Karen is a Reader at UCL’s Institute of Education and GEO’s Pro-Vice-Provost International, alongside Professor Gudrun Moore. Here, she explains what her role entails and the value of job shares.
Tell us about your role in the GEO as Pro-Vice-Provost International (PVPI).
I job share the role of UCL’s Pro-Vice-Provost (International) with Professor Gudrun Moore, from the Institute of Child Health. Our core role is to lead and collaborate with UCL’s networks of Vice-Deans International and Regional Pro-Vice-Provosts.
We bring people together once a month for lunches to share information about what’s going on across UCL. We also serve an ambassadorial role and also act as Nicola [Brewer]’s deputy when needed.
That’s the formal part of our role – the informal role is being a bridge between the academic community and the professional services community. A lot of what we do relates to the translation of how a particular set of institutional policies will influence the academic community. I also try to make sure that we are very evidence based in our work and bring UCL research into our decision making and practice.
You’re an academic by trade – what led you to apply for the PVPI role?
I’m Canadian, I’ve worked and conducted research and consultancy for DFID [the Department for International Development], Action Aid and the British Council. I’ve worked in over 30 countries conducting research, so I’ve always had a strong commitment to working internationally. I’m also interested in what an institution can do to support academics interested in working in that way, with their partners overseas.
As a graduate student, I was hired as a consultant to help develop the international strategy for the Ontario Institute for Studies and Education at the University of Toronto, so I’d had a bit of experience in the international side. As Nicola and the GEO team were developing the Global Engagement Strategy, I had a vested interest in thinking about how it would sit within UCL and the Institute of Education. When Nicola pointed out that there was the possibility of the PVP role as a job share, it became incredibly attractive.
What are the benefits of job sharing the role?
I don’t think there are very many people who’d be willing to give up their entire academic practice to take on a role centrally. Sharing the role has meant that I could continue doing research and working with my doctoral students and serving the IOE, but also be an advocate for academics and provide a leadership function within the GEO.
Job shares are important because they open up opportunities to a range of different people. There’s great value within professional services of trying to work closely with academics. A job share, like we have, allows academics to work alongside professionals and contribute to the work. The role has allowed me to grow and develop a new sense of UCL from the GEO perspective.
What are you working on at the moment?
One of the projects I’m working on with Human Resources and other departments is developing a set of global leadership competencies, which will be a set of practices that will align very closely with UCL’s revised values and behaviours. They will signpost a core roster of skills and knowledge that faculty, staff and students should consider developing to assist them in their global working. We are planning to create a resource to show where training and development is already on offer and work to see where additional supports may be possible.
What’s your favourite part of working in the GEO?
I think we have an amazing team. We recruit people from a lot of different backgrounds who bring different skills to the question of what we can do to support UCL staff and students in making the most of their current and future global engagements.
My most favourite part is when GEO actions make a difference to academics on the ground. That happens almost daily – whether that’s support with an MoU or making a connection in country. We’re always able to answer a question and if we can’t, we can push them towards someone who can.
Lastly, with International Women’s Day this month, could you share your top piece of career advice for women?
I think the best advice is to ask people if they’re comfortable “ordering off the menu”. One of the things I noticed moving to England was that people are less inclined to do this: when you go to a restaurant you take what’s there, and if something’s wrong you may hesitate to send it back. Globally, the approach to ordering is completely different.
So my career advice to a lot of women is to ask yourself if you’re comfortable ordering off the menu, and if something’s not right, are you willing to say it’s not right? And if something’s not as it should be, are you willing to put in the effort to make it better? I think those are the two things that can accelerate your career.