Dundee gave me the foundation to become a Manager of Intergovernmental Strategy
Published on 10 March 2022
Sheryl’s career has seen her use her degree in a variety of ways since graduating, including in roles at an economic development agency and a water utility.
Sheryl’s days at Dundee started as they do for many; deciding where to go and what to study.
“It was in the days where prospectuses were physical. It was so exciting, flicking through, looking at all of the courses, and the photos of the universities – it felt like this world of opportunity.
“I was keen on economics, and I knew that I wanted to marry economics with psychology. I had some general ideas of what I wanted to do as a career, my ambition was focused on doing well at university and keeping my options broad. Dundee became my first choice because of the really good reputation it had and the joint degree courses it offered.”
Sheryl’s love of all things Scottish, in part due to her father’s Scottish background and the memories of summer family holidays, also played into Sheryl’s decision to leave her home in Yorkshire (including a much-adored cocker spaniel) and come to study at Dundee.
“I realised when I got there that this was just the start. Even though I was the first person in my family to go university, it didn’t really faze me moving. I was excited, it was a huge adventure. Because my hometown was far from Dundee, I couldn’t go home for dinner or to do the laundry. I essentially moved permanently, and I really committed to being in Dundee
The person that arrived on that first day was so different to the person that left, in so many ways. I was able to explore my identity. It’s one of those rare occasions in life where you make friends so easily and openly. Everyone is uniquely open to making friends and meeting people. You also meet people you would never have otherwise – I was surrounded by diversity.
Everything going on at Dundee adds to the richness and the diversity of the people – it attracts people internationally – and my friendship group reflected that.
“I was in the Mountaineering Club and I met people from all over the world that I am still friends with today. In first year, I got nominated as a freshers rep for the committee. And in the three years to follow, I held positions on the committee in various ways."
Having decided upon Business Economics with Marketing and Psychology, the course definitely did not disappoint Sheryl.
“The breadth of the course has been one of the most important things in my career. I covered a lot of different subjects from comparative studies in European economics and politics, to research methods, and even did a unit in counselling.
“I also chose an optional dissertation in Economics, specifically in experimental economics, and this allowed me to combine the economics and psychology within the economic space right at the end of my degree.
“In the roles I’ve held since graduating I’ve been required to understand how the world works generally, not just economic theory and that’s what I got at Dundee.”
Since graduating in 2007, Sheryl’s career has seen her use her degree in a variety of ways. Her first job was with Scottish Enterprise in Dundee, she is convinced the role was secured by her extracurricular activities.
“Being in the Mountaineering Club gave me an edge because I had held leadership roles. I could demonstrate that I had dealt with lots of different people and had experience dealing with difficult situations. Mountaineering is physically demanding too, which is stressful enough trying to manage yourself. I developed self-awareness and other soft skills to be able to manage myself and others on a blustery hilltop in winter. I got a lot out of it personally, but those mountaineering days paid off unexpectedly when I started to apply for jobs, there was a lot that I was able to take into my professional life.”
As a Project Manager for Scottish Enterprise she got involved in many different activities, giving Sheryl her wide ranging experience.
“I helped to facilitate connections in different parts of the business community. I was partially focused on the energy sector, I worked with the Port of Dundee and, as it was at that time, the burgeoning renewable energy sector.
“I led a project with the biotech industry where I designed a summer school course to provide science students with commercial acumen. The students interned with Dundee biotech companies and, as part of the internship, Scottish Enterprise provided a summer school programme. I designed the curriculum and organised the people to deliver the workshops, including some of my prior lecturers and professors from Dundee. It was a great job and project.”
After a couple of years, Sheryl emigrated to Australia, firstly basing herself in Perth, then relocated to Melbourne a few years later. Sheryl’s arrival in Australia coincided with the Global Financial Crisis.
“Moving countries can be really challenging personally and professionally. Employers are often looking for people with local experience. After a few months of being unemployed I ended up getting temp work as an administrative assistant, which I wasn’t exactly thrilled about, but I decided to make the most of it. It gave me the opportunity to network with senior executives, and that’s how I got my next career role at the Water Corporation in the Energy Team.
“I never dreamed I would work at a water utility, but it was really fascinating learning about how water is delivered to our houses and industry and being part of this essential service that we all just take for granted. At the time, the water utility was the second biggest energy user in Western Australia, so energy was huge cost and business focus. I got to deepen my understanding of energy issues and learn about water delivery. I was able to transfer my understanding of economics to engineering concepts. Pump efficiency curves have similarities to economic graphical representations. I found that I had lots of transferable skills that I had picked up in Economics that I could use to understand basic engineering concepts.
“Someone in the finance department noticed my spreadsheets skills and that my background was in economics and I got approached about a role in the finance team. There was a team of economists within the finance department that modelled and advised on water and sewerage pricing, which included forecasting the revenue needed to be recovered over the medium term. And this was a really critical point in my career, where I really honed my analytical and technical skills.
“I was responsible for managing a couple of different economic models, doing a real technical ‘living in a spreadsheet’ kind of role. I was mostly working in Excel and Access and then periodically I would come up for air and give presentations and put some of the work in written documents for senior executive decision making – I really enjoyed this role. I don’t do much technical work now, but this experience enabled me to manage and add value to technical work being done by my team. It was while I was at the Water Corporation that I studied for a Masters degree in Environmental Economics.”
At the end of 2015, Sheryl and her husband decided to travel to Rwanda to work with a local not-for-profit.
“We worked for three months in Kigali, producing the organisations first ‘bells and whistles’ annual report. Everything that I had got from university and from my early career I was able to transfer into a completely different context. I’ve never been motivated by a salary, what gets me out of bed is doing something positive for society, contributing to the betterment of this world we inhabit, knowing that small incremental efforts of many are the only way forward. A few years later we returned to Rwanda, and I wrote the organisations new five-year strategy, which I am told has been a real asset in working with their, mostly, western donors.
“It was a privilege to work in Rwanda and it really shows how economics can be applied in so many different contexts. Dundee set me up to do lots of different things and to go down lots of different paths. There are opportunities that you don’t know exist and so many choices, it is super exciting.
“After returning to Australia, a role with Victorian Treasury came up. I joined the energy policy team at first. It was such a great job being on the front line of policy development and design. One of the first things that I did was work on a renewable energy scheme, incentivising renewable energy including learning about contract for difference, which is how renewable energy generators are paid. I worked closely with the energy department to influence the policy design and advised the Victorian Treasurer on the merits of the policy. I worked with a whole raft of people, from legal teams to accountants – it was very exciting and interesting, this type of incentivisation model had never been put on an Australian government balance sheet before.
“I continued to work on other energy and natural resources initiatives and became more senior in the role. I had the opportunity to act as a Director a number of times, giving me different responsibilities and accountabilities. It also gave me experience with a different workflow. In the senior roles, people are looking to you for your opinion and direction, you’re shaping the work and ensuring the team have what they need to produce high quality work and meet deadlines.”
After another stint travelling, that included another trip to Rwanda and some work with an Athens based not-for-profit working with refugees, Sheryl returned to Melbourne and joined a different team within the Treasury.
“Treasury is really great because it’s a building of economists and accountants, as an economist there’s so much opportunity to work across different government sectors. When I arrived back in Australia, I was asked to manage the Intergovernmental Strategy team, which is a team of professional economists advising on Commonwealth-state relations.
“My team manages the briefings for the Treasurer and senior treasury officials when they attend meetings with other states and territories and the Commonwealth. We also lead and support the negotiation of funding agreements between the state and the Commonwealth that forms a significant proportion of the Commonwealth’s annual funding contribution to the state. We negotiate to ensure the best outcome, making sure it’s appropriate for Victorians and that it makes sense for the Victorian State budget.
“It has been a very busy space during the pandemic, with Treasurers meeting more frequently and the introduction of new funding agreements between the Commonwealth and the states to support key areas of the pandemic response. This includes the vaccine rollout and business supports during lockdowns."
There is no doubt that Sheryl’s University experience has built the foundation of her career.
“Dundee provided the foundations for me to embark on what has already been a varied career. I have applied my economic understanding to deep technical issues in the energy and water sectors and more broadly across a range of sectors in my current role in intergovernmental strategy.
“My economics degree hasn’t pigeon-holed me into a specific area or career path, it has been very flexible, and I have been able to apply my understanding and knowledge to a broad range of matters.
“We need women in economics, because we need the female perspective. We’re more than half of the population and the roles that I’ve held have involved important public policy decisions and woman absolutely need to be part of that.
“I think having a rich experience at university, I was able to blossom personally and professionally, and to my own surprise, this has already led me down a really interesting, fulfilling career path.”
Congratulations to Sheryl on a fantastic career so far, we are excited to see what the future has to hold for her.
Press Office, University of Dundeepress@dundee.ac.uk