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Christine - public events programme director
Name: Christine
PhD discipline: French Literature
Area(s) of work: University teaching; arts; charity
Year of graduation: 2003
Date of Interview: 18/06/2008

Now Playing: Christine - public events programme director
Christine describes her current role, directing the public events programme at a major arts charity.

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Can you tell me what your current position is?

I'm the head of the public events programme for an established arts charity in London.

And how long have you been working in that position?

I've not been the head of department for very long – just for about three months, but I've been with the organisation for nearly five years now.

Can you tell me in some detail what your job involves?

Erm, well I have overall responsibility for managing an ambitious annual programme of public events which run from keynote lectures by major writers, thinkers, statesmen, business leaders on a range of topics. Debates on current affairs issues and a programme of free public screenings of international documentary films with Q & As with the film makers and directors, so it's a really exciting programme.

How many people work in your team?

There are six people in my team.

And they're all doing different things?

Yes, yes. It's a very close knit team. We collaborate very well. The organisation where I work is very pro-collaboration, sort of non-hierarchical, so it's a very co-operative team. It's a very fast pace environment and the work is quite intense, it's a very busy programme so you need that strong teamwork to make it happen and, yeah, we work well as a team.

Where does your department sit in terms of the organisation's structure?

Well the organisation, it could be seen as quite a complex one. It's a charity with a strong arts focus. It has (what I deal with) the external affairs side of things; the public events programme. There is also a membership aspect to it so there's a team working on liaising with members of the organisation. It has a global membership of 27,000 members who support the organisation and there's also a strong research side to the organisation working on policy research related to the issues that the organisation is interested in so the public events programme is sort of the public face of the organisation.

And on a day to day basis what would be your responsibilities?

Well it's a broad ranging role. The key focus is to deliver a very high quality programme of public events and to really attract the world's leading writers, thinkers and practitioners to the organisation because our mission is to be seen as a natural home for public debate and public discourse. So it's about researching who the key people are out there and who we want to attract to the programme to come and speak and to come and participate in the debate, inviting them; basically the whole range of activities associated with implementing and delivering the programme, managing the team and the whole sort of marketing and promotion of the events as well as being there on the night itself and making sure every aspect runs very smoothly through to feedback and evaluation after the event and a lot of co-operation with other parts of the organisation in making sure that the events programme sort of supports the work that they're doing and gives them an outlet to provide this place for public discourse and to some things that they might be researching which might feed into policy documents could find a platform for discussion by public events.

What kind of research do you do?

There's a lot of internet based research and a lot of reading. The job requires a very acute antennae for current affairs really so I subscribe to a lot of journals, lots of reading of the newspapers, lots of the reading of the literary and political weeklies and monthlies and quarterlies. Lots of listening to Radio 4 and watching Newsnight and the Today programme so it's about having a broad interest in a range of issues cutting across current affairs, culture, social and political issues and in order to identify key participants for the events programme; it's about really keeping very up to date with the leading people in a broad range of fields so that is by a lot of reading and internet researches. Google is my best friend really.

What kind of degree of autonomy do you have in your role and who do you report to?

I report to the Director of External Affairs and I have quite a bit of autonomy in my role. It's something I really like about the organisation, that it's an intellectually stimulating environment and there's a lot of smart people around to collaborate with and spark off ideas with but the emphasis is really on being very proactive and independent in your thinking, so yeah it's a good balance of autonomy but great team support also.

What is the physical environment like that you work in?

I feel very fortunate that my organisation's headquarters is an historic building so it's a very pleasant working environment. The office floors of the building have been adapted to mostly an open plan way of working.

And what are the working conditions like?

Well, working on events means that I'm often working in the evenings so there's a sort of a loose sort of flexi time in operation so if I'm working late on an event in the evening I can come in late the next day. Quite generous holiday allowance but because it's a really, really busy programme and it can be quite a high pressure environment also. The organisation are very supportive of home working whenever possible so I try to work from home at least one day a week, usually on a Friday whenever possible.

Charities and arts institutions have a reputation for perhaps undervaluing their employees in terms of their remuneration. Do you think that's fair or do you feel that the institution you work for adequately pays you?

Yes. Certainly I think that there's a fair degree of truth in that. If you go to work in the charity sector and the arts sector, I'm certain if you go in at an entry level position salary expectations are modest but I feel this particular organisation has been very supportive in really progressing me through the organisation fairly quickly so that I've been able to reach a position of responsibility at a more senior, managerial level where I'm quite happy with the salary I currently earn and that I feel reflects my role and my responsibilities pretty well.

Does your job have any connection with the subject area of your PhD?

No, it doesn't. I have to say quite clearly, it doesn't have a direct connection with the subject of my PhD.

Do you feel that you're using your PhD experience though in your role?

I do. I feel there are quite a few elements of my PhD experience which have an impact on my role and which I use and those range from research skills which are a strong part of what I currently do. Communication skills which I built up during my PhD and through teaching, you know verbal communication skills and people skills. I felt during my PhD I was able to develop them through, as I mentioned, teaching and through just things like being confident in public speaking because I think often and it was certainly part of my PhD experience, you become quite experienced in speaking at conferences as well as teaching, not just in small groups but maybe doing bits of lecturing and I have found that to be great training for working in a role which has a strong public face element to it so yes, there are some sort of direct and indirect skills arising out of my time during my PhD which have really helped me in my current role.

How do you feel that your PhD is regarded by your colleagues and your employer?

I feel that my PhD is very highly regarded by colleagues and I must admit it's not something that I've ever really in my work life sort of shouted about – the fact that I have a PhD. I don't use my title in my professional life. I don't have it on my card or my e-mail signature but obviously my employer's aware of it and as colleagues become aware of it I think they're pretty impressed which is always quite nice. And I think it's been quite significant to my employer knowing that that was my background and that I had achieved that. It was quite important to my employer in recognising the skills that enabled me to achieve that and identifying that in me and helping me progress my role within the organisation.
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