Suky Sanghera works as a PA to Professor Ian Marshall, who is the Pro-Vice Chancellor at Coventry University with overall responsibility for research. There is nothing routine or repetitive about Suky’s fascinating role, where she has been given every encouragement to develop her skills and take on lots of responsibility.
What does your job involve?
My job is mainly project-based, which means that my main role is to assist the Pro-Vice Chancellor in the delivery of Coventry University’s research portfolio. I help my boss to meet his objectives and targets, and take projects off his hands as much as possible to enable him to do his job effectively.
One of my responsibilities is to organise all the university’s professorial lectures, which are open to anyone in the university or the community and enable professors to present their research to a wide audience. As well as liaising with the deans and professors and sending out invitations, I organise publicity for each lecture, and also work closely with the university’s own publicity department. Each lecture is filmed and uploaded onto our website, and I brief the media technicians and check that we have the right equipment available on the day. Organising the catering and ensuring that each Department keeps within their budget is also my responsibility. These usually take place about once a month during the academic year.
Another big project that I have managed is the design and administering of collaborative research projects with the University of Worcester and Buckinghamshire New University. This involved advertising for applicants and co-ordinating all the applications. I developed an online system so that the academics can view the applicants, and also set up all the necessary meetings for this project.
What else do you do?
A more recent development for me has been to help the Pro-Vice Chancellor to prepare speeches and booklet messages for graduations. I liaise with the deans to find out what they would like to include, prepare the text and then insert this into the draft speech my boss has prepared. Part of my involvement in the preparation for graduation speeches also involves contact with overseas partners.
The Coventry University website contains research student testimonials as well as lectures and presentations on a wide range of subjects including childhood obesity and emergency preparedness. I manage both the written content for this and organise the filming for the videos.
I am always looking at ways in which to improve the administration processes by introducing online systems wherever possible.
If I have an idea for the university I am given every opportunity to put that into practice. This month sees the start of a new system for staff car-parking here at Coventry, which means you can book a car-parking space online. I had seen a similar scheme run successfully in other universities, and am delighted to have enabled its introduction here.
This job also involves day to day administration using Microsoft Word packages such as Power Point, spreadsheets and databases. This includes preparing letters, reports and agendas and organising my boss’s electronic diary. I also organise his travel, both for regular UK and twice-yearly trips abroad, which includes booking flights and hotels. General filing and running the office are all part of my role.
Who do you work with?
I share an office with two PAs who also work for Pro-Vice Chancellors, so we can support one another in managing the office.
Why did you choose this type of work?
I knew that I did not want to continue with my education straight after undertaking GCSEs, and I therefore went directly into a training programme in office skills for school leavers. After gaining varied experience in offices the idea of working within a university appealed to me. Whilst employed at Coventry University I had the opportunity to shadow the PA to the Dean of Engineering and Computing, which helped me to discover that I really enjoyed this work.
What are your working hours and how does this affect your work-life balance?
My working hours are usually 8.30 am to 5.00 pm Monday-Friday, although I usually work into the evening at least once a month. You have to be flexible and I like getting into work really early before the phones start ringing as I can get so much done then.
As I live locally I have an easy commute to the University so this leaves me plenty of time for a life outside work. I have participated in the Race for Life twice – Coventry University matched the money I raised for Cancer Research with the same amount on both occasions.
What are the benefits of working in a University?
The facilities at Coventry University are excellent and include a gym and staff discount scheme for local activities and events. You can also take advantage of the wide range of training courses for staff. The working conditions are brilliant and the staff here at Coventry are very friendly and approachable. I have a generous annual leave entitlement, which I fit around my boss’s work schedule.
Which of your qualifications have been the most useful?
My Higher National Certificate (HNC) in Computer Studies has been invaluable as much of my work is computer-based. I can adapt to different packages and I feel comfortable working with IT.
Did Coventry University sponsor you to take the HNC?
I was very fortunate in that Coventry University supported me to undertake the HNC in Computer Studies at Henley College and met the costs of the tuition fees. The course lasted for 2 years and as well as attending classes for two evenings a week I had to fit all the coursework around my job. I spent many a weekend working on this, but it all paid off in the end as I obtained a distinction and I now have the benefit of a very useful and well-respected qualification. However, you have to be prepared to put in a great deal of hard work.
What training have you had?
Most of the training for this job has been on the job, although I have taken refresher courses in IT and learnt new packages
What skills and personal qualities are important?
Strong written and verbal communication skills are vital. You also need to be very calm and organised. The ability to prioritise your own workload is very important, and you need to be able to independently plan and deliver your work without supervision.
A professional approach is needed with an outgoing personality to work confidently with the many internal and external contacts. It is important to treat everyone equally, from the most senior staff to students. You also need to be very conscientious and motivated in order to keep on top of the work. IT is a big part of the job so skills in this area are very important.
What do you enjoy about your job? Any dislikes?
I love the variety in this job and the new challenges each day presents. I am very fortunate in that my boss stretches and encourages me which really contributes to my enjoyment of the job.
The work can be pressurised at times but I love the buzz and find it motivating.
What prospects are there and what ambitions do you have?
Within the University there are lots of opportunities to progress if you want to. However, I have been given so much encouragement by my boss to develop within this role, that I have no plans to move on at present. In the future, working more closely with students would appeal to me. The experience I have gained would also be invaluable outside Higher Education.
What do you know now that you wish you had known before you started?
If I had known that a PA job would be so interesting I would have applied a lot sooner! Each boss works in a different way, which is important to keep in mind. Shorthand would also be a useful skill in this work.
What other advice have you got for people interested in this career?
The most important thing is to gain an understanding of how offices run. Shadowing someone in their job is a great way to find out about the work. In this job you need to be prepared to put in the hours and willing to take on extra work. Commitment and dedication will get you a long way.
If you weren’t in this job what do you think you would be doing?
I would still be working within Higher Education, possibly in a job which involves helping students.
Suky Sanghera left school with seven GCSE (A-C) passes having decided that she would prefer to go to work and gain some experience rather than continuing with further study at this stage. After spending a few months travelling, Suky undertook a training scheme in Business Administration which included work experience and led to an NVQ Level 2 qualification. She then proceeded to gain varied experience in office work, working for a local authority, insurance company and for a building society for about four years in total. In the early stages of her career Suky also obtained RSA level 1 and 2 qualifications in word processing.
12 years ago Suky applied to Coventry University and started work as a Clerk/Word-Processing operator. She was then promoted to become a Senior Clerical Officer in the Faculty of Engineering and Computing which involved managing the Faculty’s research administration right from processing student applications through to the award of PhDs. Suky was then promoted to the post of PA to Professor Maureen Neal, the Dean of the School of Mathematical and Information Science (later to become the Faculty of Engineering and Computing). Professor Marshall joined the Faculty as Dean a few years later.
Whilst in post Suky successfully managed a major specialist conference with 380 delegates, which enhanced her experience yet further. She moved to her current role when Professor Ian Marshall was promoted to Pro-Vice Chancellor. Whilst working full-time at Coventry, Suky completed an HNC in Computer Studies (which the faculty funded) and was awarded a Distinction.