Career profile. Sophia Bell

What was your journey to the position you hold now?

Image of sophia bell portrait image

I studied History and Archaeology at the University of Southampton before joining the University seven years ago as part of the finance team in Cardiovascular Medicine (CVM). Finance were based in the same open plan office as HR and I quickly became interested in the work of the HR team. This led me to working in recruitment and then to a maternity cover HR Officer role.  The more I learnt about HR the more I enjoyed the role, so I decided to go for it and undertake an MA in HR Management at Oxford Brookes which included my CIPD qualification.

I was lucky to have a mentor via the RDM mentoring scheme.

I had been working in CVM for about 5 years and was ready for a new challenge.  I was lucky to have a mentor via the RDM mentoring scheme. This internal mentorship was really pivotal for me. It gave me the opportunity to expand my network within MSD and to discuss ideas for advancing my career. I wanted to develop my career within the Medical Sciences Division so I explored the option of taking on a HR role in a larger department to broaden my experience and gain more experience of managing casework.

I was appointed as a Senior HR advisor in DPAG and have since been promoted to the role of HR Manager. I currently manage three members of the HR team.

What does your current role involve?

The job is busy because the department is very active.  We provide HR support and advice for departmental staff, ensure compliance with the university’s policies and procedures and develop departmental procedures, carry out recruitment and payroll, as well as supporting all aspects of the employee life-cycle. Taking on the role of HR Manager was a good move for me. I have enjoyed the experience of developing the departmental HR team. I have two members of the Team doing their HR apprentices at the moment and we have allocated specific projects to them to support their CIPD qualifications.

Taking on the role of HR Manager was a good move for me.

What elements of your job do you enjoy the most?

I really enjoy being able to work with such a diverse range of people.  This role provides me with many opportunities to network with other members of the Division and Central University, learn about different parts of the University such as research administration, and also to get involved in university initiatives such as Athena SWAN. Highlights have included growing and developing a newly formed HR team who work effectively together and developing and implementing new HR procedures (e.g. induction) and seeing them having an impact.

This role provides me with many opportunities to network with other members of the Division and Central University

What lessons have you learnt form the workplace changes imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic?

Effective communication has been difficult in some areas since lockdown. At the start of the period there was an over dependency on lengthy virtual meetings in some areas and the team were meeting more regularly than they would have done in the office. As time has gone on we have learnt to use platforms more effectively e.g. chat functions and shortened the length of virtual meetings to ensure people can focus effectively. I hope that we can maintain some of this efficiency going forward! We have also progressed some paperless processes and reviewed how we store information in compliance with GDPR.

What career tips and advice would you give to others?

It was difficult to make career decisions following university and I hadn’t given postgraduate qualification much thought initially but having the opportunity to undertake an MA alongside working at the University was really helpful in supporting my career progression. Looking back I would have done this sooner! My line manager and HOD were really supportive once I set out the benefits for me and the University. I was assisted in funding the course and provided with study time. It has also been great to see my team members completing their CIPD qualifications via the HR apprentice scheme using the apprentice levy.

I have utilised POD workshops and resources such as e-learning for my own development and encourage my staff to do the same. In particular, I have found the personal development and effectiveness sessions useful (e.g. assertiveness, managing difficult conversations etc.)

I had previous experience of being in a network for HR staff when I worked in CVM and am keen to set up a similar structure for HR managers in the South Parks road area as I found these connections to be really valuable for sharing ideas and best practice.

Externally, I make use of CIPD resources to support my development and particularly the local Thames Valley branch events. For example, I have attended mock employment tribunal sessions which have been hosted by University colleges.

I have also found LinkedIn to be a useful source of professional development and have used it to access an external mentoring scheme provided by Let’s Talk Talent. The external mentor had an innovative approach and it was helpful to consider things from a different perspective.