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Durham Archaeology alumnus Sam Betley next to Hadrian's Wall

Sam Betley studied for a BA in Ancient History and Archaeology at between 2015-2018. Now he works as a Senior Policy Advisor at His Majesty's Treasury.

What and when did you study at Durham?

I studied BA Ancient History and Archaeology at Durham between 2015 and 2018. I was a member of Grey College.


What are you doing now?

I am a Senior Policy Adviser at His Majesty’s Treasury. I joined HMT’s Graduate Development Programme a few months after I graduated in 2018 and spent my first 18 months working in the European Finances team, where I was closely involved in negotiations with the EU both before and after our formal departure. In May 2020 – at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic – I moved to the Banking and Credit team to work on business lending. I was initially part of a small unit that delivered a suite of government-backed loan schemes, which provided nearly £80 billion to 1.6 million businesses that were otherwise at risk of collapse during the pandemic. As the pandemic was receding in the summer of 2021, I was promoted within the business lending unit and have covered a wide range of related issues ever since. In April, I am taking up a new role in the Corporate Tax team at HM Treasury, leading on Financial Services taxation – advising ministers on the appropriate levels of taxation for banks, insurers and other financial services firms.


How do you feel your experiences of studying Archaeology at Durham shaped your life afterwards?

At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be much in common between Ancient History and Archaeology on the one hand, and a career in finance policy on the other! But when you scratch beneath the surface, my studies definitely helped me to succeed. Whilst I was at university, I admit that I (somewhat cynically) thought transferable skills were just a buzz-phrase used to persuade sceptical parents of keen prospective graduates that you don’t have to study medicine, law or accounting to have career prospects. But they’re real! Policymaking requires you to piece together incomplete information from a diverse range of sources and turn it into a persuasive recommendation for a minister to take a certain course of action. Luckily, I had that skillset thanks to the essays and projects I’d produced as an undergraduate.

I also maintain a keen interest in the heritage sector. Living in London provides lots of opportunities to see world-leading museum exhibitions (recent examples being Donatello at the V&A, as well as Stonehenge and Nero at the British Museum). I also spent a week last summer running from one end of the Hadrian’s Wall Path to the other with my fiancée – see photo above!


What are your favourite memories/experiences of studying Archaeology at Durham?

I loved my course. There were just five of us studying Ancient History and Archaeology in my year, but three of us were in Grey so we formed a tight-knit group from Freshers Week onwards. Without a doubt, my best memory is of a trip to Rome led by Dr Anna Leone for the Interpreting Heritage module. It provided the perfect mix of pizza, gelato and behind the scenes access to some of ancient Rome’s most impressive sights, including Trajan’s Market and the Baths of Caracalla. I also joined a 4-week excavation in Romania, at the Halmyris frontier fort, which was once on the banks of the Danube; I met archaeology students from all over the world and got to see a part of the world I would probably never have visited otherwise.

Finally, I should highlight the annual trips to Beamish. Closer to home but still, lots of fun!


What do you miss most about studying at Durham?

Nowadays, it’s a rare treat if I get a free day to go to a museum or read a book on ancient history or classical archaeology, so I really miss having the time to explore all sorts of sources on the aspects of the ancient world that fascinate me. However, you will always find me listening to The Rest is History podcast on my commute, which I can recommend to any history fan.

It was also a privilege to be surrounded my intelligent people who shared my interests and could open my eyes to new perspectives.


What would be your top piece of advice for current students and/or recent graduates?

For current students: No matter what, choose the modules you’re most interested in. When you’re genuinely passionate about the things you’re learning about, it transforms the long hours of studying from a slog into something like fun!

For recent graduates: Cast the net wide when applying for jobs. I didn’t really know what I wanted as a career in my final year. I applied for dozens of graduate schemes in a range of sectors, and also strongly considered graduate study in archaeology and cultural heritage. I didn’t realise I was interested in policymaking until I started doing it, and that could be true for you in any number of careers.


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