Taking Charge of your Future

Written by Dr Stephani Hatch, Reader at the IoPPN

When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time”Maya Angelou

The first time I took charge of my future is when I found my voice and refused to be intimidated by the power and assumed knowledge of my guidance counsellor.  With very few accessible role models for what I wanted to achieve at age 14, my guidance counsellor attempted to place me in classes that would result in the receipt of a diploma required for vocational courses rather than one that would prepare me for university.  This decision was made despite being a strong student. With my parents support, we insisted that I be included on the university track and decided I would search for a different high school where I would be encouraged, supported and nurtured to thrive. There were lessons I learned from this experience: the importance of finding your voice and being prepared to move on when your needs are not being met.

Fast forward to my undergraduate years, I took charge of my future by listening to the sage advice of a PhD student who told me to find a faculty role model and ask that person to mentor me.  I plucked up the courage to approach an academic I admired, and she mentored me through the next steps, applying to postgraduate studies. That mentor was my first of many mentors; when I think back, my mentors were the key to me continuing to take charge of my future.  To date, my mentors keep me focused, realistic and motivated toward achieving my goals.

Taking charge is not a single event; it is a process that will continue across your career. I joined King’s in 2006 and it was a clear opportunity for me to recreate what had worked in previous experiences and intentionally avoid potential barriers. However, in many ways I felt 14 again, with very few accessible role models and a feeling that an environment that lacked diversity and inclusion may be a barrier to achieving my goals. I looked around and the absence of ethnic minority academics was immediately obvious to me.  Being in a different country with seemingly different cultural rules, within and outside of the workplace, also left me with a feeling of uncertainty.  My response was to find my voice and have sometimes uncomfortable conversations with my line manager about who I was, who I wanted to be and what I wanted to accomplish, immediately and in the long run.  I was also upfront about how my academic experiences had been shaped by gender and race.  Yes, gender was the more comfortable conversation to have, but for many reasons, our continued race discussions have been more important.  This openness also led me to working on Diversity & Inclusion initiatives at King’s which has greatly improved my research, teaching and ability to support my students and colleagues.

Based on these and many other experiences, I offer the following tips:

  • Find your voice: Let people know who you are and who you want to be (and it’s your prerogative to change your mind);
  • Know what is expected of you: make this a part of your communications with your line managers and supervisors; know how your progress is being benchmarked in your faculty and the wider institution;
  • Put yourself in uncomfortable situations/have difficult conversations: step outside your comfort zone at least once every few months; many situations/conversations you are avoiding can become unnecessary barriers to your progress;
  • Let other people say no: no one likes rejection, but you cannot let yourself become your biggest barrier;
  • Keep moving forward: if the decisions you are making and the people you are surrounding yourself with are not contributing to your progression, make new decisions and approach new colleagues;
  • Find mentors: this is preferably someone that is your champion but does not have a vested interest beyond that; make sure your mentor is fit for purpose; one mentor may not be able to guide you in all aspects required of an academic (i.e., research, teaching, administration and citizenship);
  • Share information and strategies with your peers: academia is competitive but it can also be a supportive environment; always model how you would like to define collaborative and supportive relationships in how you interact with your peers and colleagues.

Attend the Research Staff Event 2018 to hear Stephani speak and introduce a diverse panel of speakers who will be sharing their experiences of taking charge of their future at King’s.