targetjobs Undergraduate of the Year Awards, from left to right: Ellie Long, head of Early Careers Recruitment at Rolls-Royce, Abigail Bilsland, Female Undergraduate of the Year 2024 and Sue Perkins, host of the Awards

Celebrating success: Abigail’s reflections on targetjobs UK Undergraduate of the Year Awards 2024

Featured image –  targetjobs Undergraduate of the Year Awards, from left to right: Ellie Long, head of Early Careers Recruitment at Rolls-Royce, Abigail Bilsland, Female Undergraduate of the Year 2024 and Sue Perkins, host of the Awards. (Image credit: Group GTI)

It’s always rewarding to showcase the achievements of our students… we recently caught up with Abigail Bilsland, second year Philosophy and Politics student, who had just returned from the targetjobs UK Undergraduate of the Year Awards 2024 and was named Female Undergraduate of the Year 2024. Read on to find out about Abigail’s experience, the application process and her advice for students considering applying in the future.

Huge congratulations on your win Abigail!

Can you tell us how you found out about the Awards and what prompted you to apply?

I was recently named Female Undergraduate of the Year 2024 at the targetjobs UK Undergraduate of the Year Awards, and secured an internship with award sponsor Rolls-Royce – an amazing experience that every student should go for!

I found out about the Awards through an email from the University Careers Service, which had a list of upcoming opportunities that students could apply for. The Undergraduate of the Year Awards have a wide array of categories that recognise different achievements and motivations. These range from the LGBTQ+ Undergraduate of the Year Award, which recognises contributions to the LGBTQ+ community, to the Future Building Surveyor of the Year Award, which recognises dedication to the field of building surveying. The Female Undergraduate of the Year Award instantly stood out to me, as it was designed to recognise driven women with a wide range of experiences and achievements, strong career motivation and an excellent academic record.

What did the application process involve?

The application process started for me in January 2024, with Stages 1 and 2. Stage 1 involved various pieces of written work tackling what I believed to be the most pressing issues of today, why I thought I could build a career at Rolls-Royce (the Award sponsor), and examples of continuous learning that I had demonstrated. Following the completion of Stage 1, I immediately moved on to Stage 2, which included psychometric tests and tests meant to display logical thinking and problem-solving. Following the completion of the initial stages, I received a call from the Rolls-Royce Early Careers Team informing me that I had made it on to a shortlist of their top 15 candidates, and they wanted to invite me to a two-day assessment centre to determine the finalists and winner.

The first day was a networking event – an opportunity to meet the other shortlisted candidates as well as various senior Rolls-Royce staff, who shared their valuable career experience and advice with us. The second day first involved an interview with one of the staff members from the day before. Following the interview, I gave a presentation on how to increase diversity in aerospace and engineering – a topic they had tailored to my background and interests. Finally, I was given a case study of possible investment opportunities and asked to explain which I thought they should go for, and why.

In your opinion Abigail, what were your skills and work experience which led to you being shortlisted and your fantastic win?

The written work on ‘continuous learning’ that I had completed in Stage 1 was a recurring theme throughout this process. Through the Award, Rolls-Royce not only looks to uplift driven women but to increase the diversity of thought in the company. This means also encouraging candidates from non-traditional backgrounds (a Philosophy and Politics student in an aerospace company, for instance) to engage with them – so the skill that would be most important for these candidates would simply be a willingness and enthusiasm to learn. I think that this aspect of myself was the most fundamental to eventually winning the Award – not only had I displayed it throughout the process, but my previous experiences and hobbies were so varied it meant that I had a lot of the skills they were looking for.

I have been part of the organising committee for a couple of Model United Nations conferences, which gave me plenty of examples to draw on for my problem-solving and logical thinking skills. I also work as a Resident Assistant for the university, which I used to show my communication and relationship-building skills. Furthermore, I used my experience as a food sampler to show my ability to learn and take on new information – when I am given new products I have to learn, understand, and regurgitate information to customers within a short time frame.

Rolls-Royce was explicitly looking for someone with well-rounded life experience, and although I do not have any corporate experience, I was able to use my society positions/retail jobs and highlight the aspects of these that had the most relevant experience. Key to this was doing a little research into the company to ascertain their goals and values, which allowed me to cherry-pick relevant examples to showcase my most relevant achievements. Finally, something which definitely gave me an edge was that I’ve recently taken up a niche hobby – gliding. While it was just a coincidence, it showed that I had an interest in the aerospace industry.

What are your reflections on the final Award Ceremony?

The final Award Ceremony was held in London, at an event space in Canary Wharf. It was an amazing experience, unlike anything I’ve had the opportunity to attend before. As well as nine truly impressive other finalists, I was seated with various Rolls-Royce representatives who gave me valuable insights into the company and the corporate world. It was also personally exciting – Sue Perkins hosted, and they gave us a free three-course lunch.

Abigail Bilsland, at the targetjobs UK Undergraduate of the Year Awards 2024
Abigail Bilsland, at the targetjobs UK Undergraduate of the Year Award Ceremony 2024 (Image credit: Group GTI)

What are your top tips for students considering applying for the targetjobs Undergraduate of the Year Awards in the future?

The Undergraduate of the Year Awards are a tremendous opportunity for any student. The Awards categories themselves are so varied, that there’s almost certainly a relevant one for any interested person. targetjobs UK and Rolls-Royce were both keenly aware that this was designed for undergraduate students, not long-time professionals and were incredibly supportive and helpful throughout the whole process. The possible results – an incredible CV booster, and work experience/an internship with a large company – are too good to pass up. I can say that I genuinely didn’t believe I had a shot at being a finalist, let alone winning the Award; I thought they would be looking for people who had already made their mark in the corporate world. I don’t have any previous internships, and most of my experiences are from high school or university societies. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I would encourage all Edinburgh students to just apply – there is nothing to lose and so much to gain.

Thanks Abigail for sharing your success.

Congratulations also to John Sykes and Zeynip Ozlem Kesgin on your fantastic win representing the University of Edinburgh:

  • John Sykes – Software Engineering Undergraduate of the Year 2024
  • Zeynip Ozlem Kesgin – The Undergraduate of the Year for Celebrating Resilience 2024




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *