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May 15, 2012 / bethan

My first month: Elly O’Brien, Information Specialist, Bazian Ltd

What’s it really like to start work as a new professional? In this series of guest blog posts, we’ll hear from new professionals about their first month in a new job. What have they learned? How have they fitted in? What’s been the best (and the worst!) thing? If you’d like to contribute the story of your first month, get in touch!

What if your new job isn’t one you applied for? Elly O’Brien tells us about coping with your contract being transferred to a new employer.

Firstly, I must confess that my first week was over a year ago!

I had been working on a project (the NHS Evidence Specialist Collection for surgery, anaesthesia, perioperative and critical care) at the Royal College of Surgeons for around a year when the project’s commissioners, NHS Evidence, announced that they were planning to change the business model of the project and put it out to tender. Following a tendering process, I was transferred to a new employer under European legislation called the TUPE (ACAS provides a good overview) which protects employees’ rights when a project changes provider. The tendering and TUPE process was understandably stressful, at various stages I did not know whether I would have a job come April 2011 and if I did have a job where that might be based. Thanks to supportive colleagues and excellent HR in all parties involved, I had secured a job and was moving to a new employer.

The biggest adjustment I had to make was that I was no longer based in a library. I had bid farewell to seemingly endless desk shifts, mending staplers, stopping users trying to sneak coffees in…I am being deliberately facetious here! In all seriousness, it was a major change. In particular I had to further develop and hone my communications skills because I now would have very little face-to-face contact with clients to whom we deliver our services and products.

The team I was in was entirely new, previously the company’s Information Team had been one person – now there were seven of us. Being an entirely new team was very comforting, after the disruption of the previous few months it was nice not to be “the new person” but to be part of an entirely new team. I knew three of my new colleagues through our previous work on the Specialist Collections, but still we had to figure out the dynamics of our teams, our personalities and ways of working. The lasting legacy of this unique context is that our team is communicative and collaborative, with people always ready to ask for (or offer) help and for the opinions of others.

One of the aims of changing the business model was to standardise practice and output that had varied from collection to collection. This involved a lot of work looking at different methodologies, taking best practice from each of them and amalgamating to form new processes. The aim was that once we had looked at these different methodologies we would then write an overarching process and methods manual as well as standard operating procedure documents for specific workstreams. Obviously, this was not all done in week one! I have never been someone who has the “we’ve always done it this way” attitude, but I’ll admit I did find this challenging. I had to look objectively at what colleagues across different collections and I had done in the past. As we were putting in place new processes, I also had to continually review the processes we had put in place in order to improve them. There was no room for sacred cows!

Before I began this job, I had learned about critically appraising research papers, but only in the context of teaching critical appraisal skills to peers and library users. It was clear that I would be regularly critically appraising a large volume of papers once we began producing Evidence Updates. Trying to understand a variety of research methods and the implications this variety can have on the quality, reliability and generalisability of the research paper was probably the single steepest learning curve. In my first week we had an internal training session run by one of the Health Research Analysts from our Science Team, who is very experienced in reading and interpreting papers. The session was great as it helped to give me a foundation of knowledge, but equally helpful was the open culture of the company and our team, one of my colleagues dubbed our philosophy: ask early, ask often.

In this role I regularly draw upon knowledge and skills acquired during my Master’s degree (Library and Information Studies, UCL). Part of our role is to trawl different websites for content to add to the NHS Evidence website, I use my cataloguing and classification skills when adding these documents via the new Resource Management System created specifically for this project. I am responsible for our website and use the HTML and web design skills I learned during my Master’s and further developed in my previous job. Even the management module, that at the time I found quite dull, has been useful as it gave me a theoretical knowledge of concepts such as Key Performance Indicators which, as contractors, are used by our client to regularly measure our performance.

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