A career based on careful decisions for the here, the now and the future

by Kay Biscomb, Associate Dean Faculty of Education, Health and Wellbeing, University of Wolverhampton 

I have worked in Education all of my professional career and in HE for the last 22 years. Very little of my career has been in response to a mapped out strategic plan but rather best described as careful decisions made for the here and now and the immediate future.  I trained as a secondary school teacher and very early on decided that I would rather teach adults. That I knew would require me to have further degrees and I gained my first masters which was subject specific from Warwick University.  In order to pragmatically achieve this I took a 0.1 redundancy from my employer and studied on a full-time programme whilst working almost full-time. I enjoyed the subject and knew that a PhD would help the ultimate goal so after completion of that masters I started my PhD part-time.  I was fortunate enough to gain a position at the University of Wolverhampton as a lecturer and completed my PhD part time whilst in the first few years of that post. 

After 3 years I gained a Principal Lecturer position in Learning and Teaching and this  enabled me to gain a better understanding of the School and University wide issues.  I did not have any direct staff resource in this post so I had use the power of persuasion in order to gain colleague buy in. Two years later the Head of Department left so I then gained that position and rand the department for six years during which the course offering and staff base grew.

In 2007 I became an Associate Dean and since that time I have formally held three different portfolios of learning, teaching and quality; institute director and business development and have also covered the portfolio of research on a number of occasions.  As a result I feel that I have now got a good grounding which would enable a convincing application for Deans positions to be made … if that was the direction that I wanted to go! I still research (a little bit) and teach (mainly PhD students) and when I reflect on my time at University the most enjoyable times and projects have been subject specific.  

It was during the early days of being an Associate Dean that I studied for my second masters degree which was in management.

One of the key opportunities I gained in the early years which helped me to progress was working on a University quality committee for validation.  This enabled me to develop a better understanding of the University as a whole and also enabled me to develop a number of skills which have become really useful.  In retrospect as I reflect back it has worked very well and I am satisfied with the decisions made and the trajectory they have taken me on. But it was not a strategic grand plan but rather something that emerged organically in response to the opportunities around me.

Reflection

It is hard to know exactly how my gender has impacted on my career progression (or otherwise).  I believe strongly in my own agency and decisions I have actively taken but there have been some areas of support and barriers along the way.  In my current post there have been a number of strong supportive female role models, some of whom have been there briefly for a short period or a particular project, but one has been very influential since my appointment at Wolverhampton.  She gave me research opportunities and although we no longer work together has been very supportive in a work setting but I am fortunate enough that we have also become friends so her support extends beyond the work place to this day.

Working in sport, which is traditionally very male dominated, I have been aware of the gender politics in the department.  When I became Head of Department and also Associate Dean for the area I was pleased that I was able to provide a positive role model (hopefully!) for others.  But much of this is not conscious and I would largely say that I have been fortunate in my opportunities to progress. But the constraints I think are no longer obvious, structural ones but are very embedded and deeply subconscious.  For example the way that a very senior colleague in the organisation might talk to male colleagues about the latest score or result from the match in a casual and ad hoc way is only ever something I will observe because the same casual (networking conversations) would not take place with me because I am a woman.  

These are difficult to challenge, to understand whether they really matter but I do observe them.

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