Loving working in HE … most of the time

In the spirit of the THES #loveHE campaign and also because it is Friday thought a positive post would be appropriate.

The other week I had the most ridiculous week, but came out of it strangely positive and with a renewed appreciation of the benefits of working in HE in the UK.

Monday did not start well. By Monday afternoon I had found that money allocated to my budget did not actually exist, a lot of writing I had done on an article just was not working out, paranoia was setting in about organisational structures, some work that I had been promised had not been completed or even scheduled and there was just general heaps of operational fires popping up all over the place.  I was not happy.  And this is just trying to articulate the issues in neutral, anonymous language that will not offend.  The reality was pretty bad. Tuesday I worked at home, allegedly on a conference paper, research article and fellowship application, but in reality taking a few phone calls, doing some fire-fighting and uncovering more cans of worms.  But even though things weren’t great and I found myself saying the words “argh” and “bonkers” frequently on Tuesday night I went to the new student representatives meeting and things started to look up. The enthusiasm of the new student representatives and those staff that turned out on a rainy Tuesday evening was great as well as the thoughtful questions they asked of our senior management.  Wednesday was spent introducing our inclusivity day and hosting a professional network, which had a great attendance, I met up with lots of good colleagues and friends and heard some very useful presentations.  I was reminded that my experiences were not unique and that many of us are struggling with similar problems – trying to combine strategic thinking and professional engagement with operational responsibilities and time pressures. By Thursday the week was improving, helped by attending a great workshop on the imposter phenomenon by Caron King, nevermind having to leave early for a finance meeting.  On Thursday evening I went to a Women in Technology event where Sally Gunnell was speaking, which was fascinating and thought-provoking. And lastly the week concluded with our first fellows event run by Colin Beard which was inspirational and reminded me that what HE is really about is working with students and other staff to co-create knowledge and shared learning.

On reflection this I guess this is, give or take the details of the events, a fairly typical week – often feeling like you are wading through treacle and then realising that you are not alone, and being inspired by the actions of others to think differently.  I’m not sure that all my work is that of a “typical” academic (whatever that is) but what struck me about the week was the diversity of what I do as well as the great colleagues I work with.  Throughout the frustrating and difficult moments  I could rely on good colleagues, whether as “rant buddies” or shoulders to cry on to listen to me and offer solutions, or to inspire and support me.  And I realised that this is what I love about my job too is providing opportunities for others to do this, whether by organising events or networks, leading a team or just listening to someone in the corridor or over a coffee, that is what I think I am here to do with my team – facilitate and help staff and students with their educational endeavours – in whatever shape or form is needed.

So I ended up the week feeling that despite all the problems or challenges?!, frustrations and treacle-feeling that actually I’m pretty lucky to work where I do and in the field that I am in. I don’t want this to come across as smug or self satisfied as it isn’t meant to be. I think too often we forget all the positive things around us and just focus on the negatives, when actually many of the negatives are short term irritations that can easily be overcome.  It is sometimes just the number of them that can be draining and it is taking the time to step back, get some perspective and find some resilience – often through humour – to see them for what they are.  I feel fortunate to work in the environment that I do and hope that although it is changing rapidly that the good things – collaboration, sharing, learning, celebration, intelligent debate, fun – are not lost through these changes.  HE in the UK is special, in so many ways, and long may that continue.

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