Give a brief overview of your role.
My role is based within Advance HE’s Insights team, a team of experts in higher education research. Our team is comprised of mixed-methods researchers, like myself, but also specialist researchers (quantitative or qualitative only). As a team, we design and deliver a variety of provisions, including EDI audits, desk-based literature reviews, programme and policy evaluations as well as bespoke consultancy research pieces. In general, we specialise in EDI issues and our research is underpinned by sector-wide datasets from our student surveys and our sector-leading higher education statistical reports.
Give a brief overview of your professional experience.
I completed my PhD in Human Geography at Loughborough University in 2018 and my area of expertise is multicultural teacher training and multicultural education oriented towards equity and social justice. I have since worked in UK HE, spending a year as a part-time Lecturer in Human Geography straight after my PhD at Loughborough University, before moving to an evaluation researcher role for Prosper.
Why do you do your job?
My heart lies in EDI advocacy and that’s what drew me to Advance HE. I am excited to be part of an organisation that is a real pioneer in this area and offers me the opportunity to use my research skills for relevant contributions, spanning across the other two key strands of Advance HE’s work, namely teaching and learning, as well as leadership and governance. I chose to apply for the mixed-methods researcher role because I had attended several courses offered by Advance HE (for example, Tackling Racial Harassment in HE) and was already an associate fellow, so I was
quite familiar with the organisation’s work. I also read the annual equality statistical reports Advance HE publishes for staff and students in UK HE and I pictured myself being part of this publication. This actually materialised, as I have been majorly involved with this piece of work since starting my role.
What I love about my role is the variety of things I get to do. I am working on a number of projects, collaborating with Advance HE colleagues from across the company as well as with multiple clients, like UKRI, the Committee of University Chairs and individual HEs across the UK. This variety of projects and collaborators keeps my interest high! To give you an indication of what my role involves, I conduct evaluation design for internal or external development opportunities and write literature reviews on various topics related to EDI issues (like barriers to doctoral studies).
I also design and conduct surveys, focus groups and/or interviews to explore staff and students’ experiences and perspectives on a variety of topics, from institutional research culture to inclusive leadership. I also love the flexibility of working from home. Although I find this aspect challenging sometimes as well, because I do miss spending time in an office space and the social aspect of hanging around with my colleagues.
What is it about the industry that keeps you motivated?
Advance HE is a growing organisation. There is currently a restructuring plan with new divisions being created, which will result in many more job roles becoming available. There are opportunities for career progression both within the Insights team (e.g. becoming a manager) as well as in other teams across the organisation (e.g. moving to training delivery, getting involved with the programmes and events team, becoming an EDI adviser etc.). The fact that all new posts are advertised internally first is a big bonus, as it gives employees the chance to have an idea of what sort of roles are available at any given time.
Moreover, it is very good that Advance HE employees can enjoy free access to all the training and development opportunities offered by Advance HE (e.g. attendance of annual conferences on EDI/ leadership & governance/teaching & learning/student experience etc.). It is even better that employees have the chance to actively contribute towards these conferences after getting their line manager’s approval (which is not hard, as everyone is really supportive of internal initiatives). Examples of contributions include reviewing conference submissions and chairing panels depending on one’s individual interests.
There are also opportunities coming in on an ad-hoc basis, for development activities. These are accessible on a short application basis. For example, last year I applied to become a Mental Health First Aider (MHFA). Advance HE advertised a relevant call for interested employees, offering free online training with the commitment to offer MHFA services internally for 2 years, post the training completion. I was successful and thoroughly enjoyed the training and I am now co-managing the MHFA Advance HE’s network.
I also recently applied to become a member of the organisation’s Race Action Group and was successful, so, I can’t wait to start getting involved with the group’s initiatives, aiming to provide oversight and leadership in delivering Advance HE’s race action plan. Finally, I know that there is currently an intranet building up, which will curate a variety of training opportunities on issues related to Advance HE roles, which will enable Advance HE staff members to find relevant development opportunities for them and pursue them online and at their own pace.
Could you compare and contrast your current position with your experience of academia?
Having worked on a fixed-term, part-time, teaching-only contract in academia for a year, I cannot reiterate enough that there is a real life beyond academic posts! Working beyond academia has given me the opportunity to properly enjoy weekends and holidays, without any guilt trips or commitments that I have to fit outside my working hours. Sticking to a 9-5 rota is important to me, especially after a health crisis I had at the end of that year of my academic contract, where, admittedly, my work-life balance was really unhealthy.
My current position is much more team-based than my experience of academic work within the Social Sciences. There is a lot less time to produce deliverables, but, the way that research is carried out and the way I interact with clients and other stakeholders makes me get a really good feel of the impact of my work here. Research findings are communicated so that they are publicly accessible by a large audience, instead of packaged to meet journal articles requirements and institutional REF commitments. For me, it was always important to work on the ground and offer my research skills for the advancement of EDI issues within higher education and the wider society. In other words, I wanted to work with people and for the people. I really feel that my role allows me to do that and that my organisation provides me with adequate support to thrive.