Alumni of the Month September 2010

Victoria Spong (Toop): 1995 Biochemistry & Biology

What I am doing now
Catalogue Manager for Specialist Crafts Limited; a family run firm supplying art and craft materials throughout the UK and Ireland.

Alumni of the Month September 2010 How did you get to where you are now?
I knew I wanted to use my degree but not work in a lab and it took me a while to work out what I wanted to do. After graduation I worked in the sales office for a sock manufacturer for a few months which included a stint as a “sock model” (my big size 8 feet being the perfect size for once). I then went to work for a company that supplied scientific equipment for UN and World Bank projects across the globe. Then I spent two years working on projects supplying equipment into schools before crossing from Sales to Marketing and becoming Biology Product Manager. A company takeover saw a few of us made redundant, and at this point I finally realised I enjoyed putting together catalogues and went to work for Thermo Fisher Scientific with responsibility for writing and editing copy, proofing catalogues and project managing catalogue planning and production. In 2009 I left Science behind and started work at Specialist Crafts as a Catalogue and Product Manager for their Heart Educational Supplies brand, doing everything from product management to writing newsletters, developing the brand website and producing the catalogue. In January this year my remit became taller and leaner as I dropped my product management responsibilities to assume the mantle of Catalogue Manager for all catalogues produced by the company, as well as sourcing and implementing a Product Information Management system in conjunction with the company’s management team.

What has been your biggest achievement so far?
Being a happy and healthy 30-something about to celebrate my tenth wedding anniversary with my husband (and cat.)

And your biggest mistake?
Taking his #!$£! surname (Sorry Nathan.) As a Toop I always wanted to marry a lovely man with a normal surname. Well, one out of two ain’t bad!

What are your ambitions now?
On a work level I want Specialist Crafts to have a fully implemented Product Information Management System that allows us to manage and publish marketing content (both printed and online) in an efficient and timely fashion. On a personal level, I want to move to Northumberland with Nathan and be able to spend my free time washing sand out from between my toes.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in a similar field?
Develop broad shoulders. Being a Northern lass I already had those. There will always be people wanting to change things at the last minute and they need to remember that you’re employed to ensure that the catalogue is produced on time and that things can’t always be changed to satisfy their whims. Most of all BE ORGANISED! Apparently marketing qualifications wouldn’t go amiss either, although to be fair that hasn’t held me back.

What made you choose Keele University?
My best subjects at school were French and Biology and one of my teachers went through the UCCA handbook and found that Keele did Dual Honours courses where I could combine both... During my Foundation Year I discovered I’d much rather do two sciences than French and switched to doing Biology and Biochemistry! I loved the idea of the Foundation Year and being able to study subjects from across arts and sciences. I also visited Keele during an open day and was made to feel so welcome by everyone, especially in the Biological Sciences department.

What kind of a student were you?
Keen – whether it be studying or socialising. I wasn’t the best at practical work though. My first Biochemistry practical was a disaster. I managed to lose a volumetric glassware joint down the sink and drop the end of a rubber hose attached to an open water tap, which proceeded to snake back and forth across the desk spewing water everywhere. There’s nothing like creating a good impression...

How has Keele influenced your life?
Keele was home for me for four years. When I arrived I was a scared and excited 17 year old from a little village in the Highlands who had no idea about anything. I learnt to stand on my own two feet and if I haven’t always got things right I’ve had a damn good go.  I also wouldn’t be where I am today without the organisational skills I learnt juggling the demands of two sciences. I always felt relaxed at Keele, loved my course and I made some great friends who I’m still in touch with today.

What is your favourite memory of Keele?
Sitting at my desk in Harrowby House typing up one of my final year projects on an old Amstrad word processor, watching the snow falling and getting thicker and thicker, while “Back for Good” by Take That is playing on the radio.

What is your impression of Keele now?
Having gone back to visit last year, it felt as familiar now as it did then – although there are less green spaces as more buildings have gone up. And I felt (for want of a better word) homesick – as if I’d come home. It was great to be back and I felt so proud to show my University to my husband .

Anything else you would like to add?
Listen to your instincts. My favourite part of doing my final year projects was writing them up, proofing and doing all the nice things like diagrams. My favourite part of working on World Bank projects was trying to make the bid documents look perfect. So why did it take me so long to realise that I would make a great Catalogue Manager?