NAME: Deborah McNeill
BACKGROUND: University Degree
ACTION/SECTOR: Science, Health, Research & Technology
ORGANIZATION: Glasgow Science Festival
My Background and Career
My background is rather convoluted! I began by studying Chemical Engineering which wasn't for me. I spent the next three years travelling, during which time I learned to SCUBA dive. This ignited a passion for the marine environment, ecology and conservation. I then attended the University of Glasgow to complete a degree in Marine and Freshwater biology. I spent three field seasons working in Trinidad on marine turtle ecology with a focus on training local NGOs in monitoring skills and techniques to enable on-going conservation work. We piloted an ecotourism venture, exploring the possibilities of setting up a business with our local partners. Instead I opted to return to the UK in 2005 to undertake my PhD. I completed this on a part-time basis alongside my new role as Head of Projects for a public engagement organisation based at the University of Glasgow. I progressed to Head of the organisation shortly after, establishing a number of new initiatives. Our flagship project is the Glasgow Science Festival, of which I am Director. I have been able to continue a parallel research career as a part-time Post-doctoral Research Associate.
Economic:I have often worked full time hours for a part-time salary and in an environment with no job security due to reliance on multiple short term grant funding.
Family: Past and present circumstances have precluded having both a family while maintaining the business.
Personal: There is a considerable sacrifice made in work-life balance.
Maintaining self-belief and motivation. This can be very challenging as it's very easy to dwell on the negative. My motivation comes from enjoying both the small and large successes as they come, by watching something grow from nothing into this successful venture which has allowed us to meet and work with some incredible people, by
watching colleagues grow and develop their own capabilities. All of which have ultimately led to the festival growing in both size and reputation.
Social (discriminations...): I don't feel that I have suffered from social discrimination. Perhaps being taken seriously as a younger female, but this may have been as much about my confidence when starting out in the new role.
Opportunities and threats which had a strong influence on your career.
I have had the privilege to develop and work with a great team.
I work in an environment which supported my vision and contributed immensely to further development
Flexible working patterns have been possible, allowing me to work across the two distinct roles (Public Engagement and Research).
Duality of my role has led to greater exposure to a wide range of people and organisations than would have been possible if concentrating solely on one. This has facilitated exciting new connections, possibilities and ways of thinking and working.
Working the two roles in conjunction has meant consistently very long hours over a number of years
A major aim of the festival is to keep as many events as possible free to the public, to prevent ticket costs being a barrier to engagement. A highly competitive landscape for
shrinking funding sources means an increasing portion of time spent fund-raising.
Hints & Tips
Did some thing give you inspiration for your project / action / enterprise?
Both my team and others I had worked with in public engagement had dedicated considerable amounts of effort to achieve meaningful engagements with schools and general public. This often went unrecognised and was sub-critically funded due to lack profile, lack of cohesion, among other factors. At the same time, a number of people came forward looking for support and guidance in developing their own projects and events. The idea of creating the Glasgow Science Festival began to take shape.
The festival provided an excellent platform for collaborative working with partners across the City and there was a huge amount of willingness among individuals and organisations to be involved. There were a number of other benefits including efficient use of resources, sharing best practice, fund raising opportunities and a considerable in-kind support that we were now able to leverage.
Suggestions and advice to give to women: Being passionate about your goal(s) is so important in keeping you motivated during the more challenging times.
Play to your strengths and be honest about your weaknesses. Then don’t be afraid to ask for advice and support when needed.
Be realistic in your targets. Work towards that big vision but set yourself achievable milestones along the way. Don’t set yourself up to fail.