John Simpson, a School Support Administrator in the School of Computing Engineering and Built Environment, joined Edinburgh Napier in December 2022. His role focuses on supporting the postgraduate Applied Informatics programmes from an admin perspective, including assessment boards and timetabling. He is also extremely passionate about mental health in the workplace, has become a mental health champion and runs a training session on how Edinburgh Napier supports colleagues’ mental health. John Simpson shares his career story in this Q&A.

Tell us a bit about your career to date?

My career, as with most people, wasn’t what I expected. That’s not a bad thing either, as it keeps you on your toes and helps develop and change you. I was very introverted in my youth, but I’ve worked in customer-facing roles for ten years and that really helped my confidence and my ability to speak in public, as well as taught me a lot of patience. These are all active skills that I use in my day to day even bringing them to Edinburgh Napier to help my interactions with people. It also helped that as a whisky tour guide, I had a glass of the Scottish stuff nearby (not something I’ll be using in my day to day at Edinburgh Napier). I didn’t even like whisky when I started that role, but as always, I saw it as something interesting to dive headfirst into. In a lot of ways that’s where I am with Edinburgh Napier - a lot of unknowns, but I’m really enjoying learning and looking to the future. Edinburgh Napier is completely rife with opportunity, and a lot of support is available to develop and enhance my skills. I’m excited to see where working here takes me.

What has been the high point of your career so far?

I think one of my high points was creating, from the ground up, a tasting in partnership with a Mexican mezcal bar. I worked with Salón Rosario in Mexico City (I hosted in Costa Del Leith) that celebrated both Mexican and Scottish culture. It was really enjoyable to work with overseas colleagues and have that international love of Scotch whisky be felt in a very real way. It was such a fantastic opportunity speaking to the bar owners via teams and getting to know them and their experiences with Scotland’s national drink. Organising and hand selecting whisky and mezcal, and hosting a tasting that was not only entertaining but informative and incredible flavoursome was really my peak in the whisky Industry.

What prompted you to join Edinburgh Napier?

What prompted me to join Edinburgh Napier were a few factors. First was a desire to work in a different industry and move away from the rigid hours of hospitality into something that offered flexibility. In a selfish way I wanted something that would help me retake my free time and work for me and create a work life balance. Secondly, one of my closest friends has worked for Edinburgh Napier for a few years and he had nothing but good things to say. He actively encouraged me to join the team and felt that I could be a good fit and working there would be a great move for my desire to shift gears. Thirdly, I wanted to give back to HE. My own time at the University of Dundee was extremely enjoyable, this opportunity made me feel like I was paying forward in helping students get the most out of their time at university even in the small role I get to play in that. Lastly, Edinburgh Napier’s values and strategy aligned well with what I wanted to achieve in a career move. Seeing Edinburgh Napier have career building as one of its values was very refreshing and it felt as though the University was to be very welcome to people new to working in HE and equipped to help grow a career.

How did you secure your current role?

I had a lot of self-reflection, once I broke down what skills I had, I realised a lot of them were completely transferable. While I had no prior experience working in either a higher education role or an office-based role, I could still demonstrate what I could bring to the table. I think the biggest thing for me was showing how much I’m willing to learn new things, that I am very mouldable, and I really believe I can be an asset for Edinburgh Napier.

Tell us a bit more about your role

My role within the school support service is varied, but essentially has the main key pillars of communication and organisation. As a team we work with academics to make sure that a student’s marks are recorded correctly, classes are timetabled and generally that everything keeps working to support the student experience from a learning and teaching perspective. We help students directly via email with any module or programme queries they have and give them transcripts and proofs of their status. It’s always interesting working in an environment with support staff and academics working together to ensure students get the best marks they can, supporting study suspensions and keeping student records up to date. Its great knowing all our behind the scenes work ultimately contributes to ensuring that students cross the graduation stage.

What difference has working at Edinburgh Napier made to your career?

Working at Edinburgh Napier so far has really benefited my career and my outlook to work, it has brought a flexibility that’s greatly benefitted me personally too. It has been a very open and honest place to work since I started in December. I feel greatly supported by my colleagues and line managers and the induction process has been great. With the My Contribution objective setting, I feel for the first time in my career that these are objectives that my employer cares about and so I’ve began thinking about what I want to do and where I want to be. Edinburgh Napier has given me the scope to have ambitions in my career again.

Have you faced any particular challenges?

I’m lucky enough to say that I haven’t come across to any hurdles yet. Whilst it was an adjustment moving from hospitality to office life my peers and managers have made this much easier.

What has helped you in your career?

What has helped my career the most is probably keeping an open mind and trying to keep perspective. It’s very easy to be bogged down on how long you’ve been doing something for example but there is plenty of opportunity for you to grow and develop as well as completely change your skillset if you want to. You’ve probably got a lot more skills than you realise, keeping perspective and stepping back can help you figure out where you are and where you want to be. I also think what’s helped my career is going out of my way to figure out how things work, even if its something you don’t have any experience in; just asking or experiencing new things is useful. Edinburgh Napier seems to use secondment to its advantages by offering colleagues the chance to work in different departments and gain a first hand understanding on how things work which is only a good thing for career progression and personal development.

What does the future hold?

For me its uncertain but I always view that as a good thing. I don’t necessarily know where I’m going to end up, but Edinburgh Napier has presented me with a whole range of new opportunities and ideas to explore.

Away from work, what do you do in your free time?

In my free time I like to create, edit and produce gaming videos for YouTube. There is something about the process of creating videos I find satisfying and enjoyable. I don’t particularly do it for views or anything its just the process I really enjoy doing and it’s a great creative outlet for me.

I also play a lot of video games anyway so there is no harm in recording what I play. I also play guitar from time to time; I love to play everything and anything acoustically. Foo Fighters are my usual go to, but I also loving playing The Beatles, Tracy Chapman, Stone Sour, Biffy Clyro and The Animals plus pretty much anything early 2000s/2010s rock and alt.

I like eating too (who doesn’t), my fiancé and I love to go to new places and try new food, we’ve worked our way through most of Edinburgh at this point. We also have a cat called Winnie who isn’t even one yet but become a real big part of our home life.

“Working for Edinburgh Napier has given me the freedom to explore what I want to do and where I want to be even if I don’t know where that is just yet.”

John Simpson