Loretta Gibson, Alice Ferns and Lizzie Little from the Faculty of Engineering & Design recently spent an inspiring 3 days visiting our partners at Aalto University in Finland, researching their professional services structures and ways of working. Find out more about how the International Relations Office supported them in their endeavours…
These are times of significant change for universities across the globe. The expectations of our stakeholders are changing as rapidly as the technology that has infiltrated our ways of living. This affects us as professional services staff as surely as it does our academic staff and students. If we are to support the delivery of ambitious academic endeavours into the future, it is time to ask ourselves some deeply contemplative questions….
What will our roles as professional services look like in the future?
What skills and competencies will we need?
What mind-set will take us into the future?
What do we need to stop doing, continue to do, and start doing?
To help us reflect on these critical questions, we proactively looked to other institutions to understand their approaches to these dilemmas. Stepping outside of our day-to-day environment kick-started our creativity and opened our minds to endless possibilities.
We chose to visit the premier engineering university in the world’s most progressive country – Aalto University in Finland. We were rewarded with thought-provoking conversations regarding competencies and skills sets, open spaces and technology that enable different ways of working and the difficulties in encouraging health and wellbeing in a diverse workforce. We also had the opportunity to embrace the University’s culture during our visit, which truly embodies the values of courage, collaboration and responsibility. We shared our structures, best practices, frustrations and thoughts on creating opportunities for our staff. We left Aalto with a renewed sense of purpose and plans for furthering collaborative working with our new friends and colleagues.
L to R: Eliisa Lassila, Carita Pihlman, Riitta Silvoneinen, Loretta Gibson, Alice Ferns, Lizzie Little
But how did a simple idea become a career-affirming opportunity to spend three incredible days in Helsinki?
Here are five steps that will help you grow your international perspective and turn your aspirations into reality:
1- Have an idea that is inspiring to you and to others
First and foremost, you need to have an idea that is meaningful for you - a problem you need to solve or an area of research that you are truly passionate about. You can then turn this into a proposal that aligns with institutional priorities and will have real potential impact. For me, it was about future proofing; looking critically at our roles as professional services to ensure we are ready to take on whatever changes our HE sector throws at us. To really delve into this further, I appreciated I would learn more from the different cultural and historical perspectives of our international partners than I would keeping my research closer to home.
2- Proactively look for international travel funding opportunities
We are very fortunate here at Bath to have an International Relations Office that proactively supports professional services staff in our endeavours to broaden our international perspectives. There are a number of travel funding opportunities available, including Erasmus+ for European destinations, and the IRO International Partnerships Fund (Strand 5). You can be proactive about speaking to the IRO about possibilities, and keeping in the loop when opportunities arise. Remember to read the requirements carefully and make sure your proposal is fit for purpose.
3- Do your research! Reach out to possible hosts in advance
If you are planning to approach potential hosts you must be very clear in articulating your proposal, what you hope to achieve, and what you can offer in return. Partnerships are not one-way! The better prepared you are, the more likely you will receive a positive response. In approaching Aalto I put forward a clear outline of what I would like to discuss and why I had chosen their institution as my inspiration. I did my research on the Finnish higher education, I scoured the Aalto website for any useful intelligence that would inform my proposal, and I confidently contacted the Head of HR outlining my ideas. I received a positive reply overnight. I was then in a position to seek Erasmus+ funding with my host destination already secured.
4- Utilise your professional networks if you can
We are blessed to work in an internationally active community with thriving partnerships and networks across the globe. The IRO can assist with providing appropriate contacts in partner organisations. You can also utilise your own professional networks and organisations such as the AUA to introduce you to colleagues abroad, or speak to an international staff member in your area. Or, if this won’t work for you, see point 3 above and put yourself out there with confidence.
5- Be willing to share your learning experiences with others
There are many ways of sharing your experiences with others. This could be in the form of an article or blog, presentation to colleagues or workshop. Most importantly, others will benefit from your insights while their thoughts and feedback can help you consolidate and validate your ideas.
There is little doubt that growing your international perspective as an HE professional will have a tangible impact on you and your career. You will grow in confidence and self-belief and your institution will reap the benefits of your efforts. There are colleagues around the University willing to support you in your endeavours as you expand your global horizons.
All you need is confidence, motivation, and a really good idea!
Loretta Gibson, Faculty of Engineering and Design