Menzies: Connecting staff across the globe

Paula Menzies Cameron // Special to Western News

STAFF_cameron-MUGPaula Menzies Cameron, the manager of Financial Support with the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, was one of five Western staff members who secured a Western Staff International Exchange Program (WSIEP) award this year for international job shadowing.

Menzies just returned from a trip to the University of St. Andrews, where she spent three weeks. Menzies’ professional goal was to cultivate and establish new connections, foster dialogue with like-minded professionals and gain a better understanding of funding in its various forms. But the immersive experience was so much more than learning how another university does things.

Here is a sampling of her experiences, in her own words.

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I was going to the third-oldest university in the United Kingdom (600 years), and one ranked in the top 1 per cent of the world’s universities. What was I thinking?

I quickly relaxed after my first couple of days. We all spoke English, but I spent the first 48 hours translating their phrases, acronyms and administrative structures into Western-speak, much of it communicated to me in a beautiful Scots’ brogue. And I soon realized, after admitting to my apprehension about the goals of my visit, they were a wee bit nervous, too. Well, once we got that sorted, we cheerily got on with it.

It became crystal clear that my mission at St. Andrews was simply to listen, help where I could, connect with people on and off campus, share stories and experiences, immerse myself in their way of life and make lasting friendships.

Our institutions are alike in so many ways.

This was the start of a beautiful friendship.

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I was fortunate to find an ideal little cottage to live in for three weeks in this area of Fife. The cottage was smack in the centre of the golfing mecca of the world. There are golf courses up and down the Fife coast, each with stunning views of the North Sea and the Firth of Forth farther south. The grounds, surrounding fields and gardens were simply stunning, very pastoral.

Scotland is a country of both rugged and gentle beauty. There are no sidewalks or shoulders on which to walk on many of the Scottish roadways – just a reappearing narrow trottoir on one side – and the A917 was no different.

A very cool thing I knew about before leaving home was that the Fife Stagecoach Bus Company operated the No. 95 double-decker bus route, and that one of its hourly stops was at the end of my laneway. I was lucky enough to take the double-decker bus back and forth to campus every day.

My bus stop mates were Sam and Effie, an elderly couple from the hamlet of Boarhills, Catrìona; a young student at the local high school, who was dropped off by her mum every morning; and a cow named Norma Extreme. I cannot tell you how breathtaking the views were every morning coming in to St. Andrews from my upper seat on the 95.

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In a mix of ancient and modern buildings throughout the town, St. Andrews is comprised of three formal colleges – United College, St. Mary’s College and St. Leonard’s College. Unlike our three affiliated colleges, these are integrated into the university’s main organizational structure.

There are 18 academic schools organized into four faculties. St. Leonard’s College is the home of postgraduates, postdoctoral fellows and research staff, but there’s not an official central administrative overseeing body akin to our School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. The Scots refer to graduate study as postgraduate study and, to be honest, I find that most logical. Convocation ceremonies take place in the ancient Younger Hall and the event is referred to as graduation, so it follows that studies beyond that milestone are postgraduate.

At the postgraduate level, there are two categories of study – postgraduate taught (PGT) and postgraduate research (PGR). The PGT group would be akin to our one-year Master’s coursework degree programs as well as our graduate certificate and diploma programs. The PGR group would be akin to our research-based master’s degree programs and our PhD programs.

One of my most interesting days was spent with Mark, Sunil and Simone of the Lean Team, a group of dynamic transition experts dedicated to continuous improvement within the University that leads to greater and greater excellence in research and teaching. They live the university’s motto every day – Aien Aristeuein – which means “Ever to be the Best”.

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Quite quickly, I found myself a regular part of the daily routine thanks to my welcoming new colleagues. I was assigned my own workstation with Collaborations and Study Abroad (CSA) and Registry staff in a sunny, open office area that offered beautiful views of the sea.

The workday may begin at 9 a.m. and end at 5 p.m., but what differs is the amount of daylight Scotland enjoys during British Summer Time (BST). In the summer, the sun rises as early as 4 a.m. and does not set until close to 10 p.m. In the winter, the sun may not rise until close to 9 a.m. and set as early as 3 p.m.

Each day, after work, I stopped at the local grocer, picked up some items, headed to the bus station and hopped on the 95 home. I cooked at home most weekday evenings, tuned into BBC Scotland for the news and then to Island TV for reruns of my favourite BBC murder mystery series.

The weekends were my time for adventure. Scotland is a land of walking, hiking and climbing, usually through brisk wind, and hearty meals get you through. I ate mince and haggis, neeps and tatties, full Scots breakfasts and scones, clootie dumplings and shortbread, and I never forgot to add the Branston Pickle and Marmite where I could. Not only do I miss the daily town life and my colleagues, I still have cravings for the traditional Scots dishes.

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I was invited to a Senate Efficiency Review (SER) project meeting that involved the design of a new, all-inclusive funding database and fund application form. The project team was headed by Gail Robertson, a wonderful change manager and leader with boundless energy and humour, with whom I worked most closely during my time at St. Andrews.

The plan was to build a comprehensive program intended to streamline the management of all undergraduate and postgraduate funding on campus, and to ultimately shine a light on the depth of funding that St. Andrews provides to its students.

Having gone through similar project work at Western, Gail was excited for me to contribute my insight and support to the team. I spent my entire second week with the team. It was quite exciting stuff. It was a great privilege to play a part in the creative stage of a whole new funding structure that will vastly improve the financial business at St. Andrews by the end of this fall.

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My visit to St. Andrews allowed me not only to be a part of a venerable and vibrant campus, but to also launch out on numerous adventures in my free time. The famous ‘Chariots of Fire’ beach and the Royal and Ancient Golf Course of St. Andrews stretch out beyond the north end of the town. The 2015 British Open will be held at St. Andrews this year, and already the town is buzzing with plans and golf royalty preparing for the renowned July competition.

I visited my own family’s heritage in the highlands of Scotland. I cannot begin to tell you the feeling I experienced as I hiked up from Aberfeldy through the Weem Wood and up around to Castle Menzies, the ancestral seat of the Clan Menzies. It is a 16th century castle with its own kirk and gardens that is being lovingly and stunningly restored by the Clan Menzies Society, of which I am a member.

I am forever grateful to Samantha Lister, the head of Academic Partnerships and International Experience at St. Andrews, for facilitating my visit, as well as to Dr. Julie McMullin and Rebecca Denby of Western International.

I consider myself an ambassador of St. Andrews at Western and look forward to actively continuing my liaison with our long-time friend and partner – the University of St. Andrews.