July 4, 2022, by Postgraduate Placements Nottingham

Entrepreneurial Spirit: Actively seek out changes rather than waiting to adapt

Xijing Chen on doing a Researcher Academy postgraduate placement at Spenbeck, an award-winning family business specialising in providing bespoke, sustainable and inclusive creative spaces.

~ Xijing Chen

I was a 1st-year PhD student in Architecture, Culture and Tectonics Research Group during the period of joining this Placement for Spenbeck, 2021-22. The research project I participated in during my MA study 2015-16, helped me to identify a new career path to pursue as a design researcher. Through this experience I realised that it is good to look beyond simply accomplishing assessments when you are studying at university, whether you are an undergraduate or postgraduate student.

Spenbeck is an award-winning family business located in Lace Market, Nottingham. Currently, this business is managed by the second generation, the founder’s two daughters. I worked with Victoria, who holds an arts degree and has very good taste in aesthetics; she would like to establish a design consultancy which can provide interior design services for internal tenants and external clients.

A good starting conversation between us was ‘working for who?’ She told me most postgraduate students pursue a career in a bigger organisation for a stable job and asked me, “How about you?” My answer was that I am the 3rd generation in my family to study architecture and building environments and that I might like to do something a bit different with creative thinking.

“During the 1st year of my PhD, when I felt confused about my research project on museum design, this internship opened a door and showed me a fresh direction.”

This internship was set up by one of staff from the Researcher Academy’s placements team. We had a good discussion about the demands of my PhD and time management. They suggested that 10 hours per week for this internship should not affect my study and advised me to discuss it with my supervisor. Ultimately we all agreed that is was possible and that this amount of time out from my PhD research would be fine and would give me some experience.

~ Spenbeck offices

Establishing a design consultancy is a challenge but an exciting thing. Most designers lack a business perspective due to the limitations of education; it is very lucky I was trained during my MA in Design Management. With 5 years of experience in terms of designing interior projects, in this project, I started to write a design brief for a real case. On the other hand, Victoria from Spenbeck offered me a new insight into preservation in heritage properties and adaptive reuse from a lace factory converted into offices, pubs and retailers. She also told me the story about her father who helped develop the Lace Market as a heritage area and promoted the culture of Nottingham.

Heritage is the core value when studying architecture at the University of Nottingham. However most of the learning is based on literature, books, lectures and conferences. Contributing to building up a new business in the real world could enhance your expertise and influence your choices about your future. During the 1st year of my PhD, when I felt confused about my research project on museum design, this internship opened a door and showed me a fresh direction.

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