Suzanne Chamberlain – BSc (Hons) Combined Geography and Sociology; PgDip Social Research; PhD Sociology

Current employer: National School of Healthcare Science; Health Education England

Current job title: Head of Education and Assessment

Current location: London

“Take every opportunity to develop your practical skills and professionalism. Knowledge is important, but many employers care more about what you can do and how well you can communicate.”

Tell us about your career path since graduation.

I was very fortunate that the latter years of my PhD coincided with the opening of the Peninsula Medical School (as it was then), and I joined peninsula as their Assessment Analyst/Psychometrican. This was a completely new field for me, but one that made good use of the quantitative and qualitative research and analysis skills I had developed at Plymouth. I stayed at peninsula for three years, taking advantage of all opportunities to attend conferences and to publish material. After three years I decided that I would like to apply my new knowledge about educational assessment in a national context.

My next role was Senior Research Associate with the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA) which is the largest provider of GCSEs and A levels in the UK. I stayed at AQA in Manchester for eight years, and was responsible for a number of research projects on the national qualifications framework. I left AQA in 2013 to join another new school, the National School of Healthcare Science (NSHCS), which is part of Health Education England, NHS, and based in Birmingham. I joined the NSHCS as the Head of Education and Assessment and, with the support of my Deputy Head and team, I am responsible for overseeing the education and assessment strategies of a number of training programmes for the healthcare science workforce in England, from school-leavers to consultant clinical scientists.

During my time at AQA and the NSHCS I also took on several roles with the General Medical Council and General Dental Council relating to education and assessment. In 2016 I was awarded the title of Honorary Professor of the Institute of Clinical Sciences within the College of Medical and Dental Sciences.   

Has your career path changed since graduation?

My work is unrelated to the programmes I completed at Plymouth University. However, the skills I gained at Plymouth University are at the heart of everything I have done since graduation.

What is the most difficult thing which you have faced in your career?

In order to progress, I have moved from Plymouth (where I lived for around twenty years) to Manchester and now to Birmingham. It is hard leaving family and friends, and moving to an unfamiliar area can be stressful; but it is also exciting and has been extremely rewarding personally and professionally. I was very lucky that my daughter, who was in school at the time of these moves, was happy and excited to move around the country and change schools. 

What is the best, most exciting or fun thing that you have done in your career?

Developing from scratch a robust and challenging practical skills exam for clinical scientists across twenty different healthcare sciences. This involved training over two hundred assessment writers and assessors, putting into place a policy framework, engaging a significant number of actors, setting standards within and across all specialisms, quality assuring the results, and defending the exam and results to our regulator. I have a fantastic team who have been running and growing this exam since then.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get in to the same line of work?

Assessment is a highly specialised area of work, but there is a real need for expertise. The large awarding bodies, like AQA, recruit summer workers to help check GCSE and A level scripts, among many other jobs, and this can be a useful introduction to the world of assessment. Anyone looking to apply for an assessment-related job will need to have an interest in education, and strong quantitative analysis skills. Qualitative skills are also in demand. Some of the large awarding bodies have research departments and offer funded PhD opportunities.

How did studying at Plymouth help you?

I felt that Plymouth University offered a flexible approach to module selection that allowed me to gain the breadth of skills I wanted and needed. I had excellent PhD supervision and support from the sociology department, including funding for my first conferences and many opportunities for professional development.

A key part of my success was also the excellent University nursery which my daughter attended from a very young age and meant I was able to attend lectures, study, and complete my BSc.

Would you recommend undertaking a course with Plymouth University, and why?

Yes I would definitely recommend Plymouth University. I know from my work since graduation that Plymouth University has an excellent reputation across several different disciplines. It was Plymouth University that supported me in my transition from BSc to PhD; which is a transition I never expected to make.

Is there anything else which you would like to share with our current students?

Take every opportunity to develop your practical skills and professionalism. Knowledge is important, but many employers care more about what you can do and how well you can communicate.