My SDF story with Dee-Ann Johnson

by Rossana Espinoza 0

My SDF story with Dee-Ann Johnson



Where do you work and what is your role? 

I work at The University of Manchester, as a Researcher Development Officer. This means I get to support the career and professional development of early career researchers.  My main areas of focus are public engagement, communication, leadership and management. As an executive coach I also get to work with senior academics and professional services staff.

When did you join the SDF?

I’m fortunate to have institutional membership, though I think it is fair to say I really became an active member in 2013 by participating in my first SDF conference. The theme was “Developing Leadership for the Future – Coaching as a Catalyst for Success” and the timing and focus was spot on because I had just undertaken my first coaching qualification.

Why did you want to join the SDF?

My role offers me the chance to work on collaborative initiatives with colleagues in our central staff learning and development team. They first introduced me to SDF via regional training sessions, which meant that I met even more like-minded, passionate, learning and development professionals.  I really feel that SDF encourages and nurtures this ethos of shared practice.

What’s the best thing about the SDF?

It’s about the community. Whether it’s a conference, a seminar, a paper, or an informal chat with a fellow member, people in the SDF community, openly and readily share their insights, experiences, challenges, and wisdom.  They also provide different perspectives and help check in with and challenge my own thinking, for example at last year’s SDF Conference, David Clutterbuck presented a plenary session that got me and others asking what good coaching looks like and how many coach myths we are perpetuating.

As an unexpected benefit I have also been offered opportunities to collaborate with colleagues from other universities – this fits neatly with my career development methodology, or what I like call “planned happenstance”.

What are you working on at the moment?

With my learning and development hat on I am gearing up for the start of a shiny new academic year, so am in major preparation mode for the training courses and coaching sessions I am scheduled to deliver. I am also involved with a Vitae project, designing and delivering management training to academic fellows in Poland. I am also a part of the EMCC UK HE Conference planning committee and the Tweetchat #coachingHE #SDFcoaching organising committee.

With my public engagement hat on I am working with senior colleagues to develop a new university wide public engagement champions initiative. This is really exciting as we are looking to empower a community of practice, to support and extend the capabilities and confidence of our amazing engaging researchers.

What does a typical day look like?

Oh gosh, not sure there is such a thing. My role is so varied and depends on the time of year. I spend a lot of my time training, facilitating and coaching. In one moment I might be helping an academic with their grant application, helping researchers to design public engagement activities, providing career coaching to those facing or exploring career transitions, or running a workshop on networking, wellbeing or science communication. I also get to do a lot of ‘plotting’ with fantastic colleagues at the University and beyond to develop and deliver new learning and development initiatives.

Tell us about an event that altered the course of your life/and career

I had to make a decision whether to stay in a learning development role (uncertain future, a cycle of fixed term contracts, less money) or a permanent, better paid management role. My heart and mind were in big time disagreement.  I asked a colleague for advice and whilst I didn’t know it at the time she had a coaching conversation with me. She listened, reflected, challenged, supported, and nudged me towards action. The resulting decision changed the shape and direction of my career aspirations. Note it was two years later when I undertook my first coaching qualification that I realised I had been coached. The power of that purposeful conversation still gives me goose bumps!

The person who has influenced you the most is

There are just too many people to name. Thinking about this, it is interesting to see how many of my formal and informal mentors, champions and influencers are women.  Some of them are quiet leaders, others are fierce – they are all passionate! There is currently a Twitter hashtag making the rounds. which asks us to 1. Pick a female colleague 2. Describe why she’s awesome 3. Use the hashtag #ThisWomanRocks. So go on check it out and share your thoughts about the amazing women in your life!

Work life balance – what leisure activity you enjoy the most?

I am happiest when walking in the countryside (particularly with a few peaks and hills in the mix).  So more time and opportunity to do this would help me to just ‘be’.

Also I can’t sing for toffee, but honestly there is nothing more energising than singing along to one of my many favourite songs.

Something about you people would find surprising

I have a love of Nordic dark and gritty crime dramas.  I think I am drawn to the psychology of what motivates the characters (both the good and the bad).

What’s your greatest fear?

Failure. On this one, I am truly a work in progress. Sometimes just reminding myself that “fortune favours the brave” is enough to give me some momentum to take action, other times I seek out a coaching conversation to unpick what the heck is going on for me.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Oh too many to call. So I think I’d check this out with my friends first as they are there to share all the good times and the challenges, so they should get to help pick who can come to the best dinner party of all time.

What would your super-power be? 

With a little tap of my shoes, I could move between the UK and Australia in seconds. That way I get to share in the every day moments of both of the places I call home.

What’s your favourite/least favourite food?

Cheese is my greatest weakness. I don’t eat chocolate (most people gasp when they hear that!)

What’s the worst job you ever had?

I don’t think I ever had a job that was bad. Even working in a pub taught me a lot of about building rapport, facilitating sticky situations, and the importance of keeping a sense of humour when the unexpected happens. Lots of transferable skill to the training room!

What thing would improve the quality of your life?

Pushing the pause button some more.  It’s so easy to get caught up in doing, in being busy, but being a coach reminds that I can only be of service to others if I can be of service to myself.

What’s coming next for you?

I’ve just started a Team Coaching qualification with several of my University researcher development colleagues. This an exciting opportunity for many reasons; I anticipate this is going to stretch my coaching experience and practice, it is going to be a fantastic shared learning journey, and together we will be in a position to enhance our University’s coaching provision, focussing not just on senior leaderships teams (who are typically the recipients of team coaching) but supporting teams at all levels of the organisation and career stages.

Twitter: @deeannj


SDF Tweetchat #coachingHE: