Friday, 6 August 2010

My staff profile from our office newsletter

Tell us a little about your background.
I was born in Lancaster but spent most of my childhood in Nottingham where my parents and sister still live. My father was a Maths teacher and we used to spend the long summer holidays touring through Europe with our caravan packed with tins of corned beef and Smash, lots of travel on a small budget. I think this gave me the travelling bug that took me to New Zealand via Texas and Costa Rica at the beginning of my academic career. I did my first degree in Botany at Cambridge and then my PhD in plant genetics in Liverpool. My first post-doc was based at the University of Texas in Austin but I did all of my field work in a National Park in the Pacific tropical rainforests of Costa Rica. I met my husband Chris when I was a student at Cambridge and we got married before I started my post-doc in Texas. After two years we moved on to New Zealand where I had another 2 year post-doc, this time in the School of Forestry at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch. Chris followed me back to the UK in 1989 when I got a third post-doc in Edinburgh. We then moved to Bracknell in Berkshire when Chris and I both got post-docs at the Silwood Park campus of Imperial College. We had our first set of twins, two girls, Rose and Alice, while we were in Bracknell.

What jobs have you done to date?

I don’t really think of being a post-doc as a job because it’s linked to a specific research project and it’s a short-term contract. My first real job was a lectureship at the University of Coventry. Chris had a lectureship at the University of Birmingham and we could have settled in the West Midlands but Chris was attracted by the first round of 5 year University Research Fellowships advertised by the University of Leeds in 1995. I remember Chris bringing the advertisement into Birmingham Maternity Hospital to show me on the morning of my caesarean section to deliver my second set of twins, this time a boy and a girl, Jack and Lucy. I wanted more children and Chris wanted more time to do his own research and the two things fitted quite nicely with giving up our lectureships and returning to the post-doc lifestyle in Leeds. Chris had a 5 year URF in Biology at Leeds and I got a part-time post-doc in Geography, plus a part-time contract with the Open University as a tutor. I continued to work part-time at Leeds until last September, moving from Geography to Biological Sciences in 2003 via Yorkshire Universities. My first job in Biological
Sciences was Marketing and Widening Participation Officer. I moved to Quality Assurance Officer in 2005 and then Manager of the Teaching Support team in 2007 when the Undergraduate School was set up.

Expand a little on your role?
At the moment I’m covering some of the role of the Undergraduate School Manager while Jenny Hamlin is on maternity leave. I thrive on new challenges and am enjoying working with the staff in the Undergraduate School Office and meeting more students and academic staff. I’m not sure how the role will develop when the new Director of the Undergraduate School and Institute Directors of Studies are appointed and Jenny returns from maternity leave, but I know there will be plenty to do.

Have you had any challenging tasks to undertake to date?

My biggest challenge in Biological Sciences is the one I was faced with when I first arrived in 2003. I had to develop a suite of co-ordinated recruitment brochures for the 4 Schools (plus 1 Division). I organised a full tendering exercise with 5 designers, consultations with staff, students, prospective students and their parents and managed to meet the print deadline required to get the brochures printed for the University Open Day in just under 7 months. I’m delighted that three of the five cover shots that were part of that initial branding exercise are still in use and the faculty logo and colour scheme are still part of the faculty interpretation of the University visual identity. More recent challenges have included setting up an on-line room booking system and then changing from a faculty system to the University on-line system. This year my main challenge has been moving the printing of teaching materials from an external supplier to the University Print and Copy Bureau. I think it is important to support the jobs of colleagues across the university where we can. By committing to move our printing business to Print and Copy Bureau we have enabled them to upgrade their printers and offer a more competitively priced service.

What were your thoughts when you were told you were having a second pair or twins and how did you cope with 4 little ones?

I went for my first scan on my own. I remember the midwife thinking I should have known it was twins again because my bump was so big. I thought it was because I was pre-stretched. Chris didn’t come to the scan because Rose had chicken pox. He picked me up from outside the hospital and drove straight off so I didn’t tell him it was twins (again) until he stopped at some traffic lights. He thought I was joking. We were very busy, and tired, when the children were all young but we have always worked as a team, and put the family first. It has definitely improved my time management and organisation skills. The best part about it is that when you have 4 children and a full-time job, no-one expects you to have a tidy house.

What do you do in your leisure time?

We have a 6 acre smallholding in North Yorkshire and have three horses and some chickens. In December we got a new puppy who I am supposed to be training but most of my non-work time is taken up with looking after my family. Jack and Lucy are half way through their GCSEs at Selby High School while Rose and Alice have just finished their A Levels at York College. I’m also vice-chair of governors at Selby High School.

What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done in your life?

I had a few notable encounters with animals while I was working in Costa Rica; coming face to face with a jaguar, disturbing a herd of wild pigs in the rain forest and almost stepping on a wasps nest but the scariest moment was one evening when a bat that was roosting in the toilet block fell onto my head while I was on the loo and couldn’t fly away because it got caught in my hair. It still sends shivers down my back just thinking about it.

Do you have any ambitions?

I’d like to continue with the travelling which has had to be put on hold over the last 18 years. I’ve booked to go to Cuba next Easter but I have lots of destinations on my wish list. If I had to choose I’d put Chile, Easter Island, Brazil and Peru top of my list. There was a possibility of going on an AUA (Association of University Administrators) study tour to Brazil for 4 weeks this November but the timing wasn’t good with the faculty restructure.

Is there anything you have done that you are particularly proud of?
I’m very proud of my children and enjoy watching them gain confidence and independence as they get older.
What’s your most frequently asked question?
In the VLE, how do I…………….?
******** Thanks Helen for giving us an insight into your life – a very busy one! This is such a lovely photo of you and your family that I just had to include it

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