Developing her own personal brand: Jay Surti's alumni story
Published on 8 October 2021
Author. Keynote Speaker. Presentation Skills Coach and Consultant. Who knew alumna Jay Surti used to be deathly afraid of public speaking?
Jay Surti is a specialist in Presentation Coaching and Training, Executive Coaching, Leadership Development, but this was never the path she envisioned for herself as a young student studying at the University of Dundee. A strong advocate for women in leadership, Jay is now not only one of our successful alumni but has also remained connected to the University of Dundee through her position as a non-executive member of the University Court. She spoke to Alumni Engagement Coordinator, Craig Reoch, about her time as a student at the University of Dundee, her career journey and her continuing involvement in our current Alumni Relations activity.
Jay originally came to the University to study Civil Engineering (with Management). Not being totally sure of her path at the time, she got a bit of inspiration from her Physics teacher.
“To be totally honest I hadn’t done that well in my A-levels, so I had a bit of a choice. I had a physics teacher who was incredibly passionate about women in engineering. We had a really interesting conversation - at that point I was fascinated by the idea of becoming a lawyer, but I was maybe thinking about engineering, too, which she encouraged.”
Following her exam results, Jay weighed up her options and ultimately decided to pursue engineering at Dundee – a choice which stood her in great stead for the future. She recalled feeling really welcomed right from the point of application.
“The University had an excellent reputation for civil engineering, and I remember having a lovely phone call and chat with someone from the admissions team. They just made me feel so at ease – these were the days before the internet, and it was very daunting for an 18-year-old! Dundee was so far away from London as well.
“It had a really great atmosphere, plus it was a campus University. The person I spoke to on the phone really made me feel good about Dundee and that helped me make my decision”.
As a young student, Jay very much enjoyed her new life in Scotland. With her studies, the student experience in general and all the new connections she knew she had made the right choice.
“I enjoyed absolutely everything – except maybe the 9am maths lectures! I had a lot of friends in all different courses. Another admission is that I spent quite a few nights of the week partying – which I guess is all part of the experience! I had come from a very traditional background and had gone to an all-girls school, so I was learning how to ‘live it up’ in a way!
“I made some great friends, some of which I’m still close to. I don't see them as much, but we are still in contact. It was, overall, a great experience in terms of the course and the people in the faculty - all around campus felt very supportive. I have such fond memories of my experience. The other bonus was that it was four years of university as opposed to three in England.”
Jay outside the Fulton Building during her graduation in 1993
Despite not graduating with the degree classification she necessarily wanted, it hasn’t stopped her at all in her journey to success.
“I had such a wonderful time at University. So wonderful, in fact, that I actually ended up graduating with a 2:2. A lot of what I do now is explaining to people that the outcomes of things don’t always go the way you want, but this doesn’t mean you can’t make choices, pivot and later find success.”
Jay’s career journey took a completely different direction after graduating from Dundee. One of her key realisations was that she had a debilitating fear of public speaking, stemming from the fact she was very shy.
“On my course, I was surrounded by a lot of confident people. There were only six girls in my class in first year and 50% of them ended up dropping out. I really wanted to be a project manager but couldn’t see myself working on a construction site surrounded by older, more-experienced male colleagues.”
Jay decided to pursue her original goal and go to law school. She had felt this would help her to become more confident and, as it was already an area of interest for her, that she would like to give it a go.
Despite a prior deathly fear of public speaking, Jay hoped to gain confidence by studying law, but it didn’t happen overnight.
“You had to do a lot of advocacy training, and I wanted to get really into it, but it didn’t work – I would be representing clients in court, but I’d be feeling physically sick, and I’d prepare a lot the night before because I didn’t want to get caught out and embarrass myself in front of people.”
“But I didn’t really feel any more confident as time went on. At that point, I discovered professional development and some excellent motivational speakers in the United States. So, for a good few years, I would use my annual leave to attend seminars and learn from some of the best speakers in the world. I was still practising as a lawyer - I did that career for about 17 years - but about 10 years in (as you get more senior) you have to do a lot more client development. Whilst I could do it fine, I didn’t really enjoy it.”
Jay had now become fascinated by public speaking and presentations and decided it was time to make a change.
“I looked around and realised I was working with some of the top experts in the medical field as I worked in personal injury litigation. I’d book them in to come speak to clients, but realised that, regardless of how senior someone is, it doesn’t necessarily mean they can engage an audience. I started shifting to become a coach and then started to deliver presentation coaching and consulting.”
As a result, Jay has become a successful keynote speaker. She has also written a number of books and has recently become involved in a podcast with ‘Hays’ recruitment company. The podcast has two facets - one focuses on ‘early careers’ and the other is for ‘c-suite’ or more senior professionals. You can listen to the podcasts here:
Jay also works closely with graduates or younger students through coaching, with particular emphasis on developing one’s own ‘personal brand’.
“It is very important to know how to set yourself apart from others. There are several questions. How do you come across as confident? How do you know what you really want to do? How do you plan for this? And it isn’t just about getting your foot in the door. I am very passionate about people taking control of their career.”
Given Jay’s expertise she is supporting the Alumni Relations team by delivering a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) session for our recruitment agent partners based in Asia, helping them to build their own personal brand.
Jay is also on University Court, the governing body of the institution, as a non-executive member of the People and Organisational Development Committee.
“I had obviously been an alum for many years and received all the newsletters. I enjoy golf so now and again I’d come up to see the Open in July when it's at St Andrews or Carnoustie and I’d make sure I’d come and have dinner and just walk around campus to see what's changed.
When I saw the opportunity to become a non-executive member of the University Court I thought it would give a little bit of nostalgia as well it being a time in my career where I wanted to move into a non-exec role and this seemed like a great opportunity. I had links with the University, and I wanted to get back in touch. I wanted to give something back because I'd had such a great experience.”
It was fantastic to catch up with Jay in light of her recent partnership with us on our upcoming CPD event. The inherent value of our alumni even many years post-graduation cannot be overstated, and we love finding opportunities to involve them in our current activity. Being a graduate of the University of Dundee means being a member of our community for life, and we cannot wait to see what she does next.
Would you like to get back involved in current University activity or use your expertise to give back and improve our offering further? If so, please do get in touch at – we’d love to hear from you.
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