Tell us about your background [00:05]
My background is in medieval studies. I did a PhD at the university of York between 1993 and 1997. And the sort of topic I was focused on was on festival culture in medieval towns. I had a British Academy postdoctoral fellowship, and that was university of York. And there I was looking at conceptions of time in the middle ages.
First job, outside of academia was working in a e-learning company, basically a software company that was making e-learning training courses for clients. And then after that, I worked for about eight to nine years in the area of transport and technology. So I worked in some different roles, really ending up as a consultant and project manager.
I went on to land a job with Triodos bank who I work for now. So I got originally a short-term position as a project manager, working with them, and then was taken on permanently as a project manager for Triodos, and about two and a half years ago, I was promoted to actually the project team manager. So not just being a project manager, but actually managing all the other project managers in the bank who worked for me.
Describe a typical week in your job [01:28]
Yes. So in a typical week, as you can imagine, we’ve got a number of projects on the go at once. So those projects might range from launching a new financial product. It could be having to install a new software system, maybe rolling out a training course or ensuring that the bank complies to the new regulations, something like that. So there’s sort of multiple projects going on at any one time that I might be working on or responsible for. In a typical week, what I would normally be doing is having project meetings where you’re checking in on the progress with the project team, of how they’re getting on.
So at the start of a project it might be more like defining the requirements. What is it that we’re aiming to do? What budget do we need? What people do we need? That type of thing. Right through to sort of some of the more nerve wracking stuff where you’re just about to go live with a big system to customers. And some of that type of stuff where you’re really, it can be in really in the minutia of literally we have things like runbooks where you’re going through probably every five minutes what needs to happen with technical systems being switched on, or communications being sent to customers.
So there’s quite a range, but it’s always meetings and working with other people at the stage of the project life cycle that I’m in.
What’s your favourite part of the job? [02:51]
I think probably two favourite parts are one – I’m a line manager, so I manage a team of project managers. I do really enjoy the management leadership aspects of it. So that’s working with my team members to understand what it is that they’re working on, what the challenge is that they’ve got and helping them through that and helping them develop in their expertise and in their careers more generally. I think there’s that, but there’s also the thrill of going live with the new system.
I think there’s nothing better than actually having had a problem for the customer, or the organisation for a period of time, or a challenge. And being able to kind of manage a solution through, to being actually launching that live, it all going well, and then getting the feedback of, well done that that’s been done. And especially when you get feedback from customers or internal stakeholders here, that that’s made a real difference to them.
I think that’s usually the highlight. I mean, it also kind of can be nerve wracking, but I think it’s being able to deliver things. And I think that is one interesting contrast with academia is that there is a shorter feedback loop between the work you put in and the results you get. And I think that’s something that I do quite like that faster pace of work and feedback and business.
What are the different kind of roles available to postdocs interested in a career in the banking sector? [04:16]
One interesting thing about banking is that there’re actually not so many people, as you might think are actually accountants or financial people with a necessarily sort of banking background, there was obviously a core of people who are, and there’s also the back office, which is a lot of functions within a bank like IT, HR, project management, supplier management, office services. So there’s a number of other functions that are needed to make the bank work.
And so I think that to me is the key, to try to think of yourself as a postdoc either, to do with your discipline, or to do with your transferable skills, how can you look for a match between what you do, what you can do and potentially those roles within an organisation. So, yes, most obviously for myself as somebody who had a research background, project management background, and something in project management, managing change within a bank is a good place where I could fit. Maybe if you’re more a scientist and things like, you know, numbers and statistics is more of your thing, then there are obviously jobs in banks to do with analysing data, analysing statistics, analysing financial information.
So, yes, it’s a little bit trying to take what either your expertise is, or your transferable skills, and trying to map that across.
Which transferable skills developed in academia have helped you in your current role? [05:47]
I think the most obvious skill is project management. As a researcher you are a project manager, you’re managing a research project from an idea on a piece of paper, right through to a conclusion, a deliverable or a book or a patent or whatever it is depending on the field in which you work.
So I think project management, I think communication skills as well. I think that’s something that I developed and honed in academia, especially public speaking and speaking in front of people confidently, which is something that does stand you in good stead in business and in the boardroom, and other places.
I think it’s interesting thinking about working as a historian because as a historian, you’re very good at looking at a sort of incomplete picture because you haven’t really got all the sources or the evidence that you need. And I try to tell a story, or deduce conclusions from that. I don’t think it’s too much of a sort of reach to say, actually that is still a lot of what I do today. Working in project management and the sort of fields that I work in, you’ve never got the complete picture of what the customer wants or need, or what does the market want or need. And you’re always trying to take in evidence and insight and data and kind of combine that into a picture.
I think that sort of ability, to look at complex datasets or complex situations and deduce things from which is developed as a story, there’s something that really stands you in good stead, in a little bit more analytical way, in a business role.
Why is it important for postdocs to reflect upon their skills and experiences? [07:18]
I think it is really important because as academics, there’s certain things that we unconsciously value like publications, like conferences attended, courses and syllabus’s taught, that type of thing. Of course, outside of academia, there’s a different set of priorities and values, and we’d be much less interested in those things like publications and more like, what skills did you use to create that publication?
So I think it’s really important to spend some time reflecting on the skillset that you’ve got, the skills experiences, personal attributes, that led you to do the things that you’ve done.
And that gives you a much better way then of what I talk about like translating your skills into language that employers can understand. So they can actually relate to you because frankly, a lot of employers don’t know what postdoctoral fellow or postdoctoral researcher is. That’s not in their lexicon, in their language, if they’ve never come across it. So it’s how do you present yourself to somebody, and how do you tell them what you can do and what you can do for them? So that’s why that period of reflection I think, is really important.
What advice would you give to a postdoc if they were considering a career beyond academia? [08:36]
Think about other sectors and places that they could work that would interest them. Talk to friends or alumni who work outside of academia and get a sense of that. Develop a little bit of a pitch. I think that’s one of the key things, how would you present yourself? If you’re not going to present yourself as a PhD or as a postdoc or as an academic or as a researcher, how would you present yourself?
And to me, that’s absolutely key to that sort of mindset. So in my own case, it was like a professional educator and trainer. That was my sort of identity that helped with the transition. So I think they’re all things to think about. And it was sort of easier along that path.