PA to the Head of Administration
Vicky joined DPAG in October 2015 after her first University of Oxford Personal Assistant role in the central Development Office. As PA to Head of Administration and Finance Sally Vine, she manages a varied and evolving workload in order to facilitate Sally in delivering the department's overarching strategy for research and teaching. Interview on Wednesday 27 January 2021.
Why did you decide to enter this line of work?
I have always enjoyed being organized and knew I wanted to work with people. I had an interest in Psychology and nearly read Law at unive
rsity instead of Philosophy, and so Human Resources initially seemed a good mix of my interests. I began working in a small charity and then local government, before starting what would be the first of many roles in the education sector at an independent school in London. As both my parents were teachers, perhaps it was inevitable that I would be drawn back to educat
What led you to join DPAG? ion, despite having sworn off teaching at an early age! I eventually moved away from Human Resources when I took an exciting, administrative role in higher education in London.
I was coming to the end of my contract as my husband was offered his dream job at a games company in Oxford, and so having enjoyed working in higher education, I looked for interesting University jobs here, initially accepting a PA role at the Development Office in the central University. This was a good starting place to learn about the structure of the University, and we made some of our great Oxford friends through my work there. Amazingly, given I had been used to an hour and a half’s commute, it was also a seven-minute walk from our flat at the time! Someone I had worked with at the Development office let me know about the job at DPAG, which was a combination of PA work and communications, and it seemed like an interesting opportunity, so although I hadn’t been looking to move I decided to apply. For two years, before I went on maternity leave, I had a split role between being PA to the Head of Administration and Finance and the Communications Officer, which I very much enjoyed, and it was also a steep learning curve on the communications front.
What were your first impressions of DPAG?
Initially, how different it seemed from the Development Office, which was an open-plan, modern, busy and noisy office. I moved from a desk facing 70 people to sharing an office with one other PA. I worried about how I would get to know any of the other professional services staff and what they did without seeing them every day, let alone all the academic staff. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how friendly everyone was and how quickly I was able to get up to speed, albeit mostly via email introductions. This was also the case when it came to liaising with my Divisional counterparts, and it was so nice to have regular coffee mornings for the PAs to meet ‘in real life’. I remember realizing very quickly how much I still didn’t understand about the University’s structure and some of its processes, never mind the actual research that was taking place!
What does your job entail?
I am PA to the Head of Administration and Finance Sally Vine and am taking on a couple of longer-term projects. My job involves some diary management for Sally; arranging meetings, pretty much what you would expect from a PA role whilst we are working remotely! In addition, I am going to be starting up the Green Impact initiative in the Department (please do get in touch if you’d like to be involved). I’ve also been involved in the creation of the new database, which Sean Nightingale has designed and built, and the new mailing lists. Plus, I am secretary to the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee and a member of the Anti-Racism working group. In the past, I have also been involved in helping to organize events and away days, travel and accommodation, as well as being the secretary to various other committees. As the Head of Administration’s role is so varied, the support they need tends to vary too.
Is there anything you wish people understood about your job?
Just how long it can take to schedule a seemingly simple meeting!
What do you most enjoy about your job?
The large number of different people I get to work with and the variety day-to-day. I also feel, despite not being involved in any of the research the Department is doing, that in my small way I am supporting something bigger that is making a real difference to our understanding of the world and people’s lives. I could do an administrative job in another area, and have worked in many over my several years of temping, but I like it here!
Tell us about a highlight of your career so far?
Previously, I worked on a project team, adapting the Imperial curriculum for a new medical course at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. We were all thrilled to be invited to Singapore for the opening ceremony and to meet the inaugural cohort of medical students. To see the materials that I had been involved in collating, formatting, recording and generally coordinating being used in the new school and the curriculum coming to life was just brilliant, so too was the chance to finally meet my Singaporean colleagues with whom we’d spent so many hours video-conferencing at variously and mutually inconvenient times, and to see the fruition of all our hard work.
What is the most challenging part about your job?
Currently, that I am only working for part of my already part-time hours! COVID-19 has meant that my childcare arrangements have had to change, and whilst we juggle this I am working two days a week. Things change so quickly that leaving work on a Wednesday afternoon means, unsurprisingly, that a lot has changed by Tuesday morning, and trying to move projects forward with so little time ‘in the office’ is proving more tricky. It has also been hard having first been marooned on most of my maternity leave by lockdown and other restrictions to then come back to work only remotely, and to not have that variety of human company in the same way, as I’m sure we’re all feeling.
What do you do outside of work?
I have two daughters aged 3 and 1 who keep me busy: repeated lockdowns and a pandemic limiting our social lives has led to a renewed interest in crafts! I am a qualified Nutritional Therapist, completing my 3-year course at weekends around work, and although I am not currently practicing, health and wellbeing are still very important to me. I have also been involved with the charity Birthrights, who campaign for improvements in maternity care, since I became pregnant with my first child. We completed some major, structural renovations to our house recently so this year is going to be filled with lower-level DIY and a lot of paint, I think! Once the girls are older and the pandemic eventually ends, we’re hoping to be able to return to traveling a bit more. Before we had children, my husband and I completed a number of long trips together and have both lived in Australia and New Zealand - I would love to take the children in a few years.
What is coming up for you this year?
I’m hoping to kick-off the Green Impact initiative next month and make some really positive changes to the Department. I’m excited to be part of the Anti-Racism working group and the EDI Committee, both of whom are doing really important work. As we hopefully come back to the office, and in due course get back to normal, I’m sure that Sally’s work will change again, and I will be here to do whatever is necessary to support her in that.