Year of graduation: 2003
Current Employer: Exeter College
Current Job Title: Director of Teaching, Learning and Performance; Head of Faculty for English, Languages and IB
Current Location: Exeter
“I found Plymouth a particularly supportive and nurturing university with lecturing staff who care about the progress of their students.”
Tell us about your career path since graduation.
Since graduating with a masters in 2005, I have worked in an independent publishing house. I quickly realised that publishing wasn’t quite as glamorous as I had hoped and that what I really wanted was to engage with English literature in some way. Although I had been stalwartly against teaching as a career in my younger years, I quickly realised it was an occupation that would not only equip me with new skills but would allow me to work with my subject. From 2007 onwards, I attended part-time evening classes at Exeter College and retrained to become a teacher. I started work as a Further Education Lecturer on a variable hours contract and then worked my way to a full-time post. From there I was fortunate enough to carve a direction in educational leadership and progressed from Deputy Head of Faculty (2009-2012) to Head of Faculty in 2012. In September 2016, I acquired additional responsibilities as Director of Teaching, Learning and Performance across the whole organisation and I’m now responsible for ensuring high quality teaching and training for over 5,500 learners and 1000 staff.
How has your degree helped/influenced your career path?
It has been invaluable! Since I commenced my studies in English at Plymouth in 2000, I haven’t stopped learning and wanting to learn. Even as a lecturer of 10 years, I am aware that there is always more to know and that to be the best possible teacher to my students, I have to constantly research and read around my subject. I only hope that I can create the same love of literature in my learners that studying at Plymouth created for me.
What is the most difficult thing which you have faced in your career?
Making the transition from university life into the world of work and knowing which career path to follow was a particular challenge. I was adamant that I didn’t want to teach and therefore explored publishing, but I had to start at the bottom of the ladder and was very poorly paid in the first year after my postgraduate course. Perhaps one of the most significant challenges, therefore, was making the decision to retrain as a teacher and trying to attend evening classes to complete my early teacher training whilst keeping two jobs ticking along and getting to grips with a classroom.
What is the best, most exciting or fun thing that you have done in your career?
The opportunity to work with young people in further education never fails to fill me with pride. I am fortunate to see the journeys they undertake with us and to play a small role in helping them along their way. The real highlight is when I see that “lightbulb” moment in a student and they become switched on to the subject.
Imagine you were about to start university again - with the benefit of hindsight - what would you now tell yourself to have done differently?
In hindsight, I could have achieved more in my first year at university if I had spent more time in the library and perhaps engaged with some of the enrichment and extra-curricular activities. I found the first few months of university quite difficult as I made the transition from school to university and perhaps the best way to have supported this transition would have been to “jump in” from the outset. I found my feet in the second year and it didn’t feel long enough then to really get the most out of everything that was available to me.
If you were just about to graduate again, what would you do differently?
I would research careers during the third year and take advantage of work experience opportunities to support my knowledge of the careers open to me.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get in to the same line of work?
It is increasingly helpful, though not essential, to consider a postgraduate degree in your subject area to work in further education as competition for roles, in particular subject areas, can be fierce. I also firmly believe a postgraduate qualification strengthens your skills and confidence before heading into employment. Beyond this, some experience in a school and the completion of a teacher training qualification are essential.
How did studying at Plymouth help you?
I found Plymouth a particularly supportive and nurturing university with lecturing staff who care about the progress of their students. I don’t think this is apparent in all Higher Education organisations as many are increasingly preoccupied with research over teaching. Somehow, Plymouth navigates both brilliantly. The one to one supervision and support I received at Plymouth transformed my ability to produce academic essays and to engage with complex materials.
What lessons/skills did you gain from your course?
Too many to list, but key skills included the ability to craft a strong written argument, to handle literary texts from across a range of periods and with different critical perspectives and, finally, the confidence to share my thoughts and ideas about literature with others.
What is your favourite memory of studying at Plymouth?
I have many happy memories of my time as an undergraduate; the opportunity to study by the sea on a campus-based university is at the heart of these recollections.
Do you stay in touch with other University alumni or lecturers?
Yes. I have the absolute pleasure of working closely with Plymouth in my role as Head of English, Languages and IB at Exeter College. I am also in regular contact with Dr Rachel Christofides and we frequently collaborate on projects which support both college and university students. It is also my absolute honour to consider her a friend and my personal journey could have been quite different during my undergraduate years without her teaching, supervision, and guidance.
Would you recommend undertaking a course with the University, and why?
Most definitely! The quality of teaching and learning is second to none at Plymouth and without the support I was given to attain my degree, I wouldn’t have pursued, or thought I was capable of, postgraduate study.