Category: Uncategorized

November 23rd, 2016 by matthias

As I’m still redeveloping my blog, here’s an older post about language learning.

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November 15th, 2016 by matthias

Just a reblog of one of my own favourites – thanks @EricStoller for reminding me.

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October 13th, 2016 by matthias

So, as announced last week, I’m on my first real development day today. It’s a weird feeling not to be at work – while actually being at work in many ways: I got up at the same time as normal (the cat insists on this) but made a slightly more relaxed breakfast. This is a good start – no stress while eating and enough time for a hearty but healthy breakfast.

Then I went to the gym – a new plan, focusing on developing strength. This is the first time in about four years that I’m lifting heavier again. But then enough of that leisurely stuff – I went into town for my two appointments of today. I’m writing this blog entry between the two: first, I met up with a former colleague and someone with questions about how to most effectively reach out to universities with their services. The discussion went quickly from a basic chat to a deep discussion about university politics.

A little bit of context: I’ve always been amazed by how different politics in academia and business seem to be. I’ve helped more than once with the transition of business professionals changing careers and becoming consultants, mentors, lecturers, and coaches. One of the hardest things about this for the individual seems to be that universities simply don’t work like businesses – however strong the push for marketisation and business-like thinking may be. For a while, a private employability company would even send me their business development managers for chats just about how different (read occasionally crazy) universities are.

And this goes beyond no one ever answering your emails – it is deeply engrained into our organisations, and two decades of business speak aren’t going to change this. While students have been learning to be consumers, universities in many ways are still fossilised in the way they see themselves – and the students. Just if you look at the way communications are often handled, or decisions cascaded, the mismatch is often glaringly obvious. This is not necessarily a question of a lack of willingness to be open and transparent – I have seen many good examples over the years of institutions reaching out to their student bodies with the best of intentions; alas often sending those emails which no one reads.

To cut the discussion short – it becomes clear to me once more how important an interactive online presence is. Our students mostly interact with the world through ridiculously small phone screens – and universities need to go where their students are: online, mobile, on the move, and with a propensity to pick and choose how (and if) they interact with you. Funnily enough, that ended up being my advice to the hopeful company who wants to reach out to students and universities alike: go where your customer is, and accept that the rules have changed through social media. And for everyone working with universities – get used to being super quick in reacting to students, and be patient with your university clients – there is a good chance they haven’t even read your email yet either.

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March 31st, 2015 by matthias

One aspect of my work that gives me no end of lessons are the areas of trust and confidentiality. I hold a number of roles that require different levels and qualities of confidentiality, and in order to fulfill this expectation, I need to establish trust. It’s a bit of a long list, but bear with me, as I hope this will come to a coherent point at the end.

Firstly, I run a careers service and, therefore, am responsible for hundreds of student clients and their concerns, which quite often go beyond choosing a career, but ever so often are about ‘what am I supposed to do with my life?’. Fortunately, I have an excellent team of professional careers advisors who carry most of this as I see fewer clients these days. However, the buck stops with me. Confidentiality is not only essential, it is central to our jobs – however, it is a shared one, as the team members help each other in our weekly case conferences.

Secondly, I am a manager of a team of said advisors, operational officers, and their managers. With that, the same level of responsibility applies, just as it does for the student clients – however, I am also responsible for making sure professional and institutional standards are upheld. This is made easy by exhibit a) from above – an excellent team. But it does carry individual needs for confidentiality and occasional moderating interventions.

Further, I am a manager in the wider organisation and get quite frequently asked to help with a variety of HR and employee relations issues, both from the institution, but also by individual staff members. This may include things like disciplinary hearings, appeals, grievances, and probation meetings. This is where things get a lot more complicated, as I have to keep not only the details confidential, but also often that there is an issue at all. They often are quite heartbreaking, as in my experience things are hardly ever ‘clear cut’, but are full nuances, contradictions, and often quite some personal pain for all involved. This is harder to deal with, especially as I cannot speak to anyone about them. In my line managerial role, I have a chance to speak with my line manager – in these cases; I do not have that option.

The last one may seem the most complicated at first: I am both a chair of the professional charity PlaceNet, as well as an elected staff trustee on the board of my university. Here, the legal stakes are highest with regards to confidentiality, as is the public expectation of being worthy of the trust invested in me. However, I almost find this the easiest to deal with. In both cases, I have fellow trustees with whom I can share any concerns. Also, hardly any of the issues move into the big questions about life or personal pain, as they do in my work roles. Not to be flippant, but when trained as a trustee, thinking about adding another layer of confidentiality was important, but the emotional impact is higher in my daily work roles.

But how do I deal with these responsibilities? In short – I compartmentalize: every issue, every complex problem, every concern gets its place in my mind (and for a lack of a better word in my ‘heart’), and there it stays. When I think an issue is ripe for discussion, moving along, or letting lie until action is required, I will do so. Things I cannot share, I do not share, with anyone. The emotional impact I have so far always been able to handle. It probably helps that my upbringing was, as one of my brothers put it more akin to growing up on Vulcan than on Earth. In my family, it was always the better argument that won the never ending socio-political and scientific discourse around the dinner table, not the stronger felt passion or other emotion.

Some of my closer colleagues might recognize that in my work behaviours. My friends, some of them therapists, may find it curious, I hope however not of concern. It does serve me well and enables me to sleep at night, rather than ruminating over issues or conflicts I may have to deal with during the work day. It also fills me with a certain sense of professional pride, as I think it helps me be trustworthy – which is, as a value about as important as it gets for me. So in short, I’ve learnt that my tendency to compartmentalize helps me to gain and preserve trust, and that is key for the work I do.

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May 31st, 2014 by matthias

After starting my PGCert recently, I’ve thrown myself into learning how to learn. I know it sounds a bit out there, but it seems like the Open University requires a particular mindset, and that’s something I’ve never learned.

Let me explain: I have a good understanding about how I think and process information. I am one of the annoying kids who always needs to switch between tasks and revisits half-formulated thoughts as I go along. In the end, the results seem to satisfy – at least my employers and before that my university tutors. However, I struggled in school – and I think that had to do with being pushed to learn in a particular way – to predetermined outcomes. I rebelled against that – so much that I almost didn’t finish school at one point. University gave me the freedom to structure my own learning experience, and I enjoyed that as much as I had hated school.

Since then (post Bologna) and with moving to the UK, the world has changed, and university has become a lot more like school. Defined learning outcomes – especially on Master’s level – give me the creeps, but at least I understand where the problem lies for me. Any reader of my blog will know my views on outcomes based learning. Now here’s the thing – I consciously signed up for a course that follows this type of rulebook. It may seem masochistic to subject myself to what I struggled with so much in my youth, but as you may recall I’m doing it for professional reasons … and because I wanted to take that challenge.

I’m not a thrill-seeker (given the topic of my course, I guess that was clear), but I always had an impulse to improve on things that I’m not good at. I find that challenging and entertaining, but it makes many pursuits in life more of a marathon than a sprint (the latter of which has always come easy to me). That may be a recipe for being so-so at many things rather than excelling a few – and never really ‘winning’ anything – I’m basically all about delayed gratification. This is no different – and my work rhythm on the PGCert has been one of one hour or so per day, working towards incremental improvements. I’ve even got a plan with tick boxes.

To be fair, that’s what the Open University seems to expect from me – I’ve gone through their tutorials and have focused on such interesting topics as critical thinking, personal development planning, and essay writing strategies. It’s all the stuff we expect our students to do – and I want to make sure that I understand what they’re up against. Someone said that only a minority of our institutional leaders in higher education have engaged with a post-1992 university environment – I’m doing it now, and I find it hard work. I am starting to apply a number of techniques to improve my professional skills, as usual using technological solutions – e.g., running pretty much every piece of writing through Grammarly helps me sharpen my writing skills; retaining and annotating every piece of reading with Evernote and Skitch makes me look at texts in completely different way. This is currently exciting – and I hope it lasts.

But I certainly am learning a lot recently.

Posted in Education & Employability, Uncategorized, Work life

May 17th, 2014 by matthias

It’s only 24h to go, and I’m packing for Manchester tomorrow, and then #placenet14 for next week. So here my last reminder – please sponsor my run.

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March 22nd, 2014 by matthias

One of my favourite blogs is Epiphanies by Terry Burridge. As someone who identifies as a cyclist myself, this is one is close to home.

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January 16th, 2014 by matthias

Our regular job updates for @regentsuni students are back

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January 9th, 2014 by matthias

Reminder for our @regentsuni students: @regentscareers is back, and our weekly job updates are coming in again.

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May 14th, 2013 by matthias

We are doing a mental health awareness week at work this week. It has a special focus on physical activity and its positive effects on your mental health. As readers of my earlier posts will know, I am very much a proponent of non-competitive physical activity, and I am very aware of its impact on my well being. So, I did a stress test to assess my current stress level – and I was surprised to see that I’m only a 15 out of 40 – couldn’t find a proper explanation unpacking the score (so much for online tests), but basically I was pleased to know that my head wasn’t at danger of exploding just yet. But what a difference a day makes – I had a complicated day at work (in addition to running up to the annual conference, which I will chair – check #placenet13 on Twitter), and left feeling deflated. I timed out for letting steam off in jiu jitsu practice, but used another tried and tested coping mechanism – weeding my garden. So on the train this morning, I’ve retested – and let me put it this way: I’m not a 15 anymore. I consider myself fairly resilient – powered by my extensive patience (I’m not exaggerating – I’m just completing a four year lobbying effort), which is I think is the one key attribute I need working in academia. But I’m human after all, and in the spirit of mental health week, I’m sharing that I had to do some recovering, and still do. I’m glad to have a great team at work – and my focus is often to look out for how they feel, as it will strongly affect the way they work. Performance comes from having the capacity to perform – and if you don’t feel well, it won’t happen. You can only soldier on for that long, and I see it as a key management responsibility to enable people to perform, rather than trying to make them. What’s my lesson, besides recognising yet again that I don’t have super powers? It’s admitting it in public, and reminding ourselves that we’e all only human, and that we sometimes struggle – and that that’s alright. So there.

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