Dr Danielle Hoyle is the Head of Research Operations and Deputy Director of Operations. In this role she works alongside the Director, Chief Operating Officer and other members of senior management to support the efficiency and effectiveness of the Institute’s research. This includes managing the Institute’s science facilities, overseeing capital equipment requirements, and financial and corporate planning and reporting. Danielle chairs several committees, including the Computer Strategy, Science Facilities and the Nursery Management committees.
Danielle recently completed an MBA with the Open University with sponsorship from the Institute. This Masters level qualification in business practices covered a wide-range of topics including HR, finance, marketing, and strategic planning and decision making. This profile reflects on the value of this training, her career development at the Institute, and the experience of juggling her MBA course, day job, family and the odd marathon…
You’ve worked at the Institute since 2013, can you describe how your career has evolved over that time to your current role?
I joined the Institute alongside Cheryl Smythe to establish the pre-award Grants Office. This was a completely new department and we worked with group leaders to identify what support they needed and built the processes that now exist to help researchers prepare and submit grants. Over time I was asked to participate in more diverse aspects of institute management which lead to me working alongside Simon Jones, the Institute’s Director of Operations, to co-write the core capability grant as part of our strategic quinquennial funding application to BBSRC in 2016, predominantly due to my broad understanding of how the Institute ‘fits together’.
I realised that this was where my interests lay and wanted to move away from everyday grants support which I had done for a long time, both at the Institute and at the Wellcome Trust, and take on a new challenge. As a result of changes in the Operations Team, and succession planning, I eventually assumed the role of Head of Research Operations full time in 2020 after a three-year period split working between grants and supporting the science facilities.
What prompted you to make the decision to undertake an MBA? Was this a long-held ambition?
I have a PhD in Biochemistry, but no formal education in business or management. When I moved into my new role we discussed my training needs. It was suggested that I consider an MBA due to the comprehensive nature of the studies, which would probably be more impactful than stand-alone training modules.
Tell us about your MBA experience, how did you find the experience and what were the most important things you learnt and can put into practice?
I‘m not going to lie, this has been extremely challenging and there were many times I regretted starting. However, looking back now I am pleased I stuck with it because I learned an enormous amount that is directly relevant to my work here. I took financial and management accounting exams, developed tools to assist with decision making, undertook a module focused on working within the public sector and I learn the principles of strategic planning. My final dissertation module was a research project on demand forecasting for the science facilities, a pilot version of which was approved by our executive committee to be implemented at the Institute later this year.
Although traditionally seen as something more relevant to the corporate environment, the MBA has provided a set of tools to support efficient ways of thinking and behaving in a variety of situations and I’m excited to contribute these tools and perspectives to different scenarios at the Institute.
You had a family addition during your MBA study. How did you manage to keep everything on track, especially with your usual work commitments and the added challenge of a global pandemic?
Danielle Hoyle outside the western entrance of the Woodhead Tunnels, a closed set of railway tunnels through the Pennines, linking Sheffield and Manchester.
I am very fortunate to work for an organisation that is committed to enabling flexible working, without that I would have not been able to manage. I could fit my work and studying to suit myself. I preferred to study in the day when my brain was fresh and then catch up with work in the evening when I was more able to deal with ‘routine’. Whilst studying I also did several triathlons and half-marathons; I think to let off steam and escape from the pressure of work and family.
The first 18 months of study were by far the hardest – I had to spend ~15h / week studying, on top of a full-time job. My eldest daughter Matilda was two when I started and she spent a lot of time hanging out with my husband and our friends on weekends. After the first two intense modules I decided to extend the total study period and cut down to 7h / week. My husband was taking on a disproportionate amount of childcare, and we rarely had time to spend together as a couple or a family, so this was the right decision for us all. It would have been impossible to do any of this without his support.
My second daughter was born at the end of that initial 18 month period, and I have a very strong memory of being seven and a half months pregnant sitting a three-hour handwritten exam with the invigilators looked very concerned that I was going to give birth in the room!
I took a 12 month break for maternity leave and started back when Margot went to nursery. Lockdown began about five months after that, so I (fortunately) missed my corporate finance exams (passing on coursework alone) and took a six-month break for lockdown #1 and home-schooling Matilda. I then started back and pushed on through the next few modules despite more lockdowns because I was so determined to get to the end and the thought of extending any longer was too unpleasant.
In total I was enrolled for five and a half years and spent four years of that studying.
Have there been any surprising benefits from doing the MBA?
I have been fortunate to gain a wide network of friends across many different sectors. What has been surprising is that although we work in different fields the challenges we face are actually very similar, and you can learn an awful lot of good practice from them. A very good friend of mine from running club was coincidentally on the MBA. She is the director of a tyre distributor, and we would spend hours running and talking about assignments, our jobs and the situations we faced.
Now you have some additional free time, how do you plan to spend it?
I am training to run the Manchester Marathon in April 2023.
Any final thoughts you’d like to share?
Despite all the complaining (and there has been a lot) I do not regret undertaking the MBA. It has helped me enormously and I’d like to think it has made me better at my job. I have met so many interesting people and made some great friends. If people are considering something similar, I’d caution them to go into it with their eyes open and not underestimate the time commitment required, nor the potential impact on their family and friends.
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