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: Head of Faculty Engagement and Partnerships, The University Library, University of Sheffield
Approximate salary range for your type of role: £50k to £56k
The year is 1997, a deadline focused, organized, and generally capable PhD student hands in his thesis on time, passes his viva, hotfoots it to the nearest airport and flies to the other side of the world without a plan, money or ambition but filled with a sense of gratitude that his examiners had been open-minded enough to accept an interdisciplinary piece of work that had neither the a priori rigour that it takes to satisfy pure philosophers, nor sufficient lines of code to mollify decent computer scientists.
The ‘itinerant’ years that followed were as enjoyable and experientially beneficial, as they were deleterious to my CV (yes I am talking about myself here). Three years of PhD spent grappling with the ineffability of ‘consciousness’ and understanding its implications for Artificial Intelligence had already put something of a dent in my employment history, so I started my own business. To this day I tell myself that this was down to my desire to be my own boss rather than other people’s determination that they’d rather not be. We may never know the truth.
I enjoyed being my own boss, I subsequently started other businesses, with and without business partners, in the areas of software development, training and consultancy. Eventually, as all fading entrepreneurs must, I moved into business advice. Over the course of 4 years I helped 60 people to start their own businesses and delivered marketing, sales and finance training to many others. I found that I really rather enjoyed not just making a difference (a.k.a. ‘having impact’) but also helping other people.
In 2007 I undertook a Masters Degree in the Computer Science department at The University of Sheffield. A curious career move for someone who had run a software development company I’ll grant you, but I had always been ashamed at my lack of ability with code and had relied on far more proficient programmers in all my business projects. I succeeded in gaining another qualification but I remain, to my mind, a delinquent programmer.
In 2010 an opportunity arose to work with The University of Sheffield, helping PhD students to consider enterprise as a career option. The post was initially part-time but eventually expanded to full-time as the focus of the sector turned more to ensuring the impact of PhD training on the nation’s economy. This role gave me a sense of value and worth that I had not encountered even when working for myself or completing my PhD, something that came as an even greater shock than the revelation that I enjoyed helping other people, or the realization that I was never going to be a great programmer.
In 2016 I transferred to a post in the University of Sheffield Library. Many of my colleagues remarked that this was yet another left-field career move. But the logic is easy to see when you consider that the services the Library provides are key to the academic endeavour. Having easy access to the latest findings in one’s field is essential for both teaching and research and the challenges of maintaining such access in the modern Higher Education environment are not inconsiderable. Likewise, if the research undertaken here is to have the impact the University desires, then timely and appropriate dissemination is paramount. The research library is the beating heart of a research-intensive University.
Day-to-day I head up the small, but perfectly formed, Faculty Engagement team; 12 dedicated specialist librarians who endeavour to support both staff and student needs across all disciplines within the University. Fortunately they are incredibly professional, largely self-sufficient and endlessly tolerant. Much of my focus is on ensuring that the Library will continue to be the beating heart of the University in five to ten years time and in the current environment this requires a combination of careful long-term planning and fleet-footed opportunism.
The infrastructure we invest in today needs to support the staff and students of the future and this can only be achieved through a clear understanding of faculty strategies and their implications for library provision. It is also essential that the library’s specialist knowledge of the external publishing environment is shared with faculties and departments in order to allow informed decisions to be made. For me this involves regular dialogue with senior academics, library sector specialists and suppliers.
The introduction of the market place to the UK’s Higher Education sector has fundamental consequences for the way in which UK Universities go about their business, many of which we are only starting to fully understand. In the parlance of the University’s leadership programme the problem is a ‘wicked’ one. That is to say, there is no easy or obvious solution, indeed there may be no solution at all. Sounds familiar.
I have always been fond of the sage words of Seneca: “If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favourable.” But whilst it is worthwhile spending time working out where you want to end up before you set off, to paraphrase Publilius Syrus; “Any plan that can’t be changed, is a bad one.”
Where can researchers look for jobs like yours? Jobs.ac.uk
What professional/accrediting bodies or qualifications are relevant to where you work? I am Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy but it is not compulsory in my work, more a professional development opportunity. Not everyone is a CILIP member, but it is a recognised body for librarians.