In a rare moment of wakefulness past my usual bedtime, I saw in 2013 with some good friends in Woking. It was a lovely evening at home, made all the more festive for the bottle of Lanson Black Label champagne. I was fairly relaxed after my customary Christmas break stretching from Christmas Eve through to 2nd January (one of the perks of working in the Higher Education sector – Universities tend to shut down completely over the festive period.) But I also felt nervy about returning to work.
Since about September 2012 my colleagues and I had been trying to do our work, but substantial change was in the air and it’s hard to stay focussed when you don’t know what your job will consist of a few months down the line. We had been faithfully promised that we would know our fate by the time we broke up for Yuletide. Whether the news was good or bad, decisions concerning the new operation would have been made, and planning would start in earnest. To no-one’s tremendous surprise the deadline came and went and nothing actually happened. So we all sloped off for the break none the wiser.
Come the end of January Terry & I headed off on a proper holiday. Still we knew nothing, and by now we were getting pretty bored of being jerked around by the DfE. I returned to work in early February, established that we still had no idea what our jobs would be, if we would want to do them or even if they would actually exist. And that’s when I started thinking.
At this point I had worked at the Institute of Education for four and half years, administering a programme of Continuing Professional Development to teachers and technicians working in Science education. It had been a varied role, I had learned a lot, made some very good friends and generally enjoyed it. But returning to work that February for the first time I realised I really didn’t want to go back into that building. Not just the normal end of holidays blues, but a deeper malaise signifying that I was no longer happy in my job.
But there’s a recession on. I was bloody lucky to have a job at all, and it felt childish to indulge in existential angst about whether every waking moment spent within those solemn grey concrete walls was any fun. Plus whatever lay ahead it was likely to involve a lot of work, and I was riddled with guilt at the prospect of leaving friends and colleagues in the lurch. So I spent an unhappy 6 weeks miserable, bored, anxious but in a state of semi-denial that anything was wrong. My ever-patient, ever-supportive husband gently suggested that I polished up my CV and started seeing what jobs.ac.uk had available. In the meantime work was getting worse; everyone was tense and short-tempered and now in March we were still in the dark about what would happen in the Brave New World as we not-very-cheerfully had taken to calling it. Eventually I saw sense and agreed the time had come to Start Looking.
In a break with tradition, Terry was staying still, career wise, and getting on pretty damn well at O2 in Slough. So we figured out where I might be able to work which wouldn’t drag him away. Analytical types that we are, we overlaid the UCAS map showing all HE institutions in the UK with the Mapumental tool which draws circles according to commuting times via public transport and another which shows distance by driving time. With our parameters set, 3 areas seemed likely candidates: staying in London, moving to Reading or moving to Oxford.
I wasn’t crazy about sticking with London. South West Trains’ quality of service had been steadily declining, in direct opposition to the cost of the tickets, and I was aware that the daily grind of the commute was not helping my mood. I submitted my first job application to Reading on the 1st April 2013. I didn’t hear anything back, (correctly) assumed I hadn’t been shortlisted, asked for feedback (was told I had been a decent candidate but it was a very strong field blah blah blah) and resolved to Carry On Looking.
A few scant weeks later I put myself forward for a job running one of the largest and most prestigious scholarships at the University of Oxford. I was stunned to be shortlisted, which consisted of a substantial pre-interview task, a pre-interview computer test, a presentation and then the interview itself. It was hands down the most gruelling job application process I had ever gone through, but it seemed to go well. Really well actually! I left feeling cautiously optimistic, and then, because it happened to be my birthday, I went to the pub and got drunk.
I received the rejection letter at 16.15 the following day and had a beautifully restrained little cry in the corridor at work (think Emma Thompson in Love Actually!) There was the normal gubbins about the panel having a really tough decision to make and would I please consider other posts. Blah blah blah.
Ever my guiding star – Terry had a different interpretation of this missive. Where I had assumed polite smoke-blowing, Terry was sure there was real intent behind the invitation to apply for another position which had been advertised at the same time. And so I re-jigged the stuff I had submitted before, hit the Send button, and waited.
Whatever they had liked about the previous application was clearly still there, as I got shortlisted again, and went through the whole pre-interview rigmarole once more. I was a little better prepared, a little less nervous and felt like I had given the best account of myself possible in the interview. I felt optimistic, but was determined not to get my hopes up too high. A friend was celebrating her birthday in Soho that evening, so I resolved to make my way back to London and get drunk.
Which is in fact what transpired, except that during the intervening 2 hours The University of Oxford rang up and offered me the job and my life changed.
I handed in my notice, hunted for, found and bought a house in the 3 months it took me to leave my job and moved to Oxford 11 days prior to starting in the Graduated Admissions and Funding team. I’ve barely stopped since, what with learning the ropes of my new role, settling into the house, and getting to know a brand new city. As such, many other things such as blogging and going to the gym have fallen entirely by the wayside, so I hope to start easing my way back into normality in 2014. It’s been a turbulent year, but I can honestly say that while I am exhausted, I am finishing 2013 much happier than when I started.