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      Work/life experiences of Brookes’ academics


    One of the biggest challenges is to not underestimate what you can do. 

    Kate Ringham is Programme Lead for the master’s programme in the Oxford School of Hospitality Management. She joined the School at Oxford Brookes University eight years ago.

  • After graduating from the University of Oxford, Kate qualified as a chartered accountant with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) in London before moving to Oxford and changing career when she had her family.

    It was during Kate’s time at PWC that she first got a taste for teaching. She decided to move away from audit practice into Training and Development and she soon realised that the teaching aspect of this role was what she really enjoyed. Kate pursued this within PWC, running training programmes which is, she says, “where the love of teaching adults came from”.

    Kate left PWC when her children were born and the family moved to Oxford. While her children were young she had several different jobs before taking on her role in the Oxford School of Hospitality Management at Oxford Brookes University. In making her career moves, she says she has always kept an “open mind” and “thought laterally” about how her experience in one job might prove useful in another. For example, she realised that her work as an accountant would be useful in supporting her role as a school governor. Kate describes her key turning points as “lucky breaks” and her move to the Oxford School of Hospitality Management as the “complete serendipity” of seeing the job advertised in the local press.

    When Kate took on her role at Brookes, she says:

    I hadn’t really thought about the possibility of a research career.

    However, thanks to the encouragement of the former Head of the School of Hospitality Management, Don Sloan, and Professor Levent Altinay, she decided to pursue a PhD on a part-time basis. She got on extremely well with her PhD supervisors, Dr Samantha Miles and Dr Rebecca Hawkins, and Kate still works collaboratively with them. Kate also has a close relationship with her own students and was proud of the fact that she was able to graduate and receive her PhD alongside them.
    Kate was the first generation of her family to go to university, at St Catherine’s College, Oxford. She met her husband there, and the pair have supported each other’s careers and lives ever since. They carefully made decisions together regarding their respective careers and how they would combine these with bringing up a family.

    Their decision to move from London to Oxfordshire was made with family in mind: Kate felt that it would be easier to have a good work–life balance in Oxfordshire, which she achieved by being flexible work-wise when her children were young. She did freelance work for about seven years after her children were born in order to spend lots of time with them. The main thing that she missed about her previous work during these years was the social aspect, which you don’t get as a freelancer:

    I enjoy working as part of a team.

    As her children grew up and went through the education system, Kate increased her hours at Brookes from part-time to full-time when they went to secondary school. A few years later, when it came to researching her PhD, her children were teenagers with their own exams so

    Often we would sit down and study together … it was a general communal effort.

    Of all Kate’s jobs, she says this one has “the most favourite bits”. It is the combination of working with students alongside the intellectual stimulation of the research that she most enjoys and she finds the balance between research and teaching stimulating.

    Kate not only enjoys teaching and the challenge of having to explain complex concepts, making finance seem interesting and relevant, but says that she learns a lot from her students as well:

    The engagement with students is always fantastic. Students are inspirational to work with.

    She takes immense pleasure in seeing them succeed, often overcoming significant challenges in their own lives.

    For her, success is:

    Being satisfied with and enjoying what you are doing in a variety of spheres. Having time to enjoy family, friends and the satisfaction of a stimulating job well done.

    Over the years, her career priorities have changed and now she is interested in challenges. From PhD to Programme Lead, Kate has certainly taken on demanding work at Brookes. However, she says it’s not the challenges themselves that are hard, but how you relate to yourself:

    One of the biggest challenges is to not underestimate what you can do, especially if you have been out of the workplace for a stretch of time.

    She describes being at home with small children as one of the most levelling experiences, but you can almost forget what you can do in other spheres.

    Lots of opportunities will come your way; be very clear of the benefit to yourself in undertaking them. Equally if you are going to say no to something, be very clear on the reasons why. And if it’s I don’t think I can do it, think twice, challenge yourself.