Author: Helen Featherstone
At the beginning of May I was one of four people from the University of Bath professional services staff to speak at a Career Development workshop, organised by (and for) AUA members. We hoped that sharing some examples of successful career trajectories would help others to think about their own career paths and future planning.
Looking back over ~20 years of my career, and reflecting on the discussions as the event, here are some questions to consider:
Where do you position yourself? Yes, I work in a university, but over the years I have: done public engagement; I’ve researched public engagement; and I’ve mobilised public engagement in others. I position myself within the broad field of “public engagement with research.” I have worked, and continue to work, across all these areas.
My best friend once told me: “you’re such a joiner, Helen.” She’s right – I get involved with things that are of interest and that I think will provide me with an opportunity to learn something new or to meet new people. By saying yes to things (paid and unpaid) I have built up an extensive portfolio of experiences that go way beyond what I would have got through my formal, paid roles alone.
Is there value in voluntary work? Alongside my paid roles, I have also got involved with voluntary work (within the sector). I started out volunteering for the local branch of the British Science Association, but have also taken on roles on the executive committees of national networks such at the British Interactive Group or the Visitor Studies Group. These have provided me with sector-wide and UK-wide understanding and influence.
What type of leader are you (or do you want to be)? It’s easy to think of leaders who are highly visible, charismatic, vocal, but that type of leadership isn’t for everyone and arguably is unsustainable because the changes and work are dependent on the individual. If you really want to foster change, then you have to bring the hearts and minds of people with you. Working with, and through, others enables this. This kind of distributed leadership is more subtle, less visible, but aligns with my values more than other kinds of leadership.
What are your values? As we spoke about our careers, it was clear that we each had (at some point) moved into a role that on the surface was a logical step, however it proved to be at odds with our personal values. Understanding what motivates you in general, and perhaps more importantly, areas where you don’t want to operate can really help in making career choices. In our case, several of us described being in roles in industry, where sales targets and profits were core drivers of the business. If this doesn’t excite or motivate you, it can be a soul-destroying to be in a role like this.
How much stability do you need? My career progression has been non-linear, full of short-term / fixed term contracts, part time and full time roles, and paid and unpaid work. But, I’ve never been out of work or had to worry if I can pay the rent or the bills. It has felt uncertain at times, but I don’t think that is unusual for careers today.
Dr Helen Featherstone is the Head of Public Engagement and has been at the University of Bath since 2014. Prior to that she has worked at the Universities of Exeter and West of England, At-Bristol, Techniquest and the Science Museum. Her PhD looked at public engagement with climate change and she maintains an interest in understanding the people in public engagement with research.
See Jenny Medland's blog about her experiences as a participant in the Careers Networking Speed event here: