Steve reflects on his career, which spans over 25 years in HE and led to a place on the ISE board.
I always think of a career a bit like crazy paving. One-step forward, one sideways, hopefully not too many backwards. It is rarely linear. It is more likely to be unpredictable, with constant change, challenge and opportunity.
I started out loving research and did a research degree overseas, but I then decided it really wasn’t for me. Instead I pursued a career in HE more generally, where there are 101 different roles in professional services.
I have now spent over 25 years managing different parts of university services, including educational development, careers, academic policy and research development. I have worked both centrally and in a faculty and across the different universities – Queen Mary, Exeter and Plymouth.
I have also had the privilege of studying and working overseas including the US, Middle East, China, Singapore, Australasia and Europe.
The students, the staff, the variety, the networks and organisations and the scale of HE operation are what I have enjoyed the most.
HE is a massive growth industry and what always strikes me is the passion of the people who work in it. I have met some incredible intellectual minds, engaged with countless inspiring and talented students, and have worked alongside those who have genuinely inspired me by their commitment and the way they work.
Value of mentors
Importantly, I have had the benefit of mentors along the way. Some gravitated towards me (not sure why), and offered their advice – checking in, floating an idea or opportunity passed me.
Others I actively sought out by virtue of their role or because I found them interesting, fun and optimistic – important criteria.
I nearly always took their advice, and they definitely helped me make some important decisions. They were also invaluable in those moments when you want a different perspective, a 40,000ft view of the situation, someone to test an idea or just someone to tell you to follow through on your plans and ‘crack on’.
What advice would you give to others?
I’ve always been lucky that I have been inherently interested in my work, the people around me, the ability to make a significant or small difference. But I also think it is important to know when to move on and relinquish a particular chapter – to let go – which is not always easy.
It’s also important to embrace opportunities as they unfold – even what you least expect and when you least expect it.
Keeping fresh is key. I personally like the healthy stretch of a challenge as well as something new, different and unfamiliar. Not all the time, but it generally keeps me on my toes.
We all know that work can be energising, empowering and uplifting, and most of my career has, thankfully, been in this category. But it can sometimes be difficult and draining. As such, I think it is super important to maintain an interest, curiosity and commitment to things outside of work (too many I am often told by family). For me this is mainly sailing, squash, biking and swimming, as I have always craved a physical outlet.
Finally, it’s important to do what you feel is right for you, not what others might think, ask or expect of you in terms of career choice, timing of next move etc. And, always trust your instincts, they are rarely wrong. Being authentic to yourself is key. Knowing when to say ‘no’ is probably the best bit of advice I would also give my earlier self a few years down the track.
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