15 years of PgCert: Ruth Coomber shares her PgCert experience

Ruth Coomber

Division Manager

Cardiff University

Tell us about your HE beginnings…

I started in HE in 1998 as PA to the Head of Department in the School of Medicine. I was working part time as I had two children and over the years I have gradually increased my hours to full time. Between 2003 and 2009 I was seconded to the Health Protection Agency working in an administrative support role in the Chemical Hazards and Poisons Division and then Local and Regional Services for the Executive Director.

I then moved back to the University to take up the role of Group Administrator. This was a new role following re-organisation and regrouping of departments.  Following another re-organisation in 2011, I was appointed to the position of Institute Manager (one of seven Institutes) within the School of Medicine. I continued in this role until January 2016 when I was appointed to my current position of Division Manager for Population Medicine.

What did you do prior to working in HE?

I only had one job before working in HE. After leaving college I worked as a PA for a Consultant in the Public Health Laboratory Service. When the children were young I chose to work part time, but to facilitate this I had to work several jobs concurrently, including an admin role in a private nursery and three nights a week in Tesco! This was a definitely a challenging time trying the balance the demands of work and family life!

How did you get involved with the AUA and how does the AUA fit with your career?

I became a member of the AUA so that I could enroll on the PgCert. At the time, I didn’t have much understanding about the AUA and the benefits of becoming a member. This has changed over time and I have attended the Annual Conference and also a number of AUA training courses. I was even lucky enough to participate in the AUA Study Tour to the Netherlands and Belgium in November 2015. My University embeds the practices of AUA through its local AUA network and has recently committed to the AUA Mark of Excellence. I am actively involved in developing an action plan for my School to work towards the Mark of Excellence. I am proud to be working in an institution that has identified the importance of CPD for their professional services staff.

What first attracted you to the AUA PgCert programme?

The reason I applied for the PgCert programme was the opportunity to work towards Level 7 qualification. Over the years I had researched some options but this programme appealed to me as it was focused on HE. I really enjoy working in the sector and it provided a unique opportunity to increase my knowledge as well as my confidence to embrace the challenging environment that we work in.

Why did you decide to study the PgCert?

With my children were about to start their GCSE’s and A-Level’s, it was a time for me to think “What do I want to do?”.  I was working in an academic environment with no academic qualifications.  That was my motivation at the start but this evolved as I completed the programme.

What were the best bits about the PgCert programme for you?

There were lots of best bits ….In Year One of the programme I benefited from having a much broader understanding of the sector that I work in. I tackled assignments that challenged me to evaluate my institution and other Universities. It was also an opportunity to develop my writing skills.

Initially I was more sceptical about Year Two and professional development in general, but engaging with this content has changed my ways of working. Completing my Portfolio as part of the course gave me an opportunity to reflect on my experiences and my concluding thoughts nicely sum up my “best bit” of the programme: The programme has guided my professional development and decision making as a manager, through a structured professional development plan, allowed me to focus on addressing my weaknesses, and provided focus for my personal goals.  My personal aim to address the gap in formal qualifications has become secondary, as the wider benefits of the programme have been realised.

What was your biggest challenge in completing the PgCert programme?

The biggest challenge at the start of the programme was confidence in my own ability to actually complete it. As well as this, time was always a challenge, which is something my peers found too. Working full time and then making time in the evenings and weekends to make sure that you are on track with the deadlines which seemed to come around so quickly can be extremely difficult, especially when trying to maintain a healthy life-work balance!


In what ways was the relationship with your mentor beneficial?

Over the two year programme, I found my mentor relationship to be truly valuable and rewarding.  At the beginning, I was not confident I had the abilities to achieve the PgCert; my mentor supported, listened and made sure that I was on track with the deadlines I had set myself (in a friendly way).  In Year Two, with a focus on personal development, my mentor made sure that the opportunities I identified were challenging and that I was getting the most out of the programme, for my personal and professional benefit.

Would you recommend the PgCert programme to others? If yes, why?

I would definitely recommend the programme if you are looking to develop your career in HE. For me, it has been the change from working in HE to identifying how you can develop a career in the sector.  As well as increasing my knowledge, it has shown me how to identify development opportunities in a different way.

Since completing the PgCert I have had the confidence to step out of my comfort zone and put myself forward for projects outside of my Division. By having a personal development plan and using the AUA CPD Framework, I have facilitated an away day for PSS staff, introduced the AUA CPD Framework into PDRs and supported setting up a professional services network for staff within my School. I have also given an Athena Swan lecture to academic and PSS staff in the School to talk about my career in HE. These have been challenging, but the programme has taught me to look at these as development opportunities and to regularly reflect on the experiences that have been given to me.

Are you still involved in any way with the PgCert and if so how?

I am now a mentor for the PgCert. Even after completing the programme, I wasn’t sure if I would be ‘qualified’ enough to help support other people. I decided to register my interest as a mentor and then attend one of the training days. This gave an opportunity to discuss the mentoring role with others and gave me the confidence to put my name forward. I now have two mentees, one just starting the PgCert and another who is completing their portfolio.

What would my mentees say about me? I hope that, following completion of the programme, they have felt challenged but supported, and found that the mentor relationship enhanced their learning experience.


How has the PgCert contributed to your professional development in your role and/or your career development?

The PgCert has changed the way that I engage in my professional development.  It has encouraged me to have the confidence to look for opportunities within my role and set myself challenging goals.  Developing a personal development plan and writing it down pushes you to do it, rather than just thinking it is a good idea.  It also made me think a bit more creatively about my professional development and understanding that you do need to push yourself out of your comfort zone now and again to help you develop in your role.

Is there anything you learnt about yourself that surprised you?

I learnt that I enjoy learning. Since graduating from the PgCert in 2015 I have completed the PgDip and I am now about to start the MSc.

If you had any tips for future students what would they be?

  • Have a plan – but be prepared for things not to go to plan!
  • Having support from your family is essential. You are going to need to work in the evenings and at the weekends so everyone needs to be on board.
  • Keep in touch with your peers in the cohort. They understand what you are going through and maybe able to offer additional support and advice.