How Tom Benson secured a research role at a top ranking global institution

BSc (Hons) Architecture graduate, Tom Benson, has secured a research role at a top-ranking global institution, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the USA.

Tom struggled with his academic studies during high school and left school at 16, to embark on a career with the British Army.

Tom said: "It was undoubtedly tough being away from family and friends at 16, waking up at 5am for 10k runs and ironing clothes until 11pm. We had to do exercise training, which revolved around learning to survive in a forest or fields for weeks. We would get hardly any sleep due to maintaining attentiveness and protecting our camp. There would be no respite and we’d be constantly on the move doing challenges. It was very intense operating as though you were in a real battle. However, it was an unbelievable chance to gain a distinctive experience and discover new skills." Tom says that this time of his life was "enriching and life-changing", which developed him personally and professionally.

Due to family issues, Tom left the army and started an apprenticeship as a Fabrication Engineer, manufacturing parts for military aircraft. Sadly, in 2009, Tom's mother passed away after a nine-year battle with breast cancer and being a witness to her fight was the catalyst that Tom needed to work harder and turn his life around. Tom said: "When my mother died I was still working in a factory and the thought of going to university hadn't crossed my mind.

He continued: “My mum's profession was a careers advisor and she had spent her life supporting people to be the best version of themselves. At a certain point, I recognised I desired more in life and sent out a hopeful application to study Architecture at UCLan."

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Tom Benson, BSc (Hons) Architecture graduate
Tom Benson, BSc (Hons) Architecture graduate

Tom graduated in 2013 as one of the top students in his cohort with a first-class degree for his design studio project. He said: "Throughout my early life I was never motivated by education or harboured high ambitions for a career. When I began the course, I found the first year extremely challenging. I hadn't been in an academic environment for multiple years, and ultimately, I had to work extremely hard to proceed to the second year.”

Tom continued: "I graduated with a good degree, providing me with the confidence, motivation and hunger to continue working hard in my career. Going to University has created a platform for me to explore various opportunities but these will only come through hard work. We had a tremendous culture in the studio and many of the people I graduated with have become close friends. This culture, along with the learning, pressure and excitement I faced at University, was extremely stimulating and set me up to want more."

After graduation, Tom relocated to China and began an internship at international design firm, Buro Ole Sheeren. He worked on several design competitions, including a multi-use development at the Olympic Park in London. Talking about his role, Tom said: "Moving to Beijing at 23 was an incredible experience. I met exceptionally talented people from around the world with the opportunity to work on some fantastic architectural projects."

Tom then moved to work for Foster + Partners under Narinder Sagoo as part of the Design Communications Team. A highlight of his experience at Foster + Partners was working on their Droneport project in Rwanda, East Africa, which sought to save millions of lives through drones as infrastructure integral to blood transportation.

"We had a great culture in the studio and still to this day I am close to many of the people I graduated with. This culture allowed me to develop skills that I still find useful. The pressure I faced at University was new to me and to be able to be successful on the course set me up to want more."

Tom Benson, BSc (Hons) Architecture graduate

After this, Tom spent two years at the University of Westminster, where he studied for his master's in architecture. Throughout the course, he was part of Design Studio 18 which focused on exploring relationships and intersections between architecture, energy, matter, and space. Whilst studying, he tutored and mentored first-year undergraduate architecture students.

In September 2018, Tom moved to Boston to work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Senseable City Laboratory as a Research Fellow, directed by Professor Carlo Ratti. The Laboratory explores, develops, and deploys dynamic tools to learn about cities, characterised by an Omni-disciplinary design methodology operated by designers, planners, engineers, physicists, biologists, and social scientists. They aim to create a real-time city by looking at layers of networks and digital information and finding new approaches to studying the built environment.

Speaking about his role, Tom said: "Cities are data factors and large contributors to pollution and energy. If we can make a positive difference in cities, we can have an enormous impact globally. At SCL, the Lab analyses large datasets on various topics such as mobility, environmental sensing, and urban economics. The Lab has a strong synergy between municipalities worldwide, so their research can impact many people's lives."