At the centre of every good network is an inspiring leader – meet Rebecca Lee, our digital champion

Discover how Rebecca's passion for creative challenges has influenced Plymouth’s digital channels and is an inspiration for her many followers

Rebecca Lee

“The pursuit of creative ideas is a passion, and it is why I love what I do. Ultimately, my job is about solving problems and doing that in an engaging way to reach our target audience.”

Why I dig digital

I had no idea what I wanted to do when I left school. So, I took the time to get some work experience and to think about what would I like to do. It had to be something I was really passionate about and could get stuck into – and that was ancient history. Archaeology actually, and no, it wasn't just because it was top of the alphabetical list of clearing subjects! We never studied it at school. It was always 20th-century history, rather than classical history that other schools taught. I always had this wish to learn more about it, so I did.

How did I go from digging in the dirt to digital? It is another of my passions. It is changing all the time and I am never bored of it. There is stuff to learn every day. I love it. If you love your subject, you want to do more of it.

In the pitch process for the new University website, we had to decide between buying an out-of-the-box Content Management System (CMS) or making our own. No matter how much the off-the-shelf CMS providers tried to convince us otherwise, it still felt like a restrictive environment. One size doesn’t fit all when you are trying to cater to as many audiences and subjects as we are across the University.

We try different things. We’re able to do this because we have built the processes and functionality to do so. There’s no restriction. We build what we like, and that is empowering.

We are all individuals and the paths we take help inform how we engage with people in life. There are definitely skills from ancient history I use still – basic research skills and finding out the best way to do something – it’s all part of going to university, no matter what subject you study.

Rebecca Lee
Guest presenting on digital best practice
Rebecca Lee and colleagues
Rebecca is the link between digital marketing, design and technical development
Rebecca Lee
Leading a show and tell session during the University website project

Facing challenges with confidence

It is great fun to think: we can do anything, what should we do? To keep up with the competition, you always have to find a great way to do that. An academic environment is, by its very nature, critical and questioning of everything. I think I’m very much an observer. I never feel as though I have to say something in a meeting just to be heard. I like to hear what people say and digest that, think about my response, and only add something if it is useful.

The web project was the first to use Agile methodology. It was very new to everybody. It took confidence to go out to a room full of 50 vocal academics and talk about what we were doing and why.

We achieved a new website after many show-and-tells, speeches and workshops, but I'm still an introvert at heart. If you’d asked me, when I was leaving school, could you stand up in front of a lecture theatre full of 200 people – do you think you are capable of that – I think I would have absolutely said no way. I do feel confident now. I know what I’m doing and when I don’t know, I don’t pretend. Sometimes that is more a sign of confidence. It’s okay not to know everything. It can make you more grounded to realise that we are all human and no one knows everything.

If you love your subject and know what you’re talking about, you can do it. It gives you that confidence to stand up, get on with it and really enjoy it. I’m not loud, but I'm assertive and knowledgeable. My quietness has been mistaken for weakness, but it's good to prove people wrong!

I have certainly put myself in challenging situations and made myself do things, rather than back away. I was terrified before the first guest lecture I was asked to do. I thought about having to capture the audience and get them to listen to me, but it comes down to knowing what you talk about. That knowledge gets you through. I’ve gone from someone thinking it is scary, to really enjoying it and wanting to have those discussions and questions. The more you do something, the more you reflect on it and get better.

If I could go back 20 years, I would tell myself that I can do it if there’s something I want to pursue as a career. I can achieve it. I’d tell myself to look for those opportunities a bit more and make the most of them.


I gave a talk to schools on women's careers and asked the question:

what would your career look like through the medium of emojis?!”

Rebecca Lee in emojis 

Achieving a work-life balance

Everything I do, whether it’s trying to progress in my career, or do a good job, it is all for my family – my other half would say the same. It doesn’t mean I'm not focused on my job, choosing between having a family or a career. Seeing the world through my son's eyes is a great additional perspective to have. Describing the world to him is wonderful. I’m very proud of the fact I’ve had him and, hopefully, he will be proud of what I do. 

As a working mother, I can feel quite a lot of pressure to fit into any situation I'm operating in. When I became pregnant, it did add another dynamic to the web project. I went to conferences and spoke about the project with an enormous bump, like Mr Greedy walking onto the stage.

When I hear about the Global Gender Gap 2017 report, it certainly makes me feel very privileged that the issues and challenges that I have faced are nothing compared to gender issues in other countries. It is really disappointing to think we do still have such a long way to go, globally to change perceptions. I think the important thing is to keep the awareness up there – not for men or women, in particular. Do we have biases in our lives that are unhelpful? A lot of it is actually about the fact that people – male or female – are different. Some are introvert, some are extrovert and it wouldn’t work if we were all the same. How do we embrace all those differences? Nobody should have to change how they are to get ahead or succeed.

There was a lot of pressure with the web project. It was a very male-dominated environment, and I felt a lot of need to prove myself in the role of product owner, to show I was capable of it. To be asked for advice from other universities and organisations because they’ve seen my work – being recognised as an expert makes me proud.

When Dylan grows up I want him to feel like he can do the stuff he is interested in. That would go for education as well. If he is keen on something, and wants to pursue it, and he feels he can do that and is happy doing that, then go for it – my parents allowed me the space to do that, so I want the same for him. There was no pressure to go in a certain direction, but at the same time, I felt like I really wanted to achieve.

Proud mum and baby Dylan share a special moment together
Proud mum and baby Dylan share a special moment together
Guiding the next generation: digitising Dylan’s homework
Guiding the next generation: digitising Dylan’s homework
Rebecca with her colleague Lou
Rebecca shares a close bond with her team, who love to work and play hard together

A digital mind with an artist's eye

It is a massive responsibility to lead a large team. I want to provide an environment that allows every person to develop – I think we have that.

Ultimately, I’m just really proud of what we’ve created while working together. Being able to see the team develop with each person finding their niche is pretty special. We give each other so much collective energy and feel like we can tackle anything. My team keeps me sane during the more challenging moments.

My hobbies – art, crafting, music – are my other forms of therapy. To be able to get totally absorbed in something else does me the world of good. That time is just for me, if I’m doing a painting or making a model. It is my thing, nobody is telling me that it needs to be done a particular way. It’s relaxing and refreshing and gives me a focused head again to get back to work.

I love my music and I would still love to be able to play Rachmaninoff on the piano. But since having Dylan, some things that have gone by the wayside. I started playing the flute at school, but my teacher told me I had the wrong shape mouth! Comments like these, stay with you.

I have scoliosis of the spine, and I'm very aware of it. When I was younger, my GP once said to me that he felt I coped really well with my deformity! And then you start to think: what do people see when I walk around?

I know a lot of this can be in my head – I’m thinking people are going to perceive me in a particular way. More than anything, it makes me feel determined to prove that it doesn’t matter.

The same goes for any assumptions people have about your capabilities. It may be because you are female, perceived as young or judged in some other way – those perceptions just make me feel like I’m going to show you even more – it is nothing to do with my ability to do my job.

It is easy to think that everyone else is as confident as anything and never thinks about it. Actually, most people have got some sort of sensitivity and are aware of something they could be better at. Ultimately, I don’t want to conform. I’m quite proud of the fact that I’m different.