Friday, January 8, 2016

Alternative Academia 6.0

The end is nigh…
Well, the end of my first placement is nigh…
I’m not sure if I have ever probably described what I am doing in alternative academia, but I am part of a UK graduate trainee programme in university management and leadership called Ambitious Futures. It consists of three placements across 15 months, with the second placement taking place at a different institution. As a result you leave with a solid grounding of three areas of the university, and also of different institutions. I’m not here to pimp the programme, but applications for the next cohort beginning September 2016 are open at the moment and the deadline is 25th January 2016.
Currently I have one week left in my first placement which has been within a planning department. I’m not going to go into details of my work because I don’t believe that blogging about my work, department, or institution is appropriate or professional, but I will summarise generally my experiences of working within Higher Education over the past four months as opposed to how I found it as a student:
  • So much goes on behind the scenes that students, and I dare say academics, are not aware of. Administration or professional services can frequently be derided as bureaucratic and ineffective and I believe that to be unfair. Universities are complex beasts and the growing regulation from government bodies equates to greater university administration. No system is perfect, but I get really annoyed when friends and colleagues talk about “incompetent” administrators. There will be bad eggs in any industry, for sure, but my experience thus far is that most people in professional services are hard-working, dedicated, but also over-stretched
  • I never knew how universities were funded or how much is spent in the support of teaching and research. The logistics of it is truly staggering at times.
  • Universities are a collaborative endeavour, managed largely through committee structures. This has downsides in the speed and accountability for decision-making, but advantages in that decisions are made by consensus, and largely led by academics with the support of professional services.
  • You never tell somebody to do something in Higher Education, you consult, persuade, cajole, but you never ever demand!
  • Personally, I know that I can set my mind to anything and come out of my shell. I entered a very technical, data-driven (and acronym) department and initially felt inadequate coming from my Humanities background. But I feel like an Excel wizard now, my communication skills have grown further in confidence (you can read about that here) and while I still feel intimidated when meeting very senior members of the university, I feel like I do belong and have a legitimate role to play.
Next, I am off to UCL to spend 4 months working in Library Services (which is a little bit of a comfort zone for me as I did my MA in Medieval Studies at UCL and worked in the Bodleian Libraries at the University of Oxford). I'll then return to Oxford to complete 6 months in Estates Services. I would encourage others to apply for this role. For me, it has provided the perfect opportunity to take a 15 month break from academia and explore other roles within the university environment I love so much. Here is the link to the Ambitious Futures website, and I am (as always) happy to answer any questions!

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