Some children grow up dreaming of fairies and pharaohs, or kings and queens. Claire Ferguson, however, dreamt of the city.
“It was all so stimulating – the sounds, dwarfing skyscrapers, hidden nooks and crannies beckoning a curious child to discover what was hidden from sight,” she says.
“Despite growing up only 20 minutes from the CBD, I always thought of it as another world.”
It was this allure that led Claire to choose a Bachelor of City Planning degree.
“Beyond the CBD, I was always fascinated by the diversity of places that encompassed Sydney – individual sub-regions with their own identities and culture. I wondered whether there was a way this fascination for places could become my life,” Claire explains.
Her first thought for her future career was architecture. It took one three-day architecture program and a subsequent realisation that she didn’t like drawing for Claire to know that this wasn’t to be.
Dismayed by her “ultimate lack of skill for architecture”, she went back to the drawing board –figuratively, of course.
Soon after, she stumbled across the idea of planning. Following a ‘taster day’ at UNSW in Year 10, her mind was made up.
Unsure at first of what the degree entailed, Claire spent the next few months researching the planning industry. The more she read, the more she knew that it was just the qualification she had been looking for.
“About places, but not limited to design only, and best of all – broad. I really liked that about it,” she says.
“It had a bit of everything: history, law, design, politics, mapping. Oh boy, did I like maps.”
Despite largely knowing what to expect from the taster day and her own research, Claire was surprised to find that the wide range of content was one of the most satisfying and challenging aspects of her degree.
“The range of what we got to do made the degree worthwhile. I love mapping, so classes like Local Planning, Geographical Information Systems, City-Building and Strategic Planning really fared well with me,” she says.
“But I also believe that, because of the degree’s breadth, I was challenged to engage with classes that weren’t so easy for me.”
However, Claire says that these more challenging areas provided her with invaluable skills when the time came to complete a work placement in the third year of her studies. She describes the experience as the most valuable part of her degree.
“We had to take what we knew and suddenly apply it to the real world,” she says.
“Completely daunting, yes, but also a fantastic opportunity to really be challenged and learn to think critically. The ability to spend a full year exclusively in the workplace with people who have been where you are can really shed a light on the bridge between university and your working career. I can’t express how valuable it is.”
Following her placement, Claire was offered the opportunity to stay on with the company as a para-planner for the duration of her final year at UNSW.
While she has many fond memories of her time at University – including being led blindfolded around the campus in a first-year tutorial and “nearly stacking down the stairs on the main walkway” – Claire is excited to complete her degree and head overseas to see how cities work beyond Australia.
After that, she’s keen to explore the many possible avenues within the industry, and she encourages new students to approach their degree and subsequent career path with an open mind.
“Even planners can’t plan for opportunities – so take them as they come!” she says.
The Bachelor of City Planning (Honours) at UNSW Built Environment teaches students to shape sustainable, equitable, healthy and inspiring built environments. Find out more about the degree.