25 June 2016

Making connections at an alumni event

On Thursday night, I attended the first ever event held in Brisbane for alumni of Victoria University of Wellington.

I was invited to attend by someone from the VUW engagement team who contacted me on LinkedIn. I must admit my initial thought was that I definitely wouldn't attend. I knew I would be a bit tired having come back from holidays a couple of days before and the idea of standing around talking to a bunch of people that I didn't know and probably wouldn't have anything in common with really wasn't that appealing!

Anyway, I did eventually talk myself into attending. Since I moved back to Brisbane four years ago it's been hard to meet people and make new friends and on reflection I knew that I would have at least one thing in common with everyone - a connection to VUW and to NZ!

View from Victoria University of Wellington
Credit: View from Victoria University of Wellington by Allison Brown. https://flic.kr/p/oQDbRS. Licence: CC-BY-NC 2.0.

The evening involved a talk from Professor Frazer Allan, the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Engagement), who updated us on how VUW was travelling in terms of strategic direction, capital works, university rankings and other things. He encouraged us to stay in touch with VUW and mentioned a number of ways that graduates could help, including by providing advice and mentorship to other VUW grads new to Brisbane, through philanthropy, and for those with university-age children considering sending them to NZ to study (where Australian students can still study at local fee rates - as I did back in 2001). There was also a guest speaker, Lance Weller, a VUW alumnus who had an interesting history in business and philanthropy on both sides of the Tasman, including being involved in establishing the Angel Flight NZ charity that provides air transport for rural people to attend distant medical appointments without the stress of horrible travel times and financial concerns.

The evening started and ended with drinks and networking. I met and talked to quite a few people, and guess what? I easily found something personal or professional in common with all of them other than the obvious VUW factor. They included:
  • Someone who who had studied history and philosophy at VUW in the 1950s before becoming a medical librarian at Otago and remaining a health sciences librarian for the rest of his career. Connection: fellow librarian! We talked about his experiences in the early days of library automation - so interesting for me given how technology-focused my role is now. 
  • Someone who worked in academic programs and student services at UQ. Connection: I did my first undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at UQ and worked there for a while too. 
  • Someone who had graduated in commerce and worked for Suncorp Bank. Connection: my brother works as a business analyst for Suncorp and she had come across him while working on some technology projects. Something I learned that I didn't know: she told me about the Suncorp innovation lab that she had been visiting that day, which sounded like a really interesting way of exposing clients to new technologies. This prompted me to do a bit of digging since we are talking at my workplace about methods for encouraging innovation. Check out this YouTube video about the Suncorp Group Innovation Days - how does this compare with your organisation's approach to doing new things? 
  • Someone who worked as a statistician on the Australian Longitudinal Women's Health Study. Connection: I had heard about this research project during my previous work in research data management. We talked about some of the challenges (storage, ethics) and he mentioned that the project was increasingly trying to open up its datasets to other researchers. We had another connection in that he had studied mathematics at VUW and I had done some work in that department when I was first getting involved in e-research support. 
  • Someone who only recently graduated in IT and was working as a web developer. Connection: we discovered that he works for the company that provides the web content management system for my place of work and that I had been considering approaching for a quote about some web usability and strategy consulting. 
Sadly I didn't meet my new best friend, but I had a great night and would definitely attend similar events in future. It was good to get out of my narrow library and higher education headspace and meet some people of all different ages from a range of industries and life backgrounds.