For International Women’s Day 2019 The Abbey School, Reading, where I was educated from age 11 is adding details of alumnae’s careers to its website. This is their call for information:
“We would love to hear from our alumnae about your illustrious lives and careers to inspire the next generation of girls as they begin on this journey themselves.”
And this is my response:
I am sure you will hear from many women whose exciting and successful careers were launched from an Abbey education but wondered if you would also like to hear from a fairly average student whose career could not be described as illustrious but was nevertheless enjoyable.
I left The Abbey in 1967 with A-levels in Chemistry and Zoology which enabled me to follow a full-time HND (degree equivalent) in Applied Biology. For several years I worked as a research technician in Pharmacology and Zoology departments with Wellcome Research and Birkbeck College, London. I found the work interesting although I realised I did not have the brain to pursue a career in academic research. I even worked for a couple of years proofreading scientific reports.
At Birkbeck I had found myself involved in quite a lot of administrative work for our unit, liaising with the Bursar about our grant funding. I discovered a liking for financial administration and ended up training as an accountant with a small town practice. Not one of the Big Three but three offices and about ten partners. I specialised in personal taxation and trusts. This may sound like something of a career leap but in fact both lines of work require the compilation and evaluation of data.
The backgrounds in Biology and Finance also informed many of my outside interests in ecology, botany, habitat conservation and amateur drama. When people discover you are an accountant they ask you if you would “take on the books” for a variety of organisations. I have helped with administration of drama clubs, a dance team, Women’s Institutes, Church groups, charities and birding clubs.
In 1998 my husband’s work brought us to Montreal, Canada. My Abbey education once again stood me in good stead as my memory of French irregular verbs proved quite accurate despite giving up the subject after O-level. I was able to achieve a certificate of competence in French for the workplace which pleased me so many years later.
Apart from work, my Abbey education reinforced my life-long love of reading literature, especially Jane Austen. In Canada, our love of the natural world has been allowed full rein exploring our home province of Quebec as well as further afield, always based on my knowledge of Zoology which was started at The Abbey. My work in Canada used my accountancy skills in the financial administration of a bird conservation charity and helping to manage a shop catering to wildlife enthusiasts.
My advice to current Abbey students who are considering their future careers is to stay flexible; some of you will have clear career paths but for others it may appear confusing. I studied subjects I enjoyed and found interesting which enabled me to work in a variety of fields and change to different lines of work as circumstances changed. My choices at school were important but not irrevocable. I hope yours bring you as much enjoyment as mine have.