I participated in Aurora in 2016/17 and despite mislaying my Aurora pin (temporarily, I hope!), I’m a proud alumna of the programme.
I originally applied because I was looking for an opportunity to develop my skills and confidence as a leader. I already held a leadership role as Deputy Head of an academic School (roughly equivalent to Head of Department), but often felt that I spent so much time doing that I lacked the time to think strategically, or to reflect more deeply on my leadership practice.
The programme certainly lived up to my expectations and I benefitted greatly from my participation, most especially thanks to the women I encountered. On the very first day in London, I found myself sitting in a ballroom filled with a large group of strong, intelligent women, and from then on these colleagues were the heart of Aurora for me. There were the speakers I listened to, the participants I shared ideas and experiences with, those who asked me useful – sometimes difficult – questions, and the ones who offered me insight or advice. Some participants I only met once, while others – such as the women in my Action Learning Set – became almost a support group. Aurora reminded me of how powerful we can be as individual women in supporting and mentoring each other, and I’m trying to put that idea into practice more often in my own professional activity.
Aurora also had an impact in a way that I hadn’t expected. The topic of the last session was ‘Adaptive Leadership’, and during our discussions we were encouraged to explore the related themes of courage, risk-taking, and looking past our limits. At the risk of generalising, these are not approaches that most women favour, and as Dame Nancy Rothwell succinctly puts it: “There is an issue about women having confidence and going for things.” (Dame Nancy Rothwell: 'Break the rules and see what happens'). One of the messages I took away from that day was the value of taking chances to help grow and/or succeed professionally. And a few months later when a new opportunity presented itself, I was able to see the positives of leaving my comfort zone rather than just the apparent riskiness of a new venture. In other words, I chose to ‘go for things.’ From this autumn, I will take on a new academic role focusing on Transnational Education (TNE) and start a part-time MA course. My new direction may not fit neatly within any expected HE trajectory, but I already feel intellectually energised and inspired by these new challenges.
Aurora reminded me of how powerful we can be as individual women in supporting and mentoring each other, and I’m trying to put that idea into practice more often in my own professional activity."
Dr Liz Wilding
University of Reading