I am Head of Communications in the Division of Communications and Marketing at The University of Manchester, which means that within the central communications and marketing team, I oversee a number of teams. These include the Media Relations Office, and the Corporate Internal Communications team. I also oversee project teams working on a couple of change programmes and our REF Communications.
I was a student at The University of Manchester and I’m originally from Essex, but after I graduated I decided to stay in the city. My degree was in English and I did not have a firm career plan, but I knew I wanted to do something that involved writing and the ability to be creative. Initially, I worked in various roles for the NHS, which were primarily administration roles, but over time, I was able to adapt them and involve a section of communications. Later on, an opportunity came up at the University of Salford in the communications department as maternity cover, and I have been in higher education ever since. My experience in the position soon led to a role in the Press Office at Salford, followed by a move to the University of Liverpool working as Senior Press Officer, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Five years ago, I returned to The University of Manchester, this time as a staff member covering the role of media relations officer before progressing to be Media Relations Manager. This contributed to my current role as Head of Communications, which I began 18 months ago. The press officer roles translated nicely into my current role. The clarity of communications and concentrating on audiences come across in my current role. I think the bits where I had to learn a lot more was about the internal communication side, which is a big part of my role now.
Career development in higher education
In terms of development, we have our PDRs (Performance and Developments Reviews) every year and they are a great opportunity to think about and discuss your development. The University itself offers a wealth of development opportunities. A standout career development opportunity was when I went to Poland to the EUPRIO Conference last year, which gathers higher education communicators from across Europe. It was a really interesting experience and it’s led to a lot more opportunities to collaborate with people across Europe while offering a different perspective to just engaging with UK universities. That trip last autumn has been one of the standout development opportunities in my career. The Association has funded a trip to Belgium for me and a colleague from the Netherlands in March, where we will be able to delve into more detail about how universities engage with the city that they’re in. There will be lots of different approaches, problems to discuss and a chance to learn about the experiences of others that will be useful for our own work.
Opportunities in higher education
When I worked as a Press Officer, I had the ability to be creative and I engaged with many interesting people. Working to create a larger impact was a brilliant opportunity. Universities are especially supportive of new ideas. One significant opportunity working for a university is the chance to meet insightful guest speakers and attend lectures. In a previous role, I met David Attenborough, who is a real hero of mine. Universities are rich places for experiences, doing things differently and meeting interesting people.
At The University of Manchester, we have a scholarship for people from African countries who cannot study a course or necessarily afford a course in Europe. These visitors come from places such as Ethiopia and Rwanda and sometimes have had a number of difficult times in their past. Meeting these individuals and seeing the importance of learning something here at Manchester was utterly eye opening. These students almost always say that the knowledge they are taking home is not just for their career necessarily, but to benefit their whole town or the country they live in. This highlights the importance of education to people all around the world and the transformation it creates by impacting not only individuals’ lives, but lots of different people. They were extremely inspiring students to me personally.
During my time at University of Salford, we worked on a project called the Energy House. This brand-new facility tested insulation and solar panels. It is a unique facility, as an actual house was built inside a lab and they could create a range of environments, including rainfall on the house. This project was brand new and generated vast amounts of media coverage, which led to commercial companies getting involved. As a result, we won the CIPR North Award for this project and the campaign.
Facilities in higher education
In terms of facilities, there are a huge amount available. This includes a wide variety of sports facilities, and the university itself is a magnet for other businesses such as restaurants and cafes. At Manchester, we have a bookshop that hosts talks by authors. Historian, David Olusoga, presented a lecture for Black History Month that I attended on my lunchtime. Furthermore, one of the best things about Manchester is that it has a museum, the historic John Rylands Library, Jodrell Bank Observatory and the Whitworth art gallery. During the school holidays, I visit the facilities with my daughter, as she loves to explore the Museum especially. Having the facilities available to us doesn’t only impact the staff positively, but the benefit can also extend to friends and family too.
Choosing a career in higher education
Working for a university is brilliant, particularly Manchester as social responsibility is one of the core goals. Every area we work in is proactively trying to make a difference to our society or the world, whether that is through new ideas or the way that the University operates. The University of Manchester does its very best to keep that front of mind. From a personal point-of-view, I think universities are keen to be distinctive. If you are looking to work at a particular university, try to find out about that element that makes the university distinctive and how you can contribute to this. Finally, I think it is always valuable to be aware of how almost everything you do at that university has the ability to affect our society today.
This interview was conducted before the Coronavirus Pandemic. Working arrangements on university campuses may have changed due to social distancing measures.