Member profile: Iain Forster-Smith

iain forster-smith

Iain Forster-Smith, Director of Administration, Faculty of Engineering and Design, University of Bath

Member Profile – Iain Forster-Smith

Life before Higher Education

I graduated in 1997 with a degree in Environmental Science, I wanted to save the world so obviously starting seeking work that would enable me to fulfil my dream.  First reality check in the real world – no one knew what my degree was, my first struggle in saving the world.  I was extremely fortunate to land myself a role working in Waste Management.  An interesting and varied role, from line managing a team of lorry drivers to assisting the project management of Europe’s largest terrestrial oil spill (at that time).

Networks provided me with my next career move, a close friend from University asked me if I wanted to come and work at a Brand Services firm where she worked.  I didn’t have a clue, but took the risk and applied anyway – my move away from saving the world.  I got the job and overnight I became a consultant in branding and trademarks.  This work was amazing, I worked with some of the world’s largest brands, travelled around the globe seeing places I would probably never have seen.  This work set me up for the rest of my life.  Second reality check – work life balance.  I commuted 4 hours a day to do my job and one Christmas in the local village pub where I grew up I decided I was going to leave and take some time out, I was knackered – the following Easter I left.

How I started working at Higher Education

Office Angels – I had stopped working and I was bored (2 weeks I had stopped working for), everyone I knew was at work.  Third reality check, if you are going to take time off work plan what you are going to do – make it worthwhile for you.  So, I took myself down to Office Angels agency and asked them to place me for 2 days a week in any work they could find.  The perfect match came up for me, supporting a University Conference.  This is where it all began.  I started supporting a 40th anniversary conference for a research intensive unit at University of Sussex, known as SPRU.  It was a great success.  My talents had been spotted and I was asked to apply for the role of Research Officer for the Harvard Sussex Programme, SPRU.  I got the job and worked closely with my academic colleagues supporting their research activity, grant applications and managing their amazing archive.  Fourth reality check, being in the right place at the right time a new opportunity came my way.  A position of Head of Operations became available in my early days as a Research Officer and I was approached to apply.  I was able to secure the role, which acted as the catapult for my career in Higher Education.  Since then I haven’t looked back and held a variety of roles: Programme Manager for a University restructure, Head of Institute Administration for Cancer Sciences Research, Head of School Administration for Medicine, Dentistry and Nursing to present day – Director of Administration, Engineering & Design at University of Bath.

The AUA and my future

Curiosity brought me to the AUA.  I had heard the name being mentioned it conversations but never really focussed on what this association could do for me.  A few years previous to joining the AUA I was interview by a person known to us all, Tessa Harrison (previous Chair of the AUA).  I didn’t get the job, but something about Tessa stuck with me, her style and approach with people was so memorable. I wanted to know her secret, she was inspiring.  For my own development I was looking for something to advance me further with my career in Higher Education, I loved the sector and had dedicated more than a decade to it.  Fate took its turn, I searched the internet for CPD activity for professional services staff within HE and the AUA came up, as did Tessa’s name.  I wanted to find out more, so I joined in 2013 and went to the National Conference in Edinburgh.  From this event I was hooked and could clearly see how this association could be a platform to support me in my career and improve my skills as manager enabling my teams to perform better.  In 2013, I took up the role of AUA Advocate at University of Glasgow and then continued that role when I joined University of Bath in 2014.  Since then we have had great success through the AUA, using the network available for development opportunities, sharing of best practice, a sounding board and support for the professional careers of our staff.  Today, I am still an Advocate for the AUA, I am extremely proud of our achievements and community at Bath.  I work closely with the Branch office in supporting development activity and hope to continue doing so.

The AUA has a vital role to play in the support of our professional teams and I hold my head high being part of it.  Finally reality check, you only get something out when you put in, so as a member of the AUA be proactive to make it work for you.


Ian Forster-Smith FAUA
Director of Administration
Faculty of Engineering and Design

University of Bath

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