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Professor Sarah Dean

Professor of Psychology Applied to Rehabilitation and Health

I arrived in Exeter in 2009 after five years in New Zealand, a sideways move as a senior lecturer I found I had to effectively ‘start again’ to build new networks and research collaborations. Being a newcomer felt as if all my previous experience had been discounted. Annual performance appraisal requests for career progression were gently but firmly rebuffed. It was very frustrating, by 2013 it was clear my career was stalling; I had hit the glass ceiling of a senior lecturer. I was also faced with some difficult personal circumstances that continued over five years. My move to Exeter was not turning out the way I had anticipated. I decided to do something about it: I found myself an excellent academic mentor and I signed up to regular career coaching to support me and to improve my skills for managing a better work-life balance. The timing was good as Athena SWAN was taking hold at the University and I was one of the first to get a place on the Aurora Leadership for Women course.

By 2014 I had my promotion application ready with updated CV including a new small grant award. I presented it as a fait accompli at my appraisal, I was going for promotion. It worked. Learning to stand up for myself has been a great lesson. Now when work gets really busy I am empowered to say ‘no’ more often or take back some time to go for a run or walk the dog, Dart, a black Labrador named after the river. Getting the right work-life balance is still work in progress but as the influence of Athena SWAN permeated more widely I found that the support was there. So too are the opportunities here in Exeter, I just added a bit of personal tenacity and determination to make it happen. Since that promotion, to associate professor, I became co-chair of the College’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity committee for three years as I am passionate about promoting equal opportunities regardless of gender. The focus on women has been the right place to start and now provides a good platform for creating positive working environments for us all.

I’ve since been promoted again, became the co-director of Exeter’s new Clinical Trials Unit for three years and now lead a Behavioural Science research group. My message is: be clear about your values and your goals, work hard, be tenacious, use the support offered and take the opportunities that arise – there are plenty here at Exeter and you can do it.     

 - Professor Sarah Dean