Please tell me about your role and remit at the university
I am currently a Marketing and Communications Manager for one of our colleges. The University of Edinburgh has three colleges, and I am the manager for the college of arts, humanities and social science. I am managed in the central team, so I am somewhere in between the corporate central team and a college team. I look after a certain set of schools. My schools are the School of Health, the School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, and Philosophy, Psychology and Language Science. I do everything for them from creating brochures and booklets to events, recruitment marketing, advertising, that sort of thing.
How did you come to work in higher education? Please tell me about your career background
I started in the book trade as a bookshop manager and I did that for about 12 years. Then I had a bit of a midlife crisis and went to Japan for four years, and when I returned I didn’t want to really go back into retail. I had won quite a lot of competitions for window dressing, which was kind of my thing. This lead to getting a job at the university visitor’s centre. Although the role was a bit of retail, it was also product development and they had an exhibition space, so I was keen to work on exhibitions. That was how I went in. As that position in the visitor’s centre was part of communications and marketing, I started doing a few other things. I started doing some general exhibitions, outdoor exhibitions and working with marketing. Then I did my marketing exams and I moved into a marketing role from there.
Would you say your job is rewarding/meaningful?
I would, some bits of it are more rewarding and meaningful than others. There are a few things I’ve found particularly rewarding. I am from Liverpool, from a bit of a WP background and I went to Edinburgh University 25 years ago. I worked on a widening participation campaign, which focused on getting poorer children into university. That was amazing and it was close to my heart. I also worked on a project for International Women’s Day called Inspiring Women, Inspiring Change. This was a massive outdoor photography exhibition of female staff. The reason behind this was that there were many pictures on males in the photographic archives and practically none of women. This was a big effort to redress the balance, so it was satisfying to do that.
Please could you tell me about any notable opportunities you have had working in Higher Education?
I have been very lucky. I started in the visitor’s centre and developed my curation skills. I didn’t have these before. The visitor’s centre actually paid for my CIM, the Chartered Institute of Marketing qualification. That was a year-long course they paid for me to do, which was amazing. Off the back of getting that qualification, I did two secondments in marketing. I went on a nine-month secondment to the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Science, which was amazing. Then I received another marketing secondment, which was to come into this team and I stayed in the role. I have had these two amazing secondments and they paid for my exams. Some other things that have been great is that the university has many amazing resources. I was inspired by all the work that I did with the exhibitions in the visitor’s centre, so recently I decided I was going to do a degree in Graphic Design. The university has these amazing open courses and staff get discounts on them. I did my portfolio in the evenings and, the university allowed me to compress my hours. I now work four long days and have a day off in order for me to work on the online design degree I’m doing.
Please tell me about any other opportunities you’ve had, they may be creative opportunities, experiences, or the support you’ve received at the University
I do get the opportunity to be quite creative. I work in a small team, but we have quite a big remit. There have been a couple of standout projects that I have done, that I have been the lead on. We do a lot of undergraduate conversion, which has included student takeovers and videos of Edinburgh the city. A fun example was the Friends Icebreaker Event. I bought 500 umbrellas and in Welcome Week, I got all the new students to come along to this event where they recreated a dance with our dance society to the Friends theme tune. 500 people turned up, it was amazing. About a year later, at a student panel, someone mentioned the event and said that they made a friend there who is now their flatmate. That was my event. If you have an idea and you have the determination to go for it, you can make a difference. I have been involved in some interesting projects, including Royal visits from Princess Anne celebrating 60 years of nursing. Although I have not been mentored, I have had some supportive managers who have put me forward for awards. When I ran the exhibition centre, I was put forward for a Special Contribution Award. I’ve also been put forward for two Case Awards by previous managers, which I won. We are very well supported.
Please could you tell me about your experience of the facilities on campus for life, wellbeing or the social opportunities you have in your university or your sector?
Edinburgh University is huge, but we have many little pockets. I would say that it has a nice community feel. I socialise with my team and the greater department. For events such as the Carol Service and the lighting up of the Christmas tree, the whole university might get together. There are also a number of interesting sessions that the university provides for us. We have things like CBT training sessions, mindfulness days, yoga at lunchtime, so there definitely are things available.
What has been your career highlight whilst working in Higher Education and why?
The Friends Event was amazing; I was terrified that no one was going to appear. The videos were great, everyone had a great time on the day and it was totally my project. I am really proud of that. I did many exciting exhibitions for English Lit and the Science Festival, like when I got a 3D skeleton hologram, and that was amazing.
What are your tips or advice for those considering a career in marketing at a university?
Do not be afraid to work your way up. Even if you receive a role that is a lower grade or a bit of a sidestep from marketing, there is much opportunity to move in a big university. Push yourself forward for things, ask what secondments are available, look at internal jobs and ask those are available as secondments. I believe you have to be forward in asking for those things. The last thing would be once you are in university, remember people’s names and what they do. In a big organisation like a university, those relationships are important for how you get things done and opportunities for promotion.
This interview was conducted before the Coronavirus Pandemic. Working arrangements on university campuses may have changed due to social distancing measures.