I started my new role as Project Manager for Doctoral provision a couple of months ago...on April Fools' day to be exact. Despite that slightly inauspicious timing things have been going well since then and - apart from a couple of weeks sunning myself on a Caribbean beach in May (simultaneously providing the midnight buffet for the island’s resident mosquito population) - it has been super busy.
I first came to the University in 1989. Which is a very long time ago. As LP Hartley famously wrote "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there". Well the University was definitely a very different place back then. I seem to remember we only had about 6000 students, the Sports Training Village wasn't even a twinkle in anyone's eye and we were still calling ourselves Bath University (I recall the major effort that went into to the rather snappy rebranding to University of Bath). Bath's star was definitely yet to rise.
I originally came in to the University Finance Office as an accountant. Having recently qualified with KPMG and worked at Rolls Royce in Bristol in their internal audit department for a little while I was desperately keen to work for an organisation I could really believe in and engage with. It's not that I didn't believe in aero engines of course - they are obviously a very good thing to have fixed to your plane when you are heading off somewhere - but by the end of my stint at RR I could just about tell the difference between a Pegasus and a regular engine. For the uninitiated a Pegasus engine pointed downwards rather than sideways so they are not that difficult to tell apart! Let's just say I recognise my strong suits and engineering is not one of them. One of my proudest moments at Rolls Royce was receiving a certificate from Bath University's department of Mechanical Engineering to confirm I had completed a one-week course in gas turbine engineering. It's a very grand certificate - I still have it at home and whip it out occasionally to prove that I am not completely technologically challenged. Usually after I have been struggling to operate the DVD player for some time...
Having only previously worked in big corporates the University was a big culture shock for me. I had been a student of course so should have known something about how higher education works. But I pretty soon realised how blissfully unaware I managed to remain of the academic processes and activities that had underpinned my student experience. It was a new, strange and slightly daunting world. One thing that always remains in my memory, though, is the daily pilgrimage to the Senior Common Room (SCR) for morning coffee. It seems slightly decadent now to think that this was a daily ritual for most academic and professional services staff. But as a newbie into the University it was an incredibly useful daily opportunity to get to know my colleagues and mingle with staff from across the University in an informal way. And as time went on it was an immensely valuable way of keeping up with developments across the University – of course there was no email, homepage or blogging in the “olden days “so the grapevine really often was the only way to catch up on what was happening. More than anything else the opportunity to link with my peers made me feel part of a real community and started to create the ties that bound me to higher education as my future career.
Over the years since then I have had lots of roles in the University. The part of the Finance Office that I originally looked after developed a broader research support function and morphed into a separate University Research Office (RIS is its current incarnation). I worked on the "Swindon Project" which never did develop a sustainable University presence in Swindon but led to extensive learning partnerships with local colleges and an Office of Associated Colleges which set about tackling many of the challenges of collaborative educational provision. I also worked as contract manager and co-ordinator for a number of projects to support entrepreneurship and, particularly, female enterprise. That's not the whole list but you get the gist. I’ve done a lot of stuff. Most recently I've been working in Internal Audit - in one sense full circle for me but the context and profession has changed so much since my days at Rolls Royce that it never really seemed that way. That was a great opportunity for me to learn more about a wide range of aspects of the University’s operations from HR to Health and Safety; placements to assessment, finance systems to student recruitment.
So, to return to the present and the doctoral provision project. The concept is pretty clear – to see how the University can improve its support for doctoral students and the related processes, to explore whether we should set up a central Doctoral College (or something similar) and to suggest what form that might take to best suit Bath. The project is being led by Jonathan Knight, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research. I have to say it’s been a great pleasure working with Jonathan so far. His commitment to the quality of the doctoral student experience at Bath is genuinely inspiring. If you haven’t already tuned into his blog I‘d definitely recommend it to you, in particular his post on “improving provision for doctoral students” which sets the context for the project. I always love a bit of word analysis so this is a very condensed version of his post.
As you can see research students are right at the heart of the project. And, alongside developing the broader vision and project plan, the initial focus has been very much around responding quickly in areas where the University needs to act now in order to make a difference to the experience of doctoral students for 2016/17. Jonathan and I have been listening to the views of students and working with staff in various parts of the University including the Graduate Schools, LTEO and the Students’ Union to develop appropriate interventions. In particular we are looking at ways to improve the quality of information and induction for new doctoral students joining the University from this autumn and thinking about how we can help build structures that will support a real sense of doctoral community – both virtual and physical.
I’ve rambled on so I’ll leave saying more about what has been happening so far and plans for the immediate future for next time. Do signup for email updates (and also to Jonathan’s Blog of course) and I'll try to keep you bang up to date with project progress.
And I’ll try not to spend so much time reminiscing next time….