Staff and student stories

Staff and student stories

Pam Jones - Faculty Pro-Dean for Research and Innovation

Pam Jones

I moved to Leeds at the end of 1996 and shortly after, obtained a University funded tenure track fellowship. At that time I was a single parent with a 4 year old. The flexibility of working within the research environment enabled me to successfully juggle the challenges of work, a child, school and a house. I had an informal `flexible working` arrangement, allowing me to occasionally attend primary school harvest festivals, nativity plays and the dreaded sports days. This was offset by doing work later in the evenings, which not only made full time work feasible, but provided the opportunity of doing ‘mum’ things too.

I could not afford to work part time, so the degree of flexibility in my working life was invaluable. Indeed, many a student essay has been marked while sitting at the poolside through a junior training session or swimming gala!

One of my workplace values is that we all play our part as ‘citizens’ of the University. In this vein, I volunteered to take on the administrative role of postgraduate research tutor (PGRT) in the then Molecular Medicine Unit which later became Leeds Institute for Molecular Medicine. The Institute accounted for approximately 10% of the University’s registered research students. It was acknowledged that can be difficult to find volunteers for the PGRT role, however, it was pivotal to where my career then turned. In the 5 years performing in the role, I dealt with a range of challenging and tricky situations involving both students and supervisors. Two things resulted from this. Firstly, I realised I was capable of making a difference by finding acceptable resolutions to issues; and secondly, others realised that about me as well. As a result, I gained a good reputation outside my immediate working environment. The PGRT role afforded me that exposure to the broader Faculty and parts of the University.

My reputation coupled with my interdisciplinary research interest put me on the radar for the Deputy Director post in the Biomedical & Health Research Centre (BHRC). Fortuitously, this was at exactly the right time; my son was then in his mid-teens and I was ready to focus more on my career. For a while I had been wondering about other jobs, however, as the sole breadwinner with a mortgage, I didn’t feel brave enough to leave the safety net of a University position and hadn`t wanted to pursue external opportunities. I was unsure I could deliver research at the highest level again which I found (and still find) frustrating, but more importantly, I started to realise I had a range of skills that were applicable outside the immediate research focus. The BHRC post was offered to me as a secondment that meant I could try something new and challenging without losing the security of my position.

It’s fair to say I haven’t looked back.

I then accepted the opportunity for a more central role in Leeds Institute for Molecular Medicine and led on much of the planning work when it was under `Review’, which led to the formation of four smaller Institutes. As a direct result of that, I was asked to lead a review of the research infrastructure in the School. I gained more exposure at Faculty level, working with the then ProDean, and a central group looking at similar issues across the University. During this time I obtained my Chair, which remains the one achievement that continues to make me smile!

As I was already a member of the Faculty Research & Innovation, Faculty Executive and School Executive Committees I had effective networks and good exposure, and when the Faculty ProDean post became vacant in August 2014, I was well placed to apply, and was successful.

Looking back, the key areas which the University has provided me to support my career have been:

  • the flexibility – albeit informal – around working hours which helped enormously with the eternal juggle of caring and working
  • having `citizenship` roles which enable reputations to be built beyond the immediate working environment.
  • the opportunity of University secondments
  • the environment where individuals are supported to recognise and act on opportunities when they arise

Do I have any regrets?
Yes. I love delivering science at the highest level and part of me will always hanker for doing more of that. But I also enjoy leadership especially in an academic environment where my research background helps others deliver their research. I don’t regret for one minute stepping out for a few years to be a mum, but I am delighted that it was not the end of my career; onwards and upwards is still possible!

Advice for others following in similar career path?
Don’t assume you’ll never get any further because you spend too much time focused on family and away from work!