Belinda Clark, Administrative Assistant, OCHSMT, Faculty of History, (previously Unit Secretary, WUHMO) – 4 March 2002-present
When I first had the idea of asking past members and students to write for a Guest Feature on our website, someone suggested that at some point I should write something myself. But I can’t write; I don’t write; what would I write? These were some of the things that went through my head, but on the 20th anniversary of being lucky enough to work at the Oxford Centre for the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology, here is my contribution.
On a rainy evening in February 2002, whilst walking back to our respective cars, following a gruelling hour of intense circuit training, I overheard someone mention that their secretary was leaving and they were looking for a replacement. This was just about the time that I was thinking of returning to work full time, having raised my two boys, so immediately I enquired about the job. It was in Oxford at a research centre of the University of Oxford – the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine – which occupied two Victorian houses on Banbury Road. I was told that if I was seriously interested in applying I should send in my CV immediately in the hope that they would accept a late application. I was incredibly lucky to be offered an interview which in itself was terrifying for me, having been out of the work place for so long whilst raising my family. I was more used to baby babble, wiping drool from my shoulder, and sharing discussions about lost teeth and the rapidly approaching teenage years so what would I have to say to professionals and academics on the interview panel. However, the interview went surprisingly well and I held my own with the three people grilling me; it went so well, in fact, that I was offered the job.
As Monday 4 March dawned I was very excited about beginning this new chapter in my life. I was fortunate to have a couple of weeks hand-over with the existing secretary so did my best sponge impression and tried to absorb as much as I could before she had to leave. I was nervous of being ‘left to it’; would I cope, would I fit in, would I be able to converse with academics, not coming from an academic background, and having only attended the University of Life. I needn’t have worried as everyone I met was just so amazing, helpful, welcoming and kind, and I could not have asked for a better place to return to work after such a long break away.
For me, one of the most incredible things about WUHMO/OCHSMT is definitely the people that work here, study here, visit, pass through, and return to either work or visit. It’s such a massive privilege to be able to work with such inspiring people who are excited and passionate about what they love doing. I look forward to the beginning of term and welcoming our new students from all areas of the globe. I never imagined meeting so many wonderful nationalities and remaining in contact with so many of them over the years. I feel so proud to see our students do well in their studies, secure jobs, develop as caring, capable individuals, become parents. I love that they return to visit their ‘Oxford Mum’ (a label given to me by so many), when they find themselves back in the City of Dreaming Spires, sometimes bringing their little ones with them.
Am I successful in my job? A question I’m sure others have asked themselves at some point in their careers. In 2015 I won an award for Best Support Staff, a category in the Oxford Student Union Student-Led Teaching Awards, having been nominated by the 2014-15 cohort. When I first received the invitation to the award ceremony, advising that I had been shortlisted for the Best Support Staff award, I believed it was hard-copy spam! It was only after visiting the OUSU website that I could see it was all perfectly legitimate and that the students had taken the time to nominate me and provide a reason why I should receive this award. I was humbled and an emotional mess, especially after reading the comments the students had made. It looks like I had achieved one of the things I wanted to do, as part of the team, which was to help make our students’ experience of the time they spent studying at Oxford a pleasant and memorable one with help on hand should they need it, whether it was information about how to change their essay titles or just somewhere to go to share a concern/worry. I was again nominated for the same award, by the 2017-18 cohort, and shortlisted for the 2018 award.
Not long after I started working at WUHMO I faced the toughest personal challenge of my life to date. As I plunged into a dark pool of hopelessness, fear and despair, the strong arms of WUHMO caught me in my downward spiral and held me before I hit the bottom. It provided the grab handles and foot holds that enabled me to climb up and out of that pit and, for as long as I draw breath, I shall be eternally grateful to each and everyone involved.
After 20 years, and three different names, for me coming to work every day is not simply turning up to do my job, it’s a pleasure, a privilege, and a joy to be working with people that I not only admire but have grown extremely fond of!