Spotlight on Catherine Thomson
5 March 2015
This week the spotlight is on Catherine Thomson, Marketing and Communications Manager, Joint Faculty of Arts & Humanities, and Social & Historical Sciences and the School of Slavonic & Eastern European Studies (SSEES).
What is your role and what does it involve?
I'm the Marketing and Communications Manager for the Joint Faculty of Arts & Humanities, and Social & Historical Sciences, and for the School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies (SSEES).
My role is to work with departments across the Joint Faculty and SSEES on student recruitment, and to head up a small but brilliant team responsible for digital marketing and affiliate student recruitment (60% of affiliates at UCL are based in departments across the Joint Faculty). I also lead on a range of events, including inaugural lectures, the Joint Faculty Graduate Open Day and the annual Festival of the Arts. It's an enormously varied role, enabling me to work closely with academic and professional services colleagues, and with students themselves. I'm passionate about the arts and social sciences, and feel very fortunate to be working with such an outstanding range of departments here at UCL.
How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?
It's my fourth week at UCL, and I'm grateful to everyone I've met so far for being so welcoming and helpful as I learn the ropes - and orientate myself across the campus! Before UCL, I was at the University of Warwick for just under a decade, and for the past six years I was Head of UK Student Recruitment. At Warwick, I also had a role as a warden of one of the university's halls of residence, which involved supporting students' welfare and maintaining a positive community atmosphere - this meant dealing with all sorts of interesting incidents, sometimes at fairly anti-social hours …
What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?
One of the most memorable experiences of my career came through an additional role I took on for Warwick as Campus Director for an international residential summer school in Botswana.
Based in Gaborone, Botwana's capital, the summer school brought together some of the brightest young people from disadvantaged backgrounds across Botswana, South Africa, Brunei, Ghana, Tanzania, and the UK to take courses in mathematics, creative writing, chemistry, physics, marketing and entrepreneurship. There was also a full social and cultural programme designed to inspire the young people to learn from each other and to develop their aspirations in a globalised context.
The process of setting up a summer school within such an unfamiliar setting - and in the heat of an African summer - was incredibly challenging, and by the closing ceremony I was definitely ready to get back to my substantive role back at Warwick. The ceremony was a rather formal occasion, attended by numerous government officials and business leaders who'd sponsored the summer school. As part of the ceremony, I'd prepared a slideshow with a soundtrack of highlights, and one of the songs was Shakira's Waka Waka (This Time for Africa). When it began to play - and to everyone's surprise and delight - all the young people suddenly got up from their chairs, took to the stage and started dancing together. It was one of the most inspiring moments of spontaneous collective joy I've ever seen: young people from around the world, full of aspiration, celebrating their shared experiences and their new friendships. It gave me such a burst of pride, and still brings a tear to my eye five years on!
Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of you to-do list?
This week I'm finalising the programme for this year's UCL Festival of the Arts, which runs from 18-22 May. It's the third year of the festival, and a wonderful opportunity for staff, students and the public to attend a stimulating range of talks, tours and events - for free!
I'm also working on support for the establishment of the new UCL Institute for Advanced Studies, which will showcase multidisciplinary academic research in the humanities and social sciences. It's a tremendously exciting development for the Joint Faculty, and will further develop UCL's great strengths in multidisciplinary research and teaching.
What is your favourite album, film and novel?
Album - one of my go-to albums is Ben Howard: Every Kingdom. His new album is gorgeous, too.
Film - it has to be Back to the Future: classic 80s nostalgia and a brilliantly botched chat up line: 'I'm your density…'
Novel - having done my degrees in English I always struggle to think of a favourite, but I've always loved JG Farrell's The Siege of Krishnapur: evocative, colourful, and breathtakingly well-written.
What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?
What time does Sean Connery arrive at Wimbledon?
Who would be your dream dinner guests?
Caitlin Moran - I first became aware of her as a teenager through her Generation X column in The Times and still love her astute, hilarious accounts of modern life.
John Mayer - a phenomenal lyricist and in my opinion one of the most talented musicians of our generation.
Ellen Degeneres - I admire her tenacity and the way she's effected huge changes in the mainstream profile of LGBT entertainers over the past twenty years - by simply letting her talent do the talking. I also think she would be a lot of fun at a dinner party!
Bikram Choudhury - I'm a huge fan of bikram (hot) yoga, so would like to meet the man behind a form of exercise which seems to inspire fear and devotion in equal measure!
What advice would you give your younger self?
Be kind, stay brave, keep exploring, hold onto that integrity: you'll be just fine.
What would it surprise people to know about you?
I spent my formative years living overseas: firstly in Sydney, where I gained an Australian accent and a love of sport. I then moved to the Middle East, where I lost the accent, but developed that love of sport and the great outdoors. A couple of years ago I reconnected with my desert days by trekking across the Sahara for Macmillan Cancer Support: a fantastic charity for which I'm proud to be an ambassador.
What is your favourite place?
Apart from the obvious answer of being wherever friends and family are, one of my favourite places is probably Iceland: I visited just before Christmas and loved the purity of the air, the dramatic night skies and the other worldliness of its lunar landscapes.