It was thanks to a Santander Scholarship which covered his tuition fees that Liam O’Brien was able to return to Essex for a Masters in Organised Crime, Terrorism and Security, having already studied Modern History and International Relations at undergraduate level. After graduating from his Masters, he joined the Civil Service on their sought-after Fast Stream graduate programme and is now a Policy Advisor for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

“The scholarship raised my confidence. In the application, I explained my achievements to date, and what my goals were for the future. To then be awarded the scholarship felt like a 'vote of approval' of these goals and achievements. It was before the time of postgraduate student finance, so I simply wouldn’t have been able to afford it otherwise.

"Essex was special for a number of reasons. It had been the university where I had studied my undergraduate at and found the teaching experience to be fantastic. I also appreciated the campus itself, from the brutalist library to the natural environment such as the lakes. 

“Academically, I liked that my lecturers were open to challenging received wisdom. No singular ideology or opinion was expressed as the objective truth. Rather it was taught that there were many competing theories and even ideological lenses from which a person could analyse issues from.”

After graduating, Liam was accepted into the Civil Service Fast Stream, one of the most competitive and sought-after graduate programs in the UK. 

“The Essex way of thinking, challenging orthodoxy and looking at issues from a range of perspectives, has served me well in my ability to brief senior politicians on some of the most important issues the government and society has faced.

“In the Civil Service, I have enjoyed roles across government. This has included immigration reform in the Home Office, working as a policy advisory for the National Police Chiefs' Council, and working as a diplomatic desk officer for both the Department for Exiting the European Union, and later the Foreign Office. 

“For nearly two years I worked in the Cabinet Office's Covid-19 Taskforce. In this role I was the lead policy advisor on Covid-19 international comparisons, providing No.10 and the Prime Minister with briefings on what comparator countries were doing to combat the virus.  

“My proudest achievement has been completing the Fast Stream graduate programme. This required passing a number of increasingly difficult boards, which culminated in promotion. It was the combination of many years of hard work (and a good degree of luck) stemming from not only my professional career, but also my time at Essex. 

“Earlier this year, I joined the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. In my role as a policy advisor, I aim to promote connected cities, ensuring that the technology we use to improve critical infrastructure and public services, is secure and effective. 

“I want to support Essex students who want to enter the civil service, at any level. I think it is of paramount importance that we have individuals from universities such as Essex, to promote diversity of thought in central government.”

Scholarships offer opportunities to those whose impact on the world might otherwise be missed and we're investing in the next generation of pioneers, innovators and traiblazers through our £1m Essex Futures appeal - learn more