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Vicky Ponsonby (Weise): Keelite of the Month September 2013
1999 PhD Electrical Engineering
What am I doing now?
I am the Strategic Business Director for research at QinetiQ, working with our government and industry partners to demonstrate the value of defence science and technology funding.
How did you get to where you are now?
When I left Keele I initially went into the engineering department of a company supplying measurement systems to the Oil & Gas industry. That was not challenging enough so I moved into Defence and have been there ever since. I started as a senior research scientist and moved through various operations, sales and management roles to end up in my current role which involves influencing senior stakeholders to maintain investment in research.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
Turning a toxic business-to-business relationship into one that is demonstrating how working together benefits the entire community. This was achieved through personal influence and having very challenging conversations with senior leaders in both businesses. My coaching skills came in very useful!
And your biggest mistake?
On a personal level, managing myself out of a position by dissolving my team. It was the right decision to combine my team with others in the company to ensure the future of the research, but it left me in the wilderness trying to find a new role which was as interesting for a couple of years.
What are your ambitions now?
Ultimately, I want to be running a significant part of our business with all that that entails: sales, people and operations. Never knowing what is going to be thrown your way on a day-to-day basis, whilst still delivering to your customers, is definitely interesting.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in a similar field?
Get your stripes first. If you want to work in a leadership role in a technical field then you need to make sure you speak the same language and understand the challenges your team and customers face. Also take every opportunity open to you and increase these by having a wide network of people you can tap into.
What made you choose Keele University?
I was offered a sponsored PhD place with a world-renowned expert in the field I wanted to study – ultrasonic non-destructive evaluation.
What kind of a student were you?
Focussed. I recognised that a PhD would give me credibility and a set of skills that I could capitalise in any career I choose. Three more years of living on a shoestring was a small sacrifice for that ‘leg-up’.
How has Keele influenced your life?
Getting through the PhD was hard at times, especially the ‘Year 2 blip’ but once you are through the other side you know that no matter challenge you face you will survive.
What is your favourite memory of Keele?
Working behind the bar in the KPA – particularly the summer when the ‘Friday Night Girls’ has a different fancy dress theme every week.
What is your impression of Keele now?
Expanding and improving its offering to students and industry, whilst still maintaining its campus feel which is important from a student experience perspective.
Anything else you would like to add?
Having never had a sporting bone in my body I decided that I wasn’t going to enter my fifth decade being an unfit mother of two. This time last year it took me 30 minutes to run 5 km whereas now I can do an Olympic distance triathlon (1.5 km swim, 40 km bike and 10 km run) in three hours. It just goes to prove that if you put our mind to it, you can achieve anything!