Meet Jean Grier | AUA Career Stories


Jean Grier FAUA | Investigations Manager and Research and Projects Officer for the Vice Principals | The University of Edinburgh

Please note that this article will be published in Issue 92 of Newslink, and we are delighted to offer to you here in advance of publication of the magazine in Spring 2019.

What is your role?

Nominally, I have two roles.  As Investigations Manager, I am where the buck stops on complaints to the University.  This is an ‘extra’ I volunteered for about six years ago, and it is a never-a-dull-moment access-all-areas job.

As Research and Projects Officer for the Vice Principals, I am on hand to take forward special projects as necessary.  In practice, nearly all my time now is spent on complaints (both policy and casework) though I have undertaken some very rewarding projects, including co-authorship of three books about the University.

How long have you worked in HE?

An embarrassing length of time.  I spent a year at the University of St Andrews, which provided an excellent introduction to HE as it was small – I covered a great breadth of work in that year.  I joined AUA’s fore-runner, CUA, and attended my first conference.  I then moved to the University of Edinburgh, and have been there ever since.  I excuse my failure to move beyond UoE by saying that it is such a large institution I have actually been in 10 (I think it is 10!) different posts during my 34+ years here.

What advice do you have for prospective AUA members?

Go for it!  If you are a specialist, e.g. a finance person or in HR or estates, you might also want to tap into your specialist networks, but AUA is great for all of us, giving a good insight into what’s happening across the sector and the range of careers out there, whether for specialists or generalists.

And having joined, get involved.  I owe many ‘firsts’ to AUA – my first experience of a conference, of working on a national committee, of writing for publication, of presenting a conference session, of developing and delivering staff development sessions, of participating in an international study visit, of mentoring, of refereeing journal articles, of planning a major conference…  All of the AUA experience has fed my day job, so whilst it may have been ‘time out’ in a literal way, the payback has far outweighed that.

What do you value most about working in HE?

The people.  I genuinely believe that most of us in HE admin care about what we are doing and want to make a difference. 

If you could do another HE job for a day, what would it be?

Believe it or not, I love my job and really don’t want to move from it.  However, I am a great believer in expanding horizons, and so I’d do anything for a day (go on, challenge me!) and recently worked to establish a scheme where willing colleagues would shadow someone for a day.  It hasn’t really come to fruition yet for a number of reasons, but a fairly random alternative which I called ‘coffee conversations’ got very positive feedback.  This involved pulling names of volunteers out of a hat and putting them in touch with another random volunteer for an hour’s get-together to swap job stories.  It got people talking, enabled them to meet colleagues from different areas and make new connections, all with the minimum of fuss and hassle.  Time I did it again…

What does professionalism mean to you?

There’s all the usual stuff about discretion, personal integrity, and so on, but I am also a strong believer in not ducking.  Too often – and I do see this when dealing with complaints to the University – something may have been put into the ‘too difficult’ basket.  When that surfaces through a complaint, I believe it is my job to deal with it – or if not dealing with it myself, support the colleague who is best placed to deal with it.

I also believe in looking beyond the horizon of one’s own desk.  I hold a number of external appointments, and whilst I take to them skills and knowledge I have developed in my day job, I also bring back broader perspectives and alternative ways of considering things.  I see it as win-win-win – for the organisation I’m working with, for my employers, and for me personally in terms of CPD.  As with involvement in AUA, don’t be afraid of volunteering.

What work accomplishment are you the proudest of?

Getting good feedback on a course I have delivered is always nice – hoping that I have helped a colleague in their career.  Of the books I have written the one which gives me a buzz is a slim outreach volume on a major archaeological dig which took place on campus.  Having been told at school not to study archaeology because I’d never get a job, there’s a certain schadenfreude in having an archaeology book out there – however lightweight.  I’m currently working with the archaeologists on the official ‘big book’ on the dig.  I’ll be proud when that comes out.

But I couldn’t fail to mention here the AUA Lifetime Achievement Award.  I feel there has been payback for me already in everything I have done through AUA, so having the award was in some ways superfluous – but I was thrilled to receive it!

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