soon as I went to Leeds to explore the University and see the Classics department, I knew it was the place for me. As I walked towards the Parkinson building for the first time, its iconic structure reminded me of something out of ancient Rome, and as a Classicist, I couldn’t walk away from that! The staff members that comprised the department were the icing on the cake, all extremely personable and passionate about what they did. I felt at home right away, and I knew I would enjoy spending three years of my life in Leeds.

Studying at Leeds is a fantastic experience. Within Classics, there is a truly great range of modules to choose from to whet your academic appetite. My favourite part of the course was in my final year, where I undertook a Major Research Project on a topic of my choice. Being completely free to research and explore an area of ancient history that I was interested in but had previously never come into contact with was an extremely enjoyable experience, albeit a challenging one. You can be sure to learn a lot about time-management and self-discipline!

Leeds is also unique because you are given the option to study modules, now known as Discovery Modules, outside of your course but which still count towards your degree outcome. For me, this was perfect, as I still didn’t know what I wanted to do after I finished. To name but a few, I undertook modules in Career Planning, Law,Psychology and the Sociology of Mental Health and Illness.

Leeds offers a plethora of activities outside of studying, and some are so wacky you wouldn’t even believe such a group existed! But if someone wants to create an activity, and can find some like-minded people who want to partake, then the University Union will help set it up. The possibilities really are endless!  I personally spent a lot of time making use of the University’s squash facilities, booking courts on a weekly basis to have a thrash around with friends. I also joined the Taekwondo society, who trained 3 times a week in intensive 2 hour sessions, which was truly superb for my fitness and mental acuity. 

People often say that those you meet at uni become your closest friends, and I can certainly say the same for Leeds: You can be certain you’ll meet some great people and have some fantastic experiences that you’ll never forget. My friends are now spread across the UK (and soon across the world), but we still find the time to meet up now and again, which is something I hope will continue in the years to come. I will always remember the beginning weeks of first year and getting to know everyone else in my halls.  Aside from that, who could forget the remarkable Parkinson building and the fabulous Brotherton Library within... many hours were spent gruelling away in there on essays and my dissertation, aspects you perhaps only truly cherish when you look back.

During university, I became determined to pursue a career in commercial aviation. Having done my research during university, after I graduated, I spent many months trying to get my foot in the door and onto a sponsored cadet programme. Applications then opened up for the British Airways Future Pilot Programme, which started a long 7 month assessment process unlike anything I’ve ever been through. My time at Leeds certainly helped, providing me with a whole set of experiences and skills I could draw upon at various stages. Presently, I’m working in temporary employment in Norwich, awaiting my flight course start date in the early new year. I shall then spend 18 exhilarating months training in both the UK and New Zealand for my commercial license, and upon completion, will find myself working as a First Officer flying on the A320 short-haul fleet out of London Heathrow or Gatwick.  I can’t wait!

In the future I most definitely see myself working as a commercial pilot, and hopefully happily employed and enjoying my First Officer posting, working my way up to receiving my captaincy. I am aware this is a gradual process, but I nevertheless expect to be continually learning in the process. I’d love to be able to help new First Officers or provide mentorship to new cadets on training programmes if something appropriate is open at that time, so I’d be looking towards that as well.

My degree has helped with my chosen career path as it provided a high level of knowledge and comprehension in research and analytical assignments, whilst the completion of a Major Research Project further developed my ability to conduct independent investigation, honing my self-discipline and time management, skills that are crucial within the aviation industry. The modules I took outside of my course helped in both leading a team, and working as part of one, aspects that must be employed by flight crew to maintain good morale and a positive working environment both on the ground and in the air. Most importantly, an experience in my second year taught me the importance of not being stubborn or afraid to ask for help when you need it most, a key learning point that I will remember well in my future career in order to maintain and deliver world-leading levels of safety.