Real Careers: Liza Young

Exceptional EA showcases Real Careers, in which administrators from around the globe generously share the benefit of their experience. We’ve made virtual trips to Belgium, Brazil, Canada, England, Germany, Mauritius, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, the USA and Wales, and now make our way to Aberdeen, Scotland to visit with  Liza Young.

Liza Young is PA to the Vice Principal (Digital Strategy) and Head of College, College of Life Sciences and Medicine and PA to the Vice Principal (Development and Equality & Diversity), University of Aberdeen. Here’s a look at her world.

No Snoozing Ensures A Relaxed Pace

My alarm clock is set for 6:25 a.m. and is at the other side of the room so there is no snoozing.  Following thyroid removal surgery last year, the very first thing I do is take medication to ensure I can eat an hour later. I don’t like to be rushed in the morning, so take my time getting ready and always eat breakfast before leaving home. During this time I also check my work and personal emails, social media accounts, get together my packed lunch, and listen to the radio as the University quite often is in the local news.

I drive and the commute time depends upon the traffic that particular day – it can be anything from 10 to 45 minutes. Being based in the University buildings on the large hospital site means the car park is an uphill 10 minute walk away so I get some exercise, too. Going home is a much shorter commute, at 10 minutes. Who or what is on your commuting playlist? Music is a passion and whether at home, in the car or at work, it is never far away. The commute is an ideal time to listen to new music that I’ve downloaded – at the moment it’s shuffling between The Shires, The Band Perry and charts/80s favourites.

At the Office

Morning Routines – Nine In Boxes to Monitor: Once logged on, Outlook is opened on the calendar (a tip picked up at a conference) so I can remind myself of the day ahead for me and my executives. I then get on with checking the nine inboxes I have access to and noting issues. Once those initial checks are done, I get a cup of tea and say good morning to those in the corridor who have arrived after me.

Primary Responsibilities: Every day starts the same but there is nothing typical after that. I have multiple bosses, each with their own clinical disciplines and research groups, so it leads to a very full life. My duties include extensive diary management, travel arrangements, finance, and liaising with clinical colleagues at NHS Grampian. I also assist with tasks relating to others in the College, including the College Registrar, Deputy College Registrar, Assistant College Registrars, finance, human resources, IT, etc.  With over 1,000 academic and professional services support staff in the College (4,000+ in the University), it is vital to have an overarching knowledge of the many disciplines and matters of strategic importance so I can support the Executives in the best way.

IMG_9639How long is your work day? My working hours are from 8:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with a shortened lunch break. I do like to leave on time but can be found at my desk from around 8.15 a.m. What might be a typical lunch?  Soup or crackers and cheese is a usual lunch, which I eat at my desk.

Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? Emails are checked constantly so I can pick up on anything urgent that needs to be done, or questions from travelling colleagues who are in a different time zone. Similarly, I check them in the morning so that I can be prepared and problem solving on the commute.

Dealing with Challenges

What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? Constant interruptions, whether that be a colleague, a visitor or a lost student. I am, however, in an office of my own so can close the door if there is a pressing deadline. Another challenge is when there is an urgent patient need – there is no planning for that, and the patient takes priority for however long is needed.

What do you most enjoy about your career? The variety and the fact that no two days are the same – there is no time to get bored!

On Saying “No”

Although I try to accommodate all requests, if I have to say no I make suggestions as to who can assist.

 Continually strive to better yourself and to grasp every training opportunity

Liza’s World

Map of worldI was born and till live in Aberdeen. I’m a city girl, however, I like living in the suburbs. Away from the office, I spend time exercising, reading, socialising with family and friends, and crafting.

What song or two are we likely to find you singing along to when driving, or if no one’s listening? Defying Gravity from Wicked (and thinking I’m better than those in the show), When Tomorrow Comes by Eurythmics, and Temptation by Wet Wet Wet. The list is endless, as I sing along to most things!

How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? Everything can be fixed with cake, hot chocolate and a chat with friends.

A dream holiday or travel adventure? I love city breaks, so would love to go on a trip visiting some far flung cities.

Education and Professional Development

Education: I have mentioned my degree elsewhere and, whilst I don’t think a degree is necessary for the career, the attributes gained from the discipline of study (project management, working to deadlines, planning) have helped develop me.

I am a keen learner and advocate of professional development and attend all training courses I can, from first aid to early management development to basic sign language. Keeping up-to-date is vital for this career.

Set Outlook to open on the calendar, to provide ready access to schedules on arrival in the office

Peer and Professional Associations: I am a member of AUA (Association of University Administrators) and attended their conference in Nottingham earlier this year. It not only inspired me to continue with my professional development to a higher level, it highlighted the opportunities available within this sector and encouraged me to continue to be the best I can for my employer.

I attend PA conference and networking events. e.g., Aberdeen PA, ACES (Awarding and Celebrating Excellence in Scotland), ESPA (Education Sector PAs in Scotland). Being in Aberdeen, it is not always possible to attend events elsewhere in Scotland or nationally, but I try to attend as many as I can.

I also subscribe to publications such as PA Life and look forward to the hints and tips each issue brings. A new publication for University PAs is in the pipeline (UNIPA), and I look forward to subscribing to that as it will be relevant to the sector.



Preferred form(s) of social media? I use Facebook for friends and family, Twitter for a mix of friends and business and LinkedIn for business.

Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? One that can keep on top of all the social media forms so that I don’t miss anything vital.

Consider giving back to your company as a mentor or by creating a network

Awards and Recognition

Earlier this year I won ACES & Brook Street Scottish PA of the Year 2015.

Style and Substance

Toronto Style Copyright Shelagh DonnellyWhat is your go-to outfit to ensure confidence on an important day in the workplace? We don’t have a formal or corporate dress code. However, there are certain occasions such as graduations where a smart dress is required.

What one or two cosmetics would your purse or travel bag be empty without? Lip balm and lipstick

Heels or flats for the office?  Flats – we are on a vast campus with huge buildings, which requires a lot of walking. For your commute? Flats.

Preferred scent: With a very fussy sense of smell, I can only wear two perfumes, the preferred one at the moment being Endless Euphoria by Calvin Klein.

What might we find in your desk drawer? Office stationery and a hairbrush

Travel or travel planning advice? Don’t just leave it all to the travel agent. Do research on the area and locations of hotels, and take print outs of Google maps with directions to meetings or places of interest so that you don’t look like a tourist and can get your bearings quickly.

Having travel logistics on one hard copy sheet means they’re accessible in the disconnected world

Prepare a detailed itinerary cover sheet; in a previous life I worked at an oil company, sending personnel and equipment offshore and worldwide, often with complicated logistics. Having these details on one sheet and by hard copy means it’s accessible anywhere in the disconnected world.

Inspirational reads? I take inspiration from most things I read. There is always something to take away from books and articles, whether that be from sports people or professional people.

Skills and attributes gained through the discipline of degree studies are numerous and invaluable

Role models or mentors? For 15 years of the 18 I have been at the University, I have supported Professor Neva Haites OBE – she has had a completely different career path to me, being a world renowned scientist, clinician and academic, but I have learned so much from being at her side. At the University there are many other colleagues from all walks of life whom I can turn to for advice or guidance when needed.

The conferences I have attended have all had inspirational career related speakers and there are far too many to mention, but they leave lasting impressions.

Young, Liza b - ScotlandTell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. Winning the ACES & Brook Street Scottish PA of the Year 2015 award is an accomplishment I’m extremely proud of. I was delighted to be nominated and shocked to win.

During my employment with the University, I studied part time with the Open University and obtained a BSc in Maths, IT and Design. Whilst these subjects are not entirely related to my employment, I am proud of this accomplishment and the skills and attributes gained through the discipline of studying are numerous and invaluable.

I am also proud of the institution and people I work for – they are extremely talented scientists and clinicians, and healthcare improves daily through their research and patient care. The impact these colleagues have on people locally, nationally and internationally is astounding.

Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? I would like to give something back to the system that has brought me through the University ranks, whether that be as a mentor or creating a network, I’m not quite sure yet.

Lessons Learned

What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? Don’t be afraid to ask – whether that be for time off for appointments, for training, for advice, for promotion. The worst scenario is that the answer will be “no”, but much can be learned even from that on communication and negotiation skills, and how to manage or be managed.

Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need; the worst case answer will be “No”, but you can learn even from that

Your most effective time management strategy? Be aware of deadlines and, if there is one, fitting everything else around that. For my own calendar, I put all personal and work appointments in the same one so I don’t overbook.

Advice for a new mother working to the workplace? I have no children so haven’t had to face this prospect. It must be extremely daunting returning after a break, so ensure communication lines are open and check if anything has changed during your time away; you want to be aware of it.

Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant: The postholder of Head of College changed on the 1st October, so this is very timely. Two-way communication is of utmost importance – tell us your preferences, keep us informed of what is happening in your business life (and bits of personal life), so we can make the best use of your time.

Training budgets may be tight, but development doesn’t have to cost money

For those interested in promotion: Continually strive to better yourself and to grasp every training opportunity. Budgets are tight in the education sector, but it doesn’t have to cost: shadow somebody, be mentored by somebody, look out for in-house training courses. And be prepared to self-learn; I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve Google searched for how to do something. This includes keeping up with changing technologies – my secretarial studies were done on a word processor, and I can now appreciate how typewriter users felt about word processors!


… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Liza referenced may be interested in checking the following links. To explore a range of resources recommended by readers, click here for Exceptional EA’s Resources Page or click here to see all professional associations and networks recommended by peers.

  • Aberdeen PA –  part of the Scottish PA Network
  • ACES – Awarding and Celebrating Excellence in Scotland
  • AUA – Association of University Administrators
  • ESPA – Education Sector PAs in Scotland
  • PA Life
  • upcoming: UNIPA, a new publication for University PAs
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