Birmingham Professional- Career Stories
Katherine Burley, Deputy Learning and Teaching Manager
I’ve been working in my Deputy Learning and Teaching Manager (G6) role since December 2017. My career at UoB started off with a B400 Admissions Officer temporary contract, which I applied for following a change of career direction. It was a great first step in to Higher Education and allowed me the opportunity to develop my understanding of how a university operates in a process driven, central team role. I was confident that I wanted to pursue further opportunities at UoB and took a secondment position in a School as a programme administrator (B400). I knew almost immediately that I enjoyed the environment of a learning and teaching team within a School, and sought opportunities for development within this area. This led me to my first B500 role as a Team Leader, and within 9 months of working in this role I applied for and started my current post.
My progression from a B400 role to G6 took three and a half years, and the majority of this time was spent as a B400. This was simply because I was worried about the jump from B400 to B500 - I knew this would involve more responsibility and management and I lacked confidence in my own ability. I would read a job description and instantly talk myself out of it because I didn’t meet 100% of the criteria. Getting turned down for roles was also disheartening. My line manager recommended that I had a series of coaching sessions at the university, and these were a definite turning point for me, and really made me re-evaluate my perspective and my approach to applying for jobs.
My role as a B500 was much more fleeting, and I still worried about taking the next step to G6; it felt daunting to go from a support staff contract to academic related. I needed a lot of encouragement to apply but by this point I was starting to recognise the transferrable skills I had developed and that there was no need to be the finished article! I had also developed a much better sense of the direction that I wanted my career to take, and so when the ideal opportunity came up I knew I would be mad not to apply even though I had only been in my B500 post for a short period of time.
My current role – the good and the bad!
My role as a Deputy Learning and Teaching Manager is varied and rewarding. Although it’s very different from my previous roles it builds on the skill set, knowledge and experience that I’ve developed since being at UoB. The main differences I’ve found from moving from a B500 to my current G6 post is the shift in balance in autonomy. I work much more independently, leading a team of administrators who are managing a variety of programmes and processes. With this brings a wider range of responsibility than I’ve had in my previous posts. Where my previous posts may have involved working in a more reactive way to situations (such as managing a mailbox, or working through a known process) I am now able to take a step back from the day to day and proactively support the team to develop more efficient and effective ways of managing their roles. Having autonomy doesn’t mean I am unsupported and I have regular catch ups with my manager as you would in any other role.
I have much more exposure to College and University level processes, which brings the opportunity to develop a wider network and have more input in to the way that we work, and this can be a really interesting part of the role. The thought of doing this intimidated me in my B400 and B500 roles - the School I worked in had become my comfort blanket, and so stepping out of this felt overwhelming! Being offered the chance to shadow a senior colleague at a College meeting really helped to overcome that barrier, and from this I took other opportunities to become involved in reference and workgroups.
My current role is also challenging. At times, I’ve put a lot of pressure and expectation on myself to know everything about everything! I think this is an easy trap to fall in to when you are a manager, as you are likely to receive a lot of questions either from your team or other colleagues that you work with. I’ve reflected on this recently and it’s something that I need to realise is not achievable or realistic. An academic related post doesn’t require you to have all of the answers, or to know how to do everything. I manage a team who are extremely knowledgeable within their areas, and drawing on this experience and bringing people together to generate ideas and solutions to problems is a good skill to develop.
Some final reflections…
I think it’s important to recognise that everyone’s career path is different, and there is no right or wrong way to progress. Similarly, there isn’t a specific amount of time to spend at each grade (or even a requirement to have worked at each grade before moving on). Focus on looking for opportunities that you will find motivating and enjoyable, and that will work to your own personal strengths, taking a proactive approach to your own development.