Category Archives: Careers

Challenges and ambitions for career progression that supports diversity.

Personal Histories: Anne Oyewole

This October is Black History Month, a month dedicated to celebrating the history, achievements and contributions of black people in the UK. Although we should honour the successes throughout the year, it provides a special focus on their lives and experiences. 

We want to honour our own staff around the University, by learning more about their interests, likes and dislikes and aspects of their culture, to get a sense of their stories and histories. 

For our first blog, we spoke to Anne Oyewole, a Research Associate currently working with the Stroke Research Group, to find out more about her.

How did you end up in Newcastle?

About 13 years ago I applied for an MRes at Northumbria University and ended up being awarded the post which was a collaboration with a chemical company, so that was unique and fun. I thought at the time because I was coming up from London that I would only be here for a year, but one year evolved into thirteen years! Since then I have completed my PhD at Newcastle University and held a few postdoc positions, so it’s great to still be here.

How did you become involved in your role?

I completed my PhD in Dermatology followed by a couple of postdoc positions in this department. I then joined  the Neuromuscular team within the John Walton Muscular Dystrophy Research Centre (based at the Centre for Life) as the Post-marketing Surveillance Coordinator. In this role, I was responsible for supporting pharmaceutical companies with Phase IV studies for their licensed therapies. I was keen to gain more hands on experience setting up and delivering a clinical study, so I moved to the Stroke Research Group, where I am coordinating a clinical study evaluating the diagnostic accuracy of a point of care device. All the expertise, knowledge and experience I have gained over the last decade have been extremely valuable and helped me to secure my new role (which I’ll start in December 2019) as the Programme Manager for medical devices, diagnostics and digital technologies within the NIHR-Innovation Observatory, the national medical horizon scanning facility based at Newcastle University.

What are your main hobbies and interests outside of work?

I’m very passionate about dancing. I love dancing, in particular Bollywood dancing which I do at Dance City. I also enjoy ballroom and Latin dancing and Afro Mix, which is a mixture of different African styles of dance. I love cooking dishes from all over the world and I’m often inviting friends over, so that I can cook and bake for them. Over the last few years, I’ve set myself cooking/baking goals and this year my goal is to improve my bread baking skills as well as perfect my pastry techniques. So far this year I’ve enjoyed making croissants, naan bread, shortcrust pastry, bagels, Challah and all sorts.

What would you regard as your proudest achievement?

Though I have a lot to be proud of, one that stands out for me is having done my A levels and not getting the grade that I was expecting. Getting a lower grade meant I didn’t get into my first choice university and I remember at that time feeling my whole world had crumbled around me, it seemed very difficult to see how I was going to move forward. My family were all very supportive, and said, “It really wouldn’t be terrible to go to your second choice!” Although I wasn’t expecting to go to my second choice university, I continued and had a great time there. My passion and joy for science didn’t diminish in that time – if anything it increased, and so I was inspired and encouraged to go on to pursue postgraduate studies.

I think the thing I am proud of is that at the time it was difficult to see how things would come together, but actually things have turned out really well. Something that my parents instilled within me was to appreciate my education and to be disciplined and work hard. Being disciplined has been a real blessing as I’ve been able to go on from my Biology degree to complete my MRes (Masters) and PhD as well as to go on with my research career.

What’s the biggest challenge you have faced?

Completing my PhD thesis!

I think some of the challenges I experienced before and during my PhD journey helped me to develop a good measure of resilience, which was so important in getting me through the writing up phase of my PhD, along with a supportive supervisor (Prof. Mark Birch-Machin) and my family and friends. Obviously in life there are always going to be challenges we face that don’t always lead to a positive outcome but I’ve been reminded recently through personal challenging circumstances I’m facing, that these times can be good opportunities to learn and grow.

What inspires you?

One of the things that shapes me would be my Christian faith. My trust in and love for Jesus inspires and encourages me to look out for and love other people. My faith is also the reason I love science – I love learning more about our universe and understanding more about the human body.

Can you give me a selection of your favourite things from your culture?

I mentioned dancing and that’s definitely something from my culture as well as listening/dancing to Afrobeats, there’s a real joy in being able to move so freely and rhythmically to the beat – I love that! I love wearing colourful clothing and eating Nigerian food such as jollof rice with plantain and moi moi. Growing up in London meant that I was exposed to a lot of different cultures, so as well as enjoying eating food from other countries I enjoyed learning about different cultures too.

In the Nigerian culture it’s very important that you respect your elders and this is instilled within you from a child. I’m really thankful that this is the case, as It’s sad when I see older people in our society not being respected or just ignored because their ideas, opinions, knowledge, expertise and life experience are not seen as valuable, which is not the case! Older people have so much to contribute to our society.

What do you think about when you hear “Black History Month”?

Firstly, I think of the legacy left by great heroes such as Martin Luther King Jr and Harriet Tubman and countless unsung heroes. It’s great that we have the opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of so many black people throughout history this October. Whilst there is lots to celebrate, Black History Month is still a reminder that there is still lots to be done to bring about further change. Going forward it’s important to see more engagement and open dialogue on current racial issues across all sectors of our society, as so many people today still face discrimination because of their ethnicity.

Thank you so much to Anne for taking the time to speak with us. We hope you enjoyed getting to know a bit more about her and her story (and maybe have been inspired to try some baking?).

We’ll hopefully be running this blog series for the next few weeks, so if you would be interested in talking to us about yourself, or know someone else who would, we would love to hear from you! To take part, please contact Claire Bailie.

Demystifying Leadership: New Director of EDI (Simon Forrest)

A few months ago, we published the first blog in our Demystifying Leadership Series, in which Professor Candy Rowe chatted to us about what her role as Faculty Director of EDI had been like, to help potential replacements decide whether it was the leadership role for them.

And it worked! 

We are pleased to introduce our new Faculty Director of EDI, Professor Simon Forrest! Have a read of his Q&A to get to know a bit more about him, why he applied for the role, and what he’s most looking forward to:

Tell us a bit about your background. What are your hobbies and interests outside of work?

Like a lot of academic careers, mine sounds like a series of wise choices when I tell in from where I am now. But, in truth, it has largely been about a combination of luck, when opportunity has spoken to my passions.

I began as a professional musician and got very interested in the sociology of health because of the advent of HIV/Aids, and the way that changes in sexual attitudes, behaviours and culture that came about because of that, and the way they were represented in the ‘pop’ culture of which I was part. I met and got involved in very early community responses to HIV through peer education with young people, and the mobilisation of gay men and MSM. That evolved into 30 years of work on sex, sexualities, gender and sexual health.

I am still engaged in advocacy, which often feeds my research, but also some more sedate pastimes, such as bee-keeping.

How did you first become interested in EDI? What are some of the aspects of EDI you are most passionate about?

I can’t imagine how anyone can be involved in the social aspects of sex, sexualities, gender and health and not have EDI running through their work.

I have seen the way that public policy has failed people and also then worked to improve people’s lives. I have seen and, I hope, been part of influencing great positive changes in the recognition sexual diversity, in seeing that the greatest threats to people sexual health and wellbeing are often about failure to provide that and promote respect and equality. What I’ve learnt is EDI is about listening; hearing and making sure we give voice those who get left behind or are disadvantaged by social attitudes, policy or organisations – mobilising their potential to change things for the better for everyone.

What drew you to the position of Director of EDI for FMS?

It’s very simple – FMS is a natural champion of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.

All our contributions are about making everyone’s lives better, healthier, and happier. We have the opportunity, especially because of the values of the NHS and our other stake-holders, to put that at the heart of what we do. Who wouldn’t want to be able to contribute to that?

What has been your favourite thing about the role so far?

Finding my feet with the fantastic EDI team, both within FMS and across the University, hearing people being so honest about the challenges in their work and lives, and the energy right across the Faculty, from top to bottom, to effect real culture change so that it heartbeats with EDI.

What are the main things you hope to achieve in the role? Tell us what you’re most excited to get involved with?

To continue the amazing work done so far, and to see that recognised in further external recognition and accreditation.

I want to be an advocate, to empower, and mobilise the skills and expertise in the Faculty and our wider community, and to enjoy the debate, discussion, planning, and work we can do together.

What aspects of being FMS’ Director of EDI do you anticipate will be most challenging? What previous learning experiences do you think have helped prepare you to take on these challenges?

Universities are complex places and knowing how the system works and how to make the system work can be a challenge. I think I have had a lot of experience now and know something about we go about creating transparent and effective structures that support EDI.

What do you hope to learn through the role?

No day goes by when one doesn’t learn something about oneself and other people.

Universities are all about conversations and because I might see students or staff, do some engagement work with our community, and much more in a typical day, there’s always going to be a conversation out there which will make me think. It might be someone asking me a question I don’t know the answer to (that’s very common) or telling me something amazing about their lives that makes me stop and think.

Thank you so much to Simon for giving us a bit of insight into himself and how he’s feeling about his new role. We can’t wait to see all that you do as Faculty Director of EDI.

Demystifying Leadership: Head of the School of Psychology (Gwyneth Doherty-Sneddon)

As part of our Demystifying Leadership blog series, we’ve chatted to staff in a variety of leadership positions across the Faculty. To help you find out more about what a Head of School role might be like, I spoke to Professor Gwyneth Doherty-Sneddon about her job as Head of the School of Psychology in FMS.

What are your main responsibilities in your role?

I lead and manage the School of Psychology. My role is quite diverse, but it primarily focuses on the learning and teaching experience. I work with approximately 35 academic members of staff (whom I manage directly) and about 11 or 12 admin staff to run and deliver a number of Undergraduate, Postgraduate Taught and Professional Training programmes under the School of Psychology.

What does an average day look like for you?

I don’t think there is an average day, to be quite honest. The largest amount of my time is spent strategically, making sure our School’s teaching plan is on track, and working with external organisations to ensure we have the right partnerships in place and that we’re developing new professional placements for students.

Another important part of my role is the leadership and mentoring of staff (academics, in particular). I review their personal development and manage any day-to-day issues, as well as the relationships between them. Due to the School’s recent growth in student numbers, I’m also often shortlisting or interviewing new academics to teach.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

I particularly enjoy the mentoring of staff. Since beginning working with them, I’ve seen a number of them be very successful and receive promotions on the basis of learning and teaching. This makes me particularly happy, as it shows the University values the learning and teaching advancement process.

Additionally, as I know my staff very well, I’m able to look strategically at the School to find projects that would be well-suited to the skill set of a certain staff member. So, to then see them flourish in that project makes me very happy.

What made you want to apply for the role?

At the time, I was an associate Dean for Research at Faculty-level in another institution, where I managed research across a diverse range of disciplines. I had been looking to get back into my own discipline again, so this leadership role was perfect, and I’ve really enjoyed being back in Psychology. I also knew the University wanted this School to grow, so I was excited that there was real opportunity to make a lot of big changes.

What do you think is your biggest achievement so far in your role?

As a result of our growth as a School, the University has invested in a state-of-the-art learning and teaching space within a new building. It will include specialised teaching spaces, such as a forensic laboratory and a psychological therapies clinic. It will be a fantastic environment for all our students and staff.

I feel these new resources are a symbol of our recent success and the University’s belief and trust in me.

What learning opportunities have been available to you in your role?

In much of my career previous to this role, I’ve had to learn on the job, through trial and error, which has been a massive challenge. But within this role, I have done a senior leadership course, which was quite useful, and also a mentoring course, where I did learn a lot, even about myself.

Have you been supported by colleagues, mentors or training opportunities?

I feel extremely supported by the University and the Faculty, and there are some very approachable people with real integrity here. The PVC has been very willing to listen and develop strategic plans. I couldn’t have grown the School to in such a way had the University not resourced more academic posts and invested in a new building for us. This makes me feel as though I’ve been listened to and I’ve been trusted to drive this growth.

The previous Undergraduate Dean (Jane Calvert) has also been fantastic and she was my go-to person when I needed a sounding board. The Heads of other Units also provide peer support and we regularly talk and share advice. Finally, I get a lot of day-to-day support from my colleagues in my school, with whom I have very good relationships and are always there to help with whatever I need.

What has your role taught you about yourself?

My current role has taught me how good I am with people. In my previous job, I was trying to manage 400 people and was never able to get to know them as individuals. So, at Newcastle, I’ve had the chance to realise that I work very well with individuals when I can get to know them, and that I am able to bring out the best in people.

However, management also often involves some very difficult conversations, and I’ve learnt that I can handle this. I’ve become good at knowing exactly when you must put your own emotions aside and how to always maintain my objectivity in tricky situations.

What have you found more challenging in your role?

The diversity of things I have to deal with on a daily basis. We’re a complicated School with 8 Undergraduate programmes (previously we had just 1, when I started). Several of our Postgraduate programmes also involve quite complicated relationships with external organisations such as the NHS, so dealing with the changes in these organisations can be very tricky.

How do you balance the role with your research and/or external commitments (families, hobbies etc.)?

I’m not doing very much research now. I do some through PhD students, but this is importantly their research and not mine. However, I was aware of this when I took the role; it was a very deliberate move for me and I felt it was right for this stage in my career. I do also still do some teaching. In the autumn semester I teach on some of the Masters and Undergraduate courses, and I supervise some of their projects.

In respect to balancing my work with my home life, it’s all about flexibility. I feel I’m getting better at it as my children are getting older. When they were younger I had to work very flexibly and bring them into the office, and also worked at home and in the evenings. So now, by being able to work more in the office, it allows me a better balance and to keep home life more separate. As a School, we’ve agreed to restrict emailing hours, to control the quantity of email traffic being sent in the evenings and weekends. This is something I feel I’ve learnt from my own experiences, which will improve people’s work life balance in the future.

What advice would you give to your successor?

I would tell them to always value and get to know your staff, and to be flexible with them. For the School to flourish, you must get the best out of each member of staff, and this is often done by being willing to be flexible in terms of work-life balance. You can never have a firm rule, you must always do things on an individual basis.

Additionally, I would emphasise to never allow hierarchy within the team from junior to more senior members of staff. Everyone is equal and is respected. As long as they are doing their job to the best of their ability and helping to drive the School forward then I am happy.

Thank you to Gwyneth Doherty-Sneddon for chatting to us about her role! We hope this has given you an insight into what being Head of a School might be like!

Demystifying Leadership: Faculty PVC (David Burn)

So, you think you could be PVC of FMS? 

 As part of our series, Demystifying Senior Leadership, we spoke to our very own PVC, Professor David Burn, about his role.

What are your main responsibilities?

Primarily, the day to day running of the Faculty, to set the strategy of the Faculty in consultation with others, and to be responsible to the VC and the Executive Board of the University.

That’s the attraction of a job like this; there’s obviously some structure to it, but there isn’t really an average day. Every day is different, and that’s what helps get you out of bed in the morning – it’s really great. They’re long days, there’s no question about it, but they’re very varied!

What made you want to apply for the role?

I know it sounds a bit trite, but I really felt I could make a difference!

Newcastle University has a fabulous reputation throughout all the region, and my family and friends nearly all live in the region. Trying to translate some of our great work out into the region, to make a real difference here, first and foremost, as well as beyond, is something I really feel passionately about.

What do you enjoy most about the role?

Probably the interaction with a large number of people. It’s really great to be able to talk to people, and to hear things, and to feel part of networks. I’m able to tap into lots of different sources, which means it’s uncommon that I hear something that completely blindsides me, and also means I’m able to take a helicopter view, to connect people in a way that they may or may not have thought about, which is such a nice thing.

I feel that a get a lot of job satisfaction from the role. It’s the little things, like trying to ensure people feel that their voices are heard, celebrating our successes, and just reinforcing the very positive, inclusive, and transparent culture we’ve got in this Faculty.

What’s the role taught you about the Faculty and University?

Well, it doesn’t get any easier the higher up the chain you get, that’s for sure! Processes, and systems, and ways of getting things through at University Executive Board can seem circuitous and tortuous and, at times, as opaque as when you’re putting in a grant in as a PI!

It’s also taught me that you’ve probably got to be quite broad church in your views, and a good listener, and broadminded. I get people coming in from all different walks of life and everybody has a slightly different agenda, or something they feel passionately about, which you have to accommodate. I’ve had to realise that sometimes you can’t always get everything that you want for your Faculty; that sometimes you have to do it for the common good of the University and take the important ‘One University’ approach.

What has the role taught you about yourself?

It’s taught me that I’ve got a greater capacity to do things than I thought, because I’ve never worked as hard as in this role, and I’ve never encountered more challenging situations!

I think it’s taught me that you’ve got to be, at times, a little thick-skinned, and realise, like Abraham Lincoln said, that you just can’t keep all the people happy all of the time. It doesn’t stop you from trying, but at times you’ve just got to do what you think is right.

What learning opportunities do you feel have helped prepare you for this role?

Learning opportunities are something that I feel are very important. I’ve been very lucky over the years, going back to when I was an Institute Director, or even before that, when I attended Leadership Development Courses and the like.

I also took myself off and had some discussions about strategy setting and had ongoing coaching. I’ve had an informal network of mentorship, which I’ve largely established myself, mainly through people outside Newcastle, and I’ve always found that to be very helpful. They are people who I look up to and respect, and who’ve always given very good advice – not just on work decisions, but on work-life things as well. I certainly see the value of mentorship, and am now a mentor myself through the Academy of Medical Sciences’ IHR Scheme.

What have you found most challenging in the role?

Most definitely it has been the sheer intensity of it, and the length of the days. A lot of time is spent Chairing meetings, so there’s very little downtime between and it’s very physically tiring.

Also, nobody likes confrontation or making tough decisions that will impact on people, but unfortunately, in a job like this, you just can’t avoid that. I think that’s something you always reflect on and think could I have done that better? Or: could I have had that conversation better? That’s been the element the role that I’ve lost some sleep over.

Where do you find support when facing challenges in your role?

You can’t beat your peer support group. This does shrink, the higher up the chain you go, so my main peer support is currently the two other Faculty PVCs, and I’m very blessed there as they are lovely people.

I would also count Julie Sanders, who was formerly the PVC in HASS, as a really great friend and colleague, to some degree a confidante, and a real source of good, sensible, impartial advice. I also I have huge respect for, and would count as a friend and colleague, the VC. For real get-away-from-it type of conversation, and to let off steam, I would say the other Faculty PVCs and the VC would be probably my best source of support there really.

Finally, I have a number of people who I can bounce things off and talk to, particularly within the Professional Staff and Dean Team here.

How to you balance the role with your research, hobbies and family?

My research has largely withered. If you want to be research or clinically active, a role like this really is not compatible sadly. To do it fully and thoroughly I think you’d struggle. I do carry on contributing to papers and outputs for people who work with me, but the amount of time you can contribute is difficult. I have other major external commitments. I’ve recently been appointed Chair of the NHSA Board, and am a Trustee of Parkinson’s UK.  I’m also President of the Association of British Neurologists, which is a pretty big job. So that’s squeezed out other internal things like research.

You should also never lose sight of your family. We don’t have children, but my wife is absolutely outstanding. She works full time herself and she’s incredibly supportive; the worst guilt I can experience is feeling that I’m not giving her enough time. Work-life balance is so important.

I’ve always loved running and cycling, I like keeping myself fit. I also really love listening to and making music, and trying to learn guitar. I’ve got it all mapped out for when I retire though. I’m going to do more photography, and I’m going to try to get music lessons and do some multitracking. And also, construct a model railway; I’m determined to build a real-life model based on a line in Ireland. I think it’s really important to have some little things to aspire to in the future in that way.

When your role finishes, will you miss it?

Hm, interesting question. I think the answer is yes, obviously I will, because of the intellectual stretch that it gives me; that is something that gives you quite a buzz. In some of the harder moments, or times when there’s been a conflict or confrontation, I guess at those times if you ask me that question, I would say I absolutely won’t. But by large, yes, I think most people would miss a job like this.

What advice would you give to your successor?

I would say be true to yourself and be your own person.

And listen to colleagues – you just can’t know everything. I’ve got a wonderful team of people at Dean-level and School Director/Head-level, and they’ve all got amazing skill sets. The success of the Faculty comes from that.

When it comes to appointing my replacement, it would be fabulous if we could have some really strong internal candidates from very diverse backgrounds. There are several people in this Faculty who can do the job, I am absolutely convinced of it. If I could help bring through people who are capable of taking a PVC role, and particularly women, that would be a great legacy to leave.

Thank you so much to David Burn for taking time out of his busy schedule to speak to us about his role! We hope this empowers you to take all opportunities for development available – you never know where you’ll end up!

AUA conference 2019: Higher Education – Fit for the future?

Every year, the AUA (Association of University Administrators) hosts their Annual Conference and Exhibition, which gives those working in higher education the opportunity to attend sessions delivered by specialists and leading practitioners, share ideas and best practise, and learn about the latest sector developments. Their AGM is also hosted at the Conference.

This year’s AUA Conference and Exhibition was held on the 15th and 16th April at the University of Manchester and the theme was Higher Education – Fit for the Future? It focused on some of the challenges and inequalities in higher education and what changes must be made to prepare for the future.

Malasree Home, FMS’ Athena SWAN Support Officer, has written about her experiences at this year’s Conference:

I have to secretly confess that, on that Monday morning, I was really excited for the ASA Annual Conference, and that it was the fantastic conference freebie – the AUA water bottle – that did it for me. The remainder of the two days could only get better!

As with most AUA conferences, there was something for everyone. The plenaries and keynote sessions were really interesting, focussing on the challenges ahead for the HE sector and the implications that this may have for management and governance in HE institutions. Here’s a quick run through some of the bits that I really enjoyed, and the things that made me think.

I thoroughly enjoyed the keynoted delivered by Jess Moody from Advance HE. Jess talked about the balance between ‘Excellence’ and ‘Equity’, and the challenges across the sector, especially regarding student attainment, and the fact that, while HE institutions work towards gender equity, there are often discrepancies with regards to other protected characteristics. Jess focused on the need to integrate EDI and Widening Participation more, but also raised a point that I found fascinating – can ‘data’ allow us to intervene, and what are the ethics surrounding that?

While I was disappointed that one of the sessions that I had signed up for was cancelled at short notice (‘Looking Behind the Label – Mental Health in the Workplace’), it was great to think outside the box in two sessions focusing on a positive workplace culture. One discussed the GROW model of coaching, while the other (fantastically titled ‘Yoga and the Hokey-Pokey’), focused on how teams can think creatively to enable solutions.

Though a bit bleary eyed after the AUA Gala dinner (though I have to confess that I called in a relatively early night) I also found the session on ‘Leading Change from the Bottom Up’ fascinating – the session presenters took us a through a successful restructure of a department to streamline processes. Change, in itself is a very pertinent topic in Higher Education, with almost every organisation going through some form of change at any moment in time, on a variety of scales. Yet, while relevant, it is also an uncomfortable topic, and the presenters showed consummate skill in not just describing the intricacies of their scenario, but also fielding the questions from the audience.

Indeed, it is the sheer variety of topics that makes this conference so interesting. As a participant, you can dip your toes into areas of HE that might not be your role, yet still come back with insights that can then be pertinent to how you do your day job! It also gives you an idea of the breadth of change and challenges in the sector. Even as I write this blog, I realise that a lot has changed since the event itself, especially with the Augar Review of post-18 education having been launched on the 30th May.

However, it will be remiss of me not to mention the icing on the cake – the AUA Conga. I was too chicken to join in, but it was great to watch. If you don’t believe me, check out the video on the AUA twitter! Enough said.

If you like the sound of these sessions and feel like getting involved, next year’s conference will be hosted at the University of Nottingham on the 6th and 7th April 2020. See you there!