Enthuse your local network, make meaningful connections, and develop your career
Natalia Crisanti (she/her)
University of Kent
Why bother with a local AUA network at your institution? Is it worth the hassle? And how do you get it off the ground? My name’s Natalia, and I started being the AUA advocate at the University of Kent in 2020, as that seemed like a good additional task to add to my already frightening list in the midst of a lockdown with a busy job in communication in Student Services, and two young children at home!
But as often happens with everything from taking walks outside, to having long talks with friends, to practising yoga/ whatever your calming or energising exercise of choice may be, to work training events – when you feel like you have the least time for it is often when you need it most. We were in the midst of the chaos of a pandemic and home working, and we felt disconnected from our colleagues. And connection was what was desperately needed, to feel in touch with others in the workplace, to feel less isolated, to hear about their hardships and their tricks they were employing to get through an enormous and ever shifting amount of work and stay sane!
For me the AUA network at Kent has been a source of inspiration and connection for many years, a group of people who have a huge variety of jobs within the institution but the same energy to improve and learn from others, and to give back too, in the form of advice and encouragement, as well as more formal mentoring. My Kent AUA network is the first port of call if I want to understand a different Department I haven’t dealt with before, if I want to scope out whether a new job opportunity is worth pursuing, or if I’m feeling stuck with a task or a project and I want a reflective companion outside my team or Department. It’s a well of wisdom, sympathy and encouragement. But if we don’t work at it, these networks dissipate and don’t continue to grow and nurture people within them.
So what are my tips for starting or growing a thriving network of AUA members where you are? Here’s what’s worked for us at the University of Kent:
- Find out who your members are – by contacting the AUA you can obtain an up to date list of your membership within your organisation, and reach out to everyone to suggest connecting.
- Meet frequently – it doesn’t have to be formal and include everyone each time. We often have lunchtime walks or a coffee catch up session and use the time to get to know one another/ vent any work frustrations and think constructively about what learning session might help us all to organise.
- Use your local network to plug into regional and national events – if you meet within your organisation, you can chat about opportunities coming up in the wider AUA CPD calendar, and share the benefits of attending session with other colleagues.
- Listen to your network and what they want and need – and then be realistic about what you can deliver. It’s tempting to say yes to every good idea, but we aim for one meet up a month to match people’s capacity to prepare a session/ everyone’s availability to attend.
- Share the load – a few enthusiastic members are needed to drive a network forward, when you meet see who has what skills and capacity and get people involved! Is there a good communicator who’s up for doing the emails? Has someone got (or wants to develop) event organisation skills? Delegate amongst yourselves so nobody carries all the logistical burden of running the network. Volunteering for one aspect of keeping the network going can develop your skills which might land you your next job.
- Tell others institution who you are, what you stand for, and the benefits of joining – 3 of us presented about the AUA at our Staff Conference in September, telling a wide variety of colleagues what the AUA is and how it’s helped us in our careers, thereby growing membership and interest in and respect for our work.
Being part of the international AUA network has no doubt expanded my horizons, helped me better understand the HE sector more broadly, and stay up to date with developments and innovation in university administration. But being part of and contributing to our local organisation network has brought me good friendships, an opportunity to develop key skills that my roles didn’t always afford, and a sense of belonging and safety at times when the University’s shifting sands made that feel precarious. And from that safe space, I’m more confident to reach for new career opportunities and be supported by like minded colleagues as I seek to develop professionally and personally.
To get in touch with Natalia and the University of Kent’s AUA network, please email AUA@kent.ac.uk.
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