#sheffvista 55 Dr Paula Gould, Campaigns Project Manager, University of Sheffield

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: Campaigns Project Manager, University of Sheffield

Paula 2.jpgI have an academic background that cuts across science and arts, having dabbled in physics, materials science and fluid mechanics as an undergraduate before specialising in History & Philosophy of Science and continuing in this field with an MPhil and PhD. So rather than spending my postgraduate years grappling with equations and experimental data, I enjoyed a delightful time browsing through 19th century issues of Nature, trawling through letters and logbooks in archives, collecting black and white photographs of Victorian ladies in laboratories and on scientific field trips and ultimately writing a 70,000 word thesis.

Post-PhD to now (in brief)

It was precisely because I enjoyed researching and writing my thesis so much that I decided not to carve out a career in academia. That may sound strange. However, whilst I’d had a wonderful time storytelling (albeit within an academic framework), I lacked a similar passion for teaching – which could have been reasonably problematic if aiming for lecturer roles in a humanities department. I’d also managed to gain some experience writing for general audience and collected few national newspaper bylines after winning a relatively high profile science writing completion. This was enough to convince me that I could pursue my interests in research and writing without following an academic career pathway.

Instead, I spent the next 10 years running a business as a freelance science & healthcare writer and editor, before eventually returning to university life as a non-academic member of staff. I’ve had a variety of job titles since joining university Professional Services, with roles covering media relations, research communications, project management, research development and research finance. My current position – Campaigns Project Manager –covers pretty much all of the above, which in many ways makes it the perfect post for an out-and-out cross-disciplinarian.

Campaigns Project Manager: what exactly is this job?

I sit within a team of staff who organise public lectures and graduation ceremonies, reach out to and keep in touch with former students, and manage a substantial programme of philanthropic giving. You could call it the department of ‘friend-raising and fundraising’. We call ourselves Development, Alumni Relations and Events (DARE).

My role cuts across all of these areas, though with an emphasis on the development side. It’s my job to plan and coordinate University-wide fundraising initiatives, such as the current £2 million Sheffield Scanner campaign.

This involves working closely with senior leaders across the institution to ensure that any large-scale initiatives align with the university’s strategic goals. There’s a large element of communications activity – presentations, formal reports, press releases, fundraising ‘cases for support’, news updates for donors, etc. Some of these materials I will research and write myself. Other materials will be produced in collaboration with the university’s central communications team, or with colleagues from DARE.

Project management is clearly an integral part of the role too as the job title suggests. Planning and setting up a fundraising campaign is a complicated and lengthy project in itself. Once the campaign is live and rolling it’s vital to keep on top of progress. Data needs to be analysed, reports generated, communications planned and yet more materials produced. This is the part of the job that requires strong analytical skills and a love (or at least familiarity) with spreadsheets and databases.

Yes, it’s essentially a desk job, but there’s also plenty of opportunity to get out and about. A typical week usually includes several trips across campus for meetings to discuss upcoming projects. It may also include delivering a presentation to staff within the office, conducting an interview to generate material for a case study, or attending an evening event as either helper or host for external visitors.

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One of the main areas of focus for university fundraisers at the moment is scholarships and bursaries for undergraduate and postgraduate students so it’s vital that I’m up-to-speed on higher education policy. I receive news briefings on a daily basis from a variety of media sources and can happily say that listening to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and reading the Guardian online counts as work!

Fancy doing something similar?

Campaigns Project Manager might not be the most exciting of job titles, but as I’ve tried to describe above, it’s a hugely varied role. You can also guarantee that there is never a dull moment when working in a university fundraising office. It’s just not that kind of place.

I’ve reached here via a collection of overlapping job or posts. There probably isn’t a typical career pathway; it’s more about skills and experience than anything else. The three areas I’d recommend covering would be:

  • Writing/narrative
  • Report-writing/analysis
  • Finance/data

If you’re looking at doing this type of job in a university then a good working knowledge of higher education and some experience of working in the sector could be essential. Having the prefix “Dr” certainly does no harm when working as a non-academic in an academic environment, but you don’t need a PhD to do this job.

What you do need are:

  • Enthusiasm and self-motivation
  • An interest in people
  • Flexibility (expect the unexpected!)
  • An ability to multitask
  • A professional appearance and approach – the team I work with all have have smart shoes under the desk and jackets on the coat rack

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I started this blog describing how much I’d enjoyed my time as a PhD student. Twenty years and a collection of transferable skills later, I’m similarly enjoying my time as a Campaigns Project Manager. Did the 25-year-old me know that’s where I wanted my career to take me? Absolutely not. But having taken the journey and perhaps serendipitously landed here, I would advocate the importance of enjoyment when weighing up possible career options beyond academia.

Where can researchers look for jobs like yours? University websites and Jobs.ac.uk for positions in the HE sector. Guardian online for fundraising and campaign management posts in the charity and Arts sectors.

What professional/accrediting bodies, or qualifications are relevant to where you work? The Council for Advancement and Support of Education is a professional association serving educational institutions and the advancement professionals who work on their behalf in alumni relations, communications, development, marketing and allied areas.

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