“Leave people 5% better than you found them”
Arts Grad: Róisín Reilly
Current Job: Communications and Engagement Lead, World Changing Glasgow, University of Glasgow
In 2006, Róisín arrived at the University of Glasgow to start her studies and have her world changed with an English Literature degree. In 2018, she decided to repay the favour by returning to her alma mater as the University’s “Communications & Engagement Lead: World Changing Glasgow”.
Growing up in Coatbridge, which Róisín describes as “Scotland’s Little Ireland”, she always had a passion for reading.
“I knew I loved literature, but I didn’t know what I would get from university…When I arrived [at the University of Glasgow], I immediately liked the environment and the buildings…In high school, you don’t know who you are and you worry, ‘is there even a place for me in the world?’…And then, there was a place for me. In Glasgow.”
Transforming Hewlett Packard
It was Róisín’s openness, and the personal network she’d developed at university, that led to her first professional break. After Róisín graduated in 2010, the mother of her best friend offered Róisín a short-term position at Hewlett Packard, the worldwide innovative technology production company.
“[As an Arts student], I didn’t know much about what I could do at Hewlett Packard, but I figured it would be temporary and a chance for good money. The whole thing was a fluke, because, I showed up, and within 2 weeks of being there, this whole world opened up to me. I was surrounded by the most intelligent people, and I could see they needed someone like me, these smart people needed help with engagement and communication. And that was something I knew I could do.”
Róisín spent the next three years working as a Project Manager, transferring the critical thinking skills she’d developed during class debates into real-world organizational transformation.
“My first project was supporting global deliveries during the Olympics. I had never done anything like it before, it was such a high-profile event… My first manager also became my first professional mentor. We just gelled. She taught me how important it was to [take every opportunity], to get my foot in the door. Each new experience was just another tool for my toolbox.”
This initiative and willingness to dive into the unknown led to continued increases in responsibility. When another opportunity presented itself, this time in the form of a potential promotion, Róisín had to go for it.
“These things always move very fast. There was the [Employee Engagement & Communications Project Manager] role and I thought, maybe? I knew the thing I had enjoyed in all my [previous] projects was the communications element. So, I asked my director, and almost just like that, I was sent [to my new team].”
After a year of working in Employee Engagement & Communications, Róisín was offered a role as Communications Lead – Management of Change for the entire European, Middle East, and Africa. And, only a year and a half later, she was offered another challenging opportunity – working as Communication and Employee Engagement Program Manager for HP’s Engineering Resolution organization.
During these professional successes, the usually gregarious and upbeat Róisín couldn’t believe it when she began wrestling with anxiety and depression.
“I was a social person who suddenly couldn’t cope with large rooms. I was in denial, I didn’t think I was doing badly enough to ask for help. I was bad at letting people support me.”
Initially reluctant to admit what she saw as defeat, Róisín chose to take an Open University counselling course to heal herself independently. But, when things went from bad to worse, she finally decided to ask for professional help.
“[Depression makes time] seem to go slower, like you check the clock at 0900 and then the whole day goes by and you check the clock again and it’s only 0915, and you become angry with yourself…You think… am I being… is this just a phase? But it’s a phase that’s lasted six months. I remember, I figured I’d humour the doctor. I’d [take the antidepressants] for a month. My family told me they’d been sick over it. I lost two stone, but was still in denial for another year…”
By allowing for professional and personal support, Róisín was able to restore her health. But mental health recovery isn’t a linear process and requires ongoing maintenance efforts.
“It’s something I need to work on every day. Sometimes, that means I need to ask for help. Remembering [help] is something I would do for someone else, so I also need to do it for myself… Everyone is going through something.”
In 2018, when Róisín heard the University of Glasgow was hiring a Communiations & Engagement Lead, she dived right in.
“There was a sentimental value, being able to come back to work where I was shaped.”
In her new role, Róisín is engaging across the university to design best practices and facilitate positive human dynamics, balancing meetings with administrative tasks. The transformation process is designed to ensure this historic institution is prepared to evolve into the future and Róisín is here to ensure the World
Changing people from Team U of G come along for the ride.
“People will get from A to Z, but they want to be part of the conversation about change, rather than just having it done to them….Change happens all the time, it’s not just one period of time… Being in communications and engagement is the hugest privilege, because I get to help every single part of the university play a role in transforming its future… I spend a lot of time learning from people [in engagement sessions] who are better than me and I keep learning every day… The reward is in the growth. This is the biggest chapter for the university since it started [in 1451], and every morning, I wake up with a sense of purpose.”
So, what advice would Róisín give to her former self (or any other enthusiastic arts students in-the-making)?
“Take opportunities that are uncomfortable and lean into them. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
“During my Arts degree, my biggest strength was stories. I learned about how characters go from the beginning of a narrative to the end and how authors try to make sure people take away the right story. The audience is the most important. At university, I learned how to craft stories, and now [working in Communications & Engagement] the stories I tell are about the University, and the people who work here are the most important.”
“Not having a plan is not the worst thing in the world if you work hard enough and are conscientious and treat people kindly along the way. You know, surround yourself
with honest people who prop you up and leave people 5% better than how you found them, and you’ll be fine.”