Trust me, I’m a scientist

I didn’t go to university.

There I’ve said it.

All through primary and secondary I wanted to be a journalist but when I was leaving school I aimed too high – it had to be English literature at Glasgow University or nothing. I didn’t get the grades so it was nothing.

Well actually I ended up at the local tech doing a Communications HND. When I left I started a journalism training course with one of Scotland’s top titles and secured a job with them – two years before my school friends had left university. I knew I’d made the right choice.

However, as I went through my working life I was always being asked what university I’d gone to or what my degree was in. At first I was embarrassed to admit going to the local tech. Then over time I convinced myself that I wouldn’t have been intelligent enough to do a degree anyway.

Just over four years ago my boss suggested doing the management development programme at work which was practical and taught in house. However, at the end we were offered the chance to do a post graduate certificate in Leadership and Management of Public Services which would be delivered online by Glasgow Caledonian University.

I can’t lie and say it was easy because it wasn’t. I loved some of the reading about the history of local government – it explained a lot about why we do what we do in councils. I hated reading the theory of performance management. But what I did enjoy was making sense of a range of materials and writing an assignment around it.

It was tough with two young children in the house and working full time but the learning style suited me much better than if I’d had to sit through standard lectures. The low point was when a colleague phoned one Sunday to discuss an assignment and heard MiniMe in the background. She said, “It must be really hard for you. I mean, every minute you spend on this is time stolen from your children”. I came off the phone, had a good cry, then knuckled back down to read some more text books.

I stopped at getting my certificate but I had caught the learning bug. I knew I wanted to do something more relevant to the work I enjoyed.

A quick search online pointed me to the MSc in Corporate Communications and Public Affairs at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. I’d heard good things about RGU so I applied and was accepted.

The year I started it was voted best modern university in the UK and has been now for three years running and last year the Sunday Times voted it best Scottish University.

I can certainly vouch for the quality of the lecture notes, the online support from lecturers and the admin staff. However distance learning isn’t for everyone. I loved it though. I loved being able to choose what supporting material I read. I always chose some from the reading list but I always went off piste too and tried to tie in some of it with work, especially social media.

So what were the highlights?

European Union and public affairs: I now persuade family and friends to take more of an interest in EU politics. Most people in this country have no idea how much influence interest groups and lobbyists have in Europe but they also have no idea how much influence EU politics have on their lives.

Media industries: a lot of the language and concepts in this module were tricky but it was fascinating and gave great insight into the history and development of print and broadcast media. This module has made me think that there’s no such thing as the free press in the UK, but that’s just me.

Critical approaches to corporate communications: Again, difficult concepts but the areas of corporate narrative, language and storytelling were invaluable.

There were several points during the dissertation year that I felt like jacking it in but I kept at it. My dissertation researched the use of social media by Strathclyde’s media and emergency responders, tracking it from the attack on Glasgow Airport up until the storms last winter. As a journalist my favourite part was interviewing for the case studies. There were a few eureka moments not only for me but for the people I was interviewing. Even before it had been marked the contents of the thesis were discussed at contingency planning meetings and I am discussing how to take my recommendations forward with the Scottish Resilience Development Team.

It was a relief to hand it in but the wait for the results seemed endless. I found out I’d passed with flying colours on Wednesday and I must admit I was chuffed. Now I’m more highly qualified than my friends who went to uni after school.

The weirdest bit though was that a couple of hours after the results came out my tutor emailed to ask if I’d consider being a professional advisor on research she is doing. Who me? Are you sure?

Suddenly I’m being taken seriously. It happened this morning at a meeting with our Corporate Management Team when they were told my news. They listened to what I had to say and gave me credit for the research I’d done.

It’ll take me a while to get used to this new feeling of being credible. I almost feel like a proper grown-up!

However, the whole point of this blog isn’t about patting myself on the back. It’s to start a crusade.

At the LGComms Academy one of the speakers said that one popular image of PR people is Bridget Jones who, in her own words, ‘fannies about with press releases’ and this is one of the reasons that PR has such a bad reputation.

Cormac Smith, chair of LGComms, when put on the spot during the first day of
the Academy said that the theme of the event was that comms should be seen as a science, not art. What he means is that our jobs should be research and evidence-based. We should measure and evaluate what we do, just like scientists.

And you know what? Three years ago when I was chosing my course one of the things that swung it was that RGU have it in their business school and it is a Master of Science, not an MA.

So now I not only have a degree, I’m a scientist to boot and next time I’ll share my findings.

Move over Sheldon, you’ve met your match!


  1. Roger White · June 14, 2012

    Ooh, your blog doesn’t have one of those ‘Like’ buttons, but if it did I’d press it. Congratulations. I had the luxury (oh many years ago) of full-time higher education (and yes, fees paid AND a grant) at a time when I was young and fancy-free. That was easy. I have huge admiration for people who combine full-time job, family responsibilities and becoming a scientist! And yes, RGU’s nae bad too.

  2. Pingback: Trust me, I’m a scientist | weeklyblogclub
  3. Janet E Davis · June 16, 2012

    Well done!! I thoroughly admire your managing to studying alongside work and family and it makes this MSc even more of an achievement in my eyes.
    I was interested in your route to academic qualifications. I have met quite a few people who have got qualifications via a not-so-traditional route. I sometimes have felt the need to defend my first degree because I studied at a polytechnic (one of the best in the UK for art and design subjects at the time), especially when I was in a workplace with lots of Oxbridge graduates (and it was still at the time when approximately only 10% or less went into higher education).
    You’re a great example to others that lifelong learning is worth it (and, of course, you would have been able to do a degree if you had got onto a suitable course when young – but maybe learning through work at an early age helped you to be organised to study at a higher level later).

  4. Phil Jewitt · June 17, 2012

    I endorse Janet’s comments. And well done. I detect a hint of competitiveness, and nothing wrong with that. I agree that our jobs should be research and evidence based but, and it is a big but, there is most certainly an art in how the science is explained. I think the big issue is that comms/PR/marketing has and will continue to be seen as a dubious/dark art. So I think quality communications is a balance of art and science. The more substantial the science, the more appreciation of the art.

  5. Pingback: Taxidermy, ears and a new scientist | weeklyblogclub

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