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NDM Professional and Support Staff Career Profiles

Karen Valentine - Head of Operations and Improvement for NDM

Karen Valentine on zoomMy post-school years began with 2 years at catering college, where I completed my basic chef training, as well as many aspects of the catering and hospitality industry. This continued when I studied Hotel, Catering and Institutional Operations at Oxford Polytechnic, now Brookes University. My working life began at The Oxford Moat House Hotel, working around the different departments – housekeeping, reception, kitchen, restaurant, and bar – before settling in to the accounts function, where I eventually became the Financial Controller.

After taking a seven year career break when I had my two children, I began working in NDM at Oxford University in July 2002. My first role was Accounts Manager in the Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics. As the activity and estate increased, and with a new Head of Department, Professor Peter Ratcliffe (now Sir), the NDM Strategic team was formed in October 2006, and I took on the role of Operations Projects Manager. Over the following 9 years the operations team expanded to include oversight and management of the Trainee Unit Administrator Scheme, Graduate Studies, Website Management, Public Engagement activities, and Communications. My role evolved in to the Head of Operations for NDM, providing strategic support to the Associate Head of Department and managing several large new initiatives and projects across NDMs administrative support teams.

In 2015, I was offered a secondment opportunity as the Chief Operating Officer for the NDM Thailand unit in Bangkok. This was a huge challenge in terms of relocating to live and work 6,000 miles away from home, but the role was very similar to my existing one, and I embraced the challenge and took my Oxford insight overseas. After 3 years, I returned to the UK in April 2018, and after some significant work/life balance obstacles, I applied to re-join the NDM Strategic team as Head of Operations and Improvement for NDM.

I’ve built my career on learning the basic day-to-day operation of administrative tasks within the University, so I can fully understand and appreciate the workloads and challenges of all those working in administrative and support roles. My basic knowledge of perfecting the timings when preparing and cooking a 5-course meal has been excellent training for managing and juggling competing projects and deadlines in the world of university operations. I’ve been involved in many central University projects, and people have accessed my experience from working within the largest department in Oxford for almost 20 years. I have seen many systems and managers come and go, with different leadership styles and technologies to understand along the way. My key piece of advice to others would be to remain flexible, open-minded and as positive as possible, and remember it’s only a job.

Ling Jinks - Business Manager for Space and Buildings

Portrait of Ling JinksPrior to joining the University of Oxford I worked with a couple of small biotech companies. My roles ranged from being a fermentation technician to working as a molecular biologist. However, I soon realised that being a benchtop scientist was not for me. As I was working for small companies being flexible was key and eventually I gravitated towards the lab management side of things and that in turn led to building management.

I joined the University of Oxford in November 2006 as a member of what is now the Department of Oncology. My role there was as a Facilities and Projects Officer and I effectively looked after a small research building. I joined NDM in 2009 as a Building and Facilities Manager at CCVTM. I managed a small team and covered all aspects of building and facilities management – including reception services, health and safety, procurement etc. From there I moved to the NDMRB in 2012 and to the WHG in 2016 – still as a Building & Facilities Manager. However, each subsequent move involved a larger and more complicated building and with that larger teams. While at NDMRB I was appointed while it was still a construction site – the experience with the construction team, developing and appointing a Facilities team from scratch as well as being able to influence decision making and working closely with Capital Projects was invaluable.

The WHG role allowed me to appreciate the difficulties in looking after a building where complicated scientific research is still undertaken but where the building is far from ideal in terms of infrastructure due to a number of factors. In February of this year I moved to NDM Strategic as a Business Manager (Space and Building Projects). I have responsibility for departmental capital projects, setting up building and facilities in new builds, departmental building and space management and developing facilities support staff across NDM. This role will allow me to develop and expand on what I have already accumulated and provides a more strategic direction.

In the various building and facilities roles that I have held, I feel it is imperative to get ‘stuck’ in and to lead by example. At the start of my career this meant being flexible enough to collect and autoclave biohazardous waste, to greet visitors in reception, to physically move furniture and to attend meetings with suppliers and Estates all on the same day. As a result you then understand the pressures felt in each of the areas that you are responsible for and you are able to factor this in when making decisions.

Key to the roles I have undertaken has been being open and honest with colleagues, having a positive attitude, to be approachable and to facilitate.

Elena McPhillbin - Head of NDM HR

Portrait of Elena McPhillbinGrowing up on the west coast of Ireland I can’t say I dreamt of working in HR - I was more interested in becoming a lifeguard (Baywatch was popular when I was a teenager).  Even when I accepted my undergraduate place at Galway University, I was never really sure about what I wanted to do in the future. My aimlessness meant that my undergraduate degree was in Irish and Archaeology, neither of which would had led me to a career I was excited about. After working in various jobs I completed a postgraduate qualification in Business and it was through this my interest in HR was sparked and I went on to complete a Master’s Degree in Industrial Relations and Human Resource Management.

After a number of years working in various HR - type roles in Ireland the recession hit and when I was made redundant from my job I moved to Oxford in 2010. At that time my husband was working as a teacher in Switzerland, so I had to persuade him to move as well! My first job was as a Business Change Manager in NDM, followed by my current role as Head of Human Resources. The size of the department provides huge variety and the interactions with colleagues means every day is different. The flexibility offered by the University and NDM mean that I enjoy a good work-life balance, which is really important particularly now that I have a toddler. Living in Headington means I can walk to work and drop my son to the Triangle Nursery on the way to my office. As a first time mother, I was and continue to be so grateful for the onsite nursery - it definitely helped to settle my initial concerns about leaving him with anyone! I originally came for 2 years and I am still here over 10 years later…I might need to start calling Oxford home now!

Rosie Sharp - NDM Finance Team Manager

portrait of Rosie Sharp

In Devon, back when I left school, and after completing my A levels I still had no clear idea what I wanted to do, but I knew that going to University didn’t feel like the next step for me. I prefer a more hands on style of learning so I researched courses at my local College. The Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) appealed to me, I like logical answers and what the course had to offer, so I signed up. I then proceeded to contact over 20 Accountancy practices in my local area to see if they would take me on as an apprentice whilst I studied and one did. It was hard applying for a job that didn’t exist but I knew I needed to learn alongside gaining experience. Therefore during my first two years of studying AAT I did this alongside my apprenticeship where I worked in an accountancy practice, mainly focusing on year end accounts, quarterly accounting, VAT returns and my fair of tea making! It was then when my family moved back to Oxford where I completed my final year of AAT at Abingdon & Witney College and secured a job at the University.

I joined NDM in November 2013 as a Finance Assistant in the Target Discovery Institute where I progressed to Finance Officer. As I was keen to learn more, I looked to progress within NDM to Finance Manager at the Jenner Institute. It was shortly after this time that the NDM Finance Team (NDMFT) was created. The NDMFT was a new and exciting challenge, it appealed to me for many reasons including streamlining process, ensuring consistent financial controls and managing a team.

My advice to anyone starting out is that if you want to do something you can, it doesn’t have to fit a typical profile i.e. pressure to go to University. Allow yourself time to learn and progress, experience doesn’t come overnight. Drive and desire will get you to where you want to be.

Ed Gibbs - Director of Finance and Operations

Where to start

portrait of Ed GibbsPerhaps not where most people think. My first job was at the age of 16 working in a bar in Newport as a glass collector. Humble beginnings! Still it taught me a valuable lesson, that I never wanted to stay in Newport.

After this I finished my A levels, went to University and studied Social Science. I graduated and then decided that after 6 months working in the insurance industry that I would far prefer to travel the world. Thus began one of the most formative experiences of my life. I spent 18 months travelling throughout China, South East Asia, Australia and NewZealand. Little did I know that this time what a large part SE Asia would play in my career.   

After returning to the UK I worked for 6 months at Siemens Building Systems before moving to Oxford where I found a job working for the NHS at the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre. I started as a medical secretary and within a year I was the Medical Secretary, Receptionist and Office Manager. The role was an interesting one and gave me my first taste of supporting with the implementation of an Enterprise Level System.

The University

In 2006 my career took a new turn. I applied for and was appointed to a role within NDM working at the Peter Medawar Building, part of what is now NDM Experimental Medicine. I stayed in that role for 6 months before moving to OCDEM (no longer part of NDM) as the Administrator. In OCDEM I worked for 3.5 years obtaining a detailed understanding of how academic research worked and how support services enabled the science. I worked with some great academics and learnt how to support many different personality types and volumes of activity. I had a building to manage, a budget to balance and a modest research portfolio. In OCDEM I had my first opportunity to revisit a country I’d travelled to. As part of running a large clinical trial, the Acarbose Cardiovascular Evaluation trial, I supported with the establishment of a legal entity in China. Over several trips I realised that travelling for work wasn’t quite the same as backpacking, although I did get to see a healthy number of Chinese cultural sites (again).

In 2010 I applied for the Business Manager role in the Centre for Tropical Medicine, a unit that I had wanted to work in ever since joining NDM. This was by far the most exciting and developmental role of my career. Throughout 10 years in Tropical Medicine I studied for, and obtained, an MBA. I have also managed growth from £20m pa to £60m pa, have established legal vehicles, recruited many staff, responded to a huge change in complexity and have increasingly tried to support the growth of Tropical Medicine into something that is greater than the sum of its parts. Throughout it all I have thoroughly enjoyed working with some of the most approachable and brilliant people I could ever have hoped to meet. The role in Tropical Medicine has afforded me the chance to travel to many of the countries that I backpacked through and also some new ones. I have made many friends and I have also had two children whilst working in the Centre.

Perhaps the highlight of my career was being given a medal by the University (or more accurately, Professor Peter Horby) for my work supporting the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa. The work that I played a small part in was not only an extraordinary feat of logistics (rolling teams of researchers in West African NGO camps testing experimental treatments) but a valuable opportunity to learn lessons for the 2020 COVID pandemic. I had the opportunity to work with some impressive and brave people during this dark time for the people of West Africa.

In 2019 I took on a widened role within NDM that provided support not only to Tropical Medicine but also to the Big Data Institute and Target Discovery Institute. This role has allowed me the opportunity to consider and enact change at a departmental level and presents many challenges still to come.

Reflections

If someone 20 years ago had told me I’d be working in a senior role, within the University of Oxford, in one of the most prestigious medical research units in the world, I would have laughed. It has been at times hard, at times fun and at times daunting but never dull. The ethos I try to bring to the role is to do the best I can, ask if I don’t understand something and always try to be kind to people. Whilst I believe that some management styles use a push methodology, I prefer to try to bring people with me. I believe that working with extraordinary people we should be providing an extraordinary service to our scientific colleagues. This is not always possible given resource constraints and systems however I strongly believe we should aim high.

My one piece of advice would be work hard, go the extra mile and always accept there’s something more to learn. Oh, and try to do it with a smile!