Each Friday we post a new v i s t a profile, a career beyond the academy story (use the tags at the bottom of the post to find the entire list). These posts accompany our curated events to support post-PhD career transitions, v i s t a mentoring, and also #sheffvista on Twitter.

Job title and company: Mentoring & Coaching Manager, University of Sheffield

Approximate salary range for your type of role: £35,000-£55,000 across the UK

I did science A-levels, a science degree and a PhD in molecular biology because it seemed at the time that’s what clever people did. When I (finally) finished my PhD I knew it was time to move on to a job where I would feel less idiotic all the time. I thought I’d better make a more informed decision about what to do next and so I trotted down to a careers service appointment. it turned out that a PhD with precisely ZERO extra curricular activities wasn’t massively attractive to employers, even when supplemented with my time pushing Sarah Lee gateaux in Iceland.

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As you do in these situations, I did a post-doc. I started the post-doc thinking that I was just buying myself some time to think, but soon found my feet in a new group and for the first time in forever became a respected colleague and team member. In parallel to building back my self esteem, I started building myself a broader base of experience by getting involved in committees, organising events, learning to collaborate, and attending professional development training. Along with another post-doc in the dept, I set up a post-doc society, and started to be an active member of my research community. I was also by then running a non-profit in Sheffield*, and was on the board of a local charity**.

Post-doc things I liked: the team, the community, the flexibility, the salary, my PI, freedom to invent new things, being an expert, still being at university, meeting and engaging people, activism, sorting stuff out, getting stuff done, and pouring agar.

Post-doc things I disliked: science, soil, sand in my hair, microscopy, repetitive tasks, nutrient solution, microscopy, long-time-to-create-any-change processes, working on Christmas day, RT-PCR, mini-preps, and microscopy.

I dithered for about 6-months wondering whether to say yes to the co-authored grant I was being invited to write with my PI, and eventually decided I’d only be doing it so I didn’t let my PI down. So I had to let her down and say I was looking outside research for my next job. The response surprised me. I’d thought it was going to be along the lines of, ‘you’ve let me down, you’ve let yourself down’… But no, she says: “Oh, I know someone you can talk to, another ex post-doc of mine, Anita, she’ll be really helpful to you, do you need anything from me?” MIND. BLOWN. Soon after, a maternity-cover post came up for the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry & Health Researcher Training & Development Advisor. I went for it. I needed to translate the experience of every scrap of my extra curricular work in and out of uni, AND the application/interview technique Anita drilled into me, AND to come up with a diplomatic way of explaining why my PhD took 5 years… but I got the job.

Then I learned how to do the job. It was an exciting (read: white knuckle) ride, made possible by (1) an excellent set of maternity cover notes which kept me afloat and meant I didn’t forget when to do what, or what a committee minutes looked like, or how to book rooms and coffee, (2) my long-suffering colleague Andrew ‘Wiggles’ Wigg, and (3) managers who really embodied a developmental attitude and trusted me to get on with things, take the lead, and speak up if I needed something. After the maternity-cover year, the Faculty won money for an additional post, so I was able to stay in the role, but take on certain specialisms. I picked the then fledgeling Coaching and Mentoring projects as my foci (did I tell you I used to do microscopy), and also started a part-time Masters Degree in Education with a Coaching and Mentoring specialism (I highly recommend this course, which I finished in 2014).

Having a particular specialism meant that when all our researcher development activity was restructured in 2012, a post was created that I fit right into — Mentoring & Coaching Manager for Researchers — part of the Researcher Professional Development (Think Ahead) Team — and I’ve been here 5 years. So what have I been doing?!

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In short,

  • researching what’s going on for researchers.
  • designing coaching & mentoring programmes that respond to what’s going on.
  • teaching people how to be mentors & coaches on those programmes.
  • using the data from coaching & mentoring programmes to drive bigger change at the university and wider across the sector.

Because I have specialised expertise I also offer consultancy for others at TUOS and externally on mentoring programme design, and on mentor development. And I belong to groups of other people who teach coaching, groups who research researchers, and groups who influence policy on research careers. I belong to other communities too, I review for a couple of journals, I go to conferences, I maintain a Google+ community, I find out most of what I need to know abut the sector from Twitter.

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I spend a huge amount of my time at work persuading people to do things for free. All the mentors are volunteers, and there’s more than 200 of our TUOS staff and more than 100 alumni in that group. I train them, supervise them, make sure they follow ethical practice guidelines, and offer them ways to keep learning about mentoring practice.

Bonuses: I get to hang around in HE, I am an expert, I feel I’m making a difference, I get to invent things, tremendous variety, I only take work home if I choose to (I hardly ever choose to any more #takebreaksmakebreakthroughs) and I work with a very diverse set of partners and colleagues (‘professional services’ isn’t as culturally diverse as academic depts are) though ‘Researchers Developers’ as a UK sector tend to be female, tend to be mid-30s (I’m late mid 30s!), tend to have a science PhD, and tend to be paid about the same as a lecturer.

To say I ‘left academia’ I do a lot of research (Trust Me!, Fellowship Ahoy, Value of the Doctorate), writing (blogs, papers, reports, funding applicaitons), teaching (mentor workshops, supervisor workshops, and HEA portfolio assessing) & admin (managing and advertising events, conferences, evaluation and reporting).

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Who knows what next? To move forward in my career I need to move on to a new place — very similar to research careers. As well as researcher development jobs, my direct experience and skill set could fit into academic posts, teaching roles, learning & development roles, posts in HR, organisational development jobs, academic practice posts… there’s no shortage of option in HE or in the 3rd sector, or even the private sector — it’s once again just a case of taking a leap and seeing what happens.

*Running a non-profit = translated = a friend and I managed a website, recruited members and put on some craft fairs in the Millennium Gallery.

**On the Board of a local Charity = translated = Joined a theatre company, learned my lines, stood in the right place, AND, argued in committee meetings that we should buy only fair trade tea and coffee.

What professional/accrediting bodies, or qualifications are relevant to where you work? Fellow or Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Accreditation via Association for Coaching. Society for Research into Higher Education. European Association for Research into Learning & Instruction. You can sign up to newsletters from all these places if you want to find out more about what they do and why it’s relevant.

Where can researchers look for jobs like yours? University websites, Jobs.ac.uk