Interview with Principal Fellow of the HEA Juliette Wagner

BPP University’s Deputy Dean of Learning and Teaching Juliet Wagner is a pretty amazing woman. She’s successfully climbed the education career ladder while raising three children (two of whom have complex disabilities).

And if that wasn’t enough, she was recently recognised as a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (HEA) – a title that only 314 HEA members out of nearly 60,000 have achieved. We find out how she does it.

What’s your career background?

I started my career as a barrister in 1995, main focus was on criminal and family law.

I spent a number of years working in the legal profession, then mixed practice with teaching students studying law at university. I found myself doing lots of pro bono work and then spent many years working as a volunteer in a pro bono centre.

Was your career impacted by becoming a mum?

My career slowed down for a few years when I had three babies under five, but then as time went on I bought more help into the home and was able to focus on my career.

Because two of my three children have disabilities this has impacted my career in terms of a real drive to make university life work for people with disabilities and to reinforce a positive model of disability in the higher education sector.

How important is it for you to do something you feel passionate about?

Crucial – although some parts of the job I am more passionate than others. I think that is all part of a generic career, the most important thing is to find the parts of the job that feed your passion.

I take huge pride in my children being proud of the work I do for our students.

What drives you?

Knowing that I have created opportunities for people who might never had found them otherwise.

You recently become a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (HEA) – a title that only 314 HEA members out of nearly 60,000 have achieved. What qualified you for this recognition?

I had to evidence that I was creating transformational change in a HE institution. I see myself as a major change agent and the transformations at a strategic level were great evidence of my role as a major change agent.

You decided you wanted to become a lawyer aged just eight. What inspired your career choice?

Mr Pinkwhistle from the Enid Blyton book. He is half man half pixie, makes himself invisible to put things right! I see myself as a modern day Mrs Pinkwhistle.

What do you love most about your job?

Creating pathways for students with disabilities. Every day I ask myself the question, would I choose this university for my own children? If the answer is ever no then I know that I have failed. That is the real benchmark of getting it right for me.

And what would you change if you could?

I would win the lottery and create a pot of scholarship money for people with disabilities to come into vocational lead education.

Who inspires you?

Mother Teresa, because she was selfless, strived everyday to make her life worthwhile, and encapsulated the notion that happiness is about having a purpose in life. And Jeremy Kyle because he’s straight talking, solves real people’s problems, and is not afraid to take a side or have an opinion on controversial topics.

I’m also inspired by  my daughter who fights every day just to keep going, and who despises being treated differently.

A large part of your work revolves around students with disabilities. Why is this important to you?

Two of my three children have complex disabilities. My 12 year-old son Joshua has epilepsy, brain damage and autism, and my 16 year-old daughter Jamy was diagnosed with Lupus, a chronic connective tissue disease, in 2012.

What’s your secret to balancing your work with your family?

Get up a little bit earlier before the children are up – you can get ahead this way. Being extremely organised is also the key to a great balance.

And finally, I think it’s important to be honest if you need to be somewhere for your children (align yourself only with a great line manager).

What advice do you have for other working mums?

Climb the ladder if and when it suits you, and if it doesn’t suit you ever, then take great pride in knowing you created opportunities for yourself.

Happiness is about having a purpose, this can be achieved by climbing the career ladder or by caring for your family full time. Just make sure you give yourself the choice.

You can learn more about BPP University on their website