"I went to university to do law, but realised that being a lawyer wasn’t for me. In my third year I ducked out to do a sabbatical with the students’ union, which was far more fun and far more interesting. The students’ union experience gave me a greater awareness of how you might apply learning. I saw how the skills that I’d been learning in law could be applied in other contexts. After returning to complete my degree, I then went on to do an MA which was a naïve meander in career terms, but made sense in disciplinary terms. I enjoyed the MA, but when I did the dissertation for it I vowed that I would never do a long research project ever again.
"After my MA I went on to manage a children’s leisure centre. My first job there was as a receptionist, and it took me a few months to take over! It was a great experience, a long way out of my comfort zone, and it was the first time I had to manage people. The company was built on a flawed business model and eventually went into liquidation. I then spent some time taking stock and eventually ended up back at university doing a PhD.
"Fairly quickly I remembered how much I hated doing research. However, although the research didn’t work out, the rest of my PhD experience was great – I was teaching, which I loved, working as a sub-warden, and running training courses. I then took the opportunity to become Head Warden. In this role I was head of 35 sub-wardens, responsible for a resident student population of over 1,800. I realised about this time that I could never just get on and do something without wanting to run it.
"The PhD gave me a huge amount of confidence, and the process of finishing something so challenging – navigating supervisors, managing myself and my time – taught me a lot about how I now manage my work. In research you don’t know what you are going to find until you find it. This is what research is about, but it is also the way that I’ve conducted my career since then.
"I then found a job teaching at a university in Bulgaria – the only job I applied for, found in a tiny advert in the back pages of the Guardian. I applied for it to have a bit of an adventure. This then led to a promotion to co-ordinating projects in central and southeast Europe for the educational charity that I worked for, based out of Budapest. Around this time I also went back to the UK to tutor on a couple of GRADschools (experiential training courses for researchers). Following this I then shaped my job in Budapest into running more training courses for academics in universities in Eastern Europe. During this time I had a lot of freedom to do a lot of the things that I wanted to do but I still found the organisation too constraining.
"I resigned and ended up unemployed in Macedonia and did all sorts of things, including increasing the amount of training I did in the UK. After five months I moved to Serbia, renovated an old apartment, did some voluntary work for local NGOs, taught English, and did more training in the UK.
"I would have liked to work full-time in Serbia, but this didn’t work out. At this time I met some people in the UK who were working as freelance trainers specialising in HE. I then realised that I could make a living in this way, so I moved back to the UK. I didn’t have a clear plan to get a company going, but I did get in early on a new course that was launching – and I used this to make more contacts and get exposure in lots of universities. Whenever people asked me to do something I would almost always say ’yes’. I agreed to do lots of things that I hadn’t done before, but knew I could deliver.
"I routinely read the jobs page of The Times Higher and pondered. In my experience freelancers never stop looking for a ‘job’. I’ve just never yet found one that appeals enough to take the risk of sticking on a suit and going to work for someone else. I’ve never really had a proper job and I seem to be doing alright. If I can carry on playing that game until I retire then so much the better."