Lydia Mayfield, Research Administration Officer
Lydia joined DPAG in August 2016, first starting as an Administration Assistant in the Research Administration Team, joining us from the National Trust where she had worked in a variety of roles. As Research Administration Officer now, she is responsible for maintaining a portfolio of grants to support DPAG's research groups and contributes to the development of new processes that are adopted University-wide. Interview on Wednesday 29 April.
What brought you to a career in research administration?
It was an accident! I started at DPAG as an administration assistant, having never heard of Research Administration before, and I found the work really interesting. I began by looking after the basic admin, such as filing and maintaining the email inboxes, but I took on more and more responsibilities as my understanding of the area grew. A year ago, I became a Research Administration Officer.
How did you come to work at DPAG?
I left university with an undergraduate degree in Archaeology and started working at a National Trust property. I began as a Catering Assistant and occasionally Baker. Yes, I baked scones for the National Trust! I also volunteered in the house with the Conservation team and got the opportunity to work in the Business Support team for a bit. I knew I wanted to move to Oxford to join my partner who had moved down here after university, so I started looking for admin based jobs in the area and DPAG were looking for an Administration Assistant.
What was it like when you first started? What were your first impressions of DPAG?
When I first started we were based over in the Le Gros Clark building on the ground floor, with Finance and HR on the floor above. The team consisted of Lynn, Chantelle and Sue, with Karen joining not long after. We’ve gained and lost a few members since then, but we’re nearly at full strength again now.
My first impressions of DPAG and the wider University were (and still are!) that it can be frustrating when something isn’t as straightforward as you might think it should be, but it makes for an interesting place to work!
What does your job entail?
I still look after the basic admin, but I now have a portfolio of Research Groups whose grants I look after too. This means that I’m there to support them when they apply for a grant, costing it out in X5, making sure the guidance is followed and carrying out the departmental and University approvals processes. When a grant is awarded I get it set up in Oracle so that the money can be spent. Over the life of an award I ensure it is being spent as per the funder’s expectations, and when a grant has ended I help with financial reports and close it down on Oracle. I also have responsibility for running the department's Project Status and Activity reports every month. It’s a very varied role. One day you could be working on an application to a funder that’s brand new to the University and the next day you could receive an email to say that one of our grants is being audited and you have to drop everything to pull hundreds of invoices for the sample. You never know what’s around the corner.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your job?
From a logistical perspective, it’s business as usual. We are able to work from home and continue to fully support our academics with their research grants. We’re all active on Teams and keeping in touch every day. Though I do miss the social interactions we have in the office with both PSS and academic staff. We’re always available on Teams if anyone wants to chat.
What do you most enjoy about your job?
I love the problem solving aspect. Occasionally you’ll start looking at a grant and realise something isn’t as it should be. You have to grab your deerstalker and go full Sherlock to work out what’s happened! It can definitely be stressful at times, especially when there’s time pressure too, but there’s nothing more satisfying to me than unravelling a web. Suddenly it all falls in to place and you can fix it so that the next person who looks at it doesn’t have the same problem.
What’s the most challenging part about your job?
Making sure that grants are spent to the funders’ expectations. We hold grants from around 70 funders. Each funder comes with its own terms and conditions, and we have to make sure that these are being followed correctly. Audits are a big part of our job, increasingly so in recent years. These can involve pulling hundreds of invoices from the Finance archive and the folders in our office. It’s very time consuming and the resulting queries from auditors require more time to fix what isn’t right. In the past few years we have been implementing more processes and sharing more guidance with our grant holders to help make sure that costs are eligible and charged to the right place to begin with. Going forwards this should reduce the number of queries we get back from auditors.
What do you wish people understood about your job?
We’re here to help! Our team has a lot of experience with what is and isn’t an eligible cost. We also regularly receive guidance from Research Accounts, who deal directly with the funders, and we’re often in contact with the University’s Assurance Manager. If we send you an email to say that you can’t charge something to your grant, it’s because we or someone else in the University has experience with that funder and know that they won’t fund it. A funder might be less likely to award a grant to an individual, or even to an institution, if they’ve had to query costs on a previous grant. We’re trying to prevent that from happening.
What’s a highlight of your time here so far?
I’ve helped to develop new processes, some of which are now University-wide. I’ve created a OneNote for the team which is full of useful guidance we’ve been sent and notes on our previous experiences so it’s all in one place and easy to find when we need it. I was a big part in helping the team go paperless when I joined. We had hundreds of paper files which I spent a lot of time scanning in and filing digitally. I wouldn’t say that was a highlight, but the result is! I’ve also learnt a lot since I started. It’s crazy to think I knew nothing about Research Administration a few years ago, and now I’m involved in developing processes which are being adopted across the University. That’s definitely a highlight for me!
What do you do outside of work?
I love visiting new places. Last year we went to Vienna and Rome, and went camping in Dorset and Devon. My highlight of the Devon trip was visiting Stonehenge on the way home, I wrote my dissertation on stone circles so that was pretty exciting for me! I still have a big interest in history and heritage, and love visiting historic properties everywhere I go. I have a lot of hobbies which keep me entertained too; I bake, crochet, cross stitch and recently had a go at knitting. I also took a dressmaking course last year, and I’ve been teaching myself a bit of piano.
What might surprise people to know about you?
I’m a campanologist! Alongside all my other hobbies, I started bell ringing when I was 16 as part of the International Baccalaureate. It runs in the family; my mum, dad, sister and gran are all bell ringers. I’ve rung at York Minster, and a few of the Colleges here at Oxford, but I don’t ring very often anymore as other things have taken over my time. I still go to the annual dinner for my University society, and it’s like riding a bicycle; you never forget how to ring!
What’s coming up for you this year? Any big changes or developments?
As most people will already know there are some staffing changes coming up for us in the next couple of months, and the management structure of the team will change slightly. We’ll have a new Senior Research and Finance Manager joining us soon, whom we look forward to welcoming to DPAG! Our priorities this year will be dealing with the effect the pandemic has had on our grants, we’re expecting this to have a massive effect on the funding landscape. And of course, we still have BREXIT to deal with too, so it’s another busy year for us!