From Postdoc to Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor: A Non Academic Journey
C-DICE Director, Dr Kathryn North, has recently been appointed as Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor (APVC) for Climate Change and Net Zero at Loughborough University. In this blog, Kathryn reflects on her career journey to date and how making and taking opportunities can lead to exciting and unexpected places.
As researchers, we can sometimes be of the view that a relatively linear, academic career path is the only option, or is our preferred option, for career fulfilment. However, as a former researcher, turned researcher developer, turned professional service manager, turned senior project manager, turned programme leader, turned Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor, I can tell you there is a lot of career fulfilment to be found from a career path less ordinary! As an early career researcher, I didn’t have a fixed career path in mind, I wasn’t particularly tempted by the academic route, and on reflection, the best two pieces of advice I got at that stage from one of my supervisors was to do a PhD (it opens doors) and to do a postdoc somewhere good whilst I worked out what to do, so I did! I certainly did not anticipate becoming an Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor or taking on many of the roles I have done. That’s not to say it has been plain sailing, that I am at my ultimate career destination, or that I know where I am headed next. I’m not a big planner of these things and I don’t have fixed ideas.
There are some threads that have run throughout my career. This has included trying to do something I enjoy and aligns with my interests. This started as biology and plant biology and became people and specifically supporting researchers. The greatest thing about working with researchers is having the chance to learn about a wide range of research areas, new innovations, getting a broad view of the great work that people are doing and without having the pressure of getting research data of my own. This has always kept work fresh and interesting. I also like variety and have taken the leap at a few opportunities or created opportunities that would challenge me or add in a new dimension. I like connecting and convening to create new opportunities – and developing my own skills along the way. Finally in doing a good job, I’ve had advocates who sometimes give a bit of a nudge in the right direction, and I highly recommend finding a mentor, coach or being part of an action learning set for personal development, challenge, and growth.
For C-DICE, what started as a kernel of an idea, became a £4m investment from Research England, a team of 10 people across three universities with 18 partners in total, delivering opportunities for upwards of 700 researchers in the first 3 years, and importantly for me helping individuals to grow, develop and take their careers forward. The icing on the C-DICE cake, and it’s very crucial icing, is that this is also contributing to addressing the challenge of reaching net zero carbon by 2050. We’re helping researchers to develop their independence, to connect, to learn technical skills, to work with industry and policymakers all aligned to the decarbonisation challenge we face. Everyone who has engaged in C-DICE has played a part in that.
My hope for the APVC role is that it will be an exciting new opportunity to develop a strategic area for the university. I’m already busy thinking about our sustainability strategy and bringing colleagues together around our aspirations for hydrogen as an alternative energy vector. It is also significant, for me, that I am not an academic member of staff in the traditional sense. I’ve done teaching, I’ve won funding, I have even supervised researchers, but my career has developed in the professional services. So, I hope that in some ways it is also a chance to demonstrate the value that colleagues in professional services can bring, even if they don’t fit neatly into the academic box and there is no predetermined career route to follow. And for others to see that a career path less ordinary can lead to exciting new ventures if you keep an open mind and create opportunities for yourself and others.
Dr Kathryn North
Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor for Climate Change and Net Zero, Loughborough University