International Women’s Day viewpoints – Mary Thomson, Vice Principal - Skills & Lifelong Learning

Mary Thomson, Vice Principal - Skills and Lifelong Learning

SRUC is celebrating International Women's Day 2024 today by bringing you the voices of women from across SRUC, SAC Consulting and SRUCSA. Here's what Mary Thompson, Vice Principal for Skills and Lifelong Learning had to say:

At SRUC I lead on skills, with responsibility for non-traditional lifelong learning such as apprenticeships, industry education partnerships and continuing professional development. I moved into policy then education relatively recently, having spent the majority of my career in the private sector. I am a passionate advocate for further education, which delivers vocational skills development that can be truly transformational for learners.  

I build strong relationships with industry, policy and communities and am committed to widening access and participation in lifelong learning pathways. In 2024 I am looking forward to assuming responsibility for SAC consulting and Vet Services, leading on the provision of independent, research-driven, industry leading expertise, advice and solutions for agricultural, food and land-based businesses.  

My varied career has seen me undertaking roles ranging from veterinary clinician to providing Ministerial briefings in Westminster. I include a few of the influential women in my life and career here but there are so many more who merit a mention.  

A team of incredible female vet nurses supported my transition from university to working as a useful and productive vet. My nursing team brought their wisdom, practical support, pastoral care for clients and team and an upbeat ‘can do’ attitude to work in the practice and on farm. They saw me through eighteen wonderful and varied years including some long hours, challenging cases and out of hours demands. I have no doubt that they were key to the development of my clinical and client management skills. 

On moving into government veterinary services, I worked with an awesome trio of Chief Veterinary Officers (CVOs), Christine Middlemiss, Sheila Voas and Christianne Glossop. These brilliant colleagues exemplify the importance of working together, effective decision making and communicating and influencing. Importantly for me, working alongside Christine in her role as UK CVO provided me with a ‘lightbulb’ moment in understanding the key role a vet from a generalist background can play in leading the response to outbreaks of exotic animal diseases, advising on the programmes necessary to control, and, where appropriate, eradicating disease and encouraging high health and welfare in all species. My empathy and communication skills, honed when translating complex veterinary terminology into a clear message to a client, were unexpectedly useful in government policy work. And I have to say, whilst I mostly enjoyed working outdoors, the office work environment made communication easier than the challenges of delivering a clear message on a wet and windy farm on Bodmin Moor in the middle of the night! 

Initially I felt uncertain about moving away from veterinary practice. I received the great advice that I should not consider it the end of my career as a practitioner, but should focus on moving onto another phase of my career journey, taking my skills to a new opportunity and leaving the legacy of a strong team of veterinary professionals I had mentored and developed. Interestingly this advice came from a younger female colleague within the team rather than my line manager.  

In roles with government and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons I found I was increasingly expected to present to stakeholder audiences. At this time, I was also juggling the demands of a young family and sought mentoring and support to build my confidence and improve presentation and public speaking skills. Whilst I have also been mentored in work, the independence of these sessions with a coach were particularly valuable in protecting some time away from work and family for my own development.  

In my experience of providing mentoring, it is often the sharing experiences and supporting with wider skills development which is most valuable for the mentee but also often for the mentor!  

I strive to influence in work, and with wider networks, by maintaining a positive and optimistic outlook, demonstrating commitment, communicating effectively and retaining a curiosity and interest in what motivates people both at work and in their lives outside work.  

Personally, outside work, I feel incredibly fortunate to have a brilliant best friend of almost forty years, mum and daughter. As I hurtle towards a half century milestone birthday next year, they are another trio of awesome women who continue to inspire me with their resilience, love of life, independence and sense of fun. They also regularly remind me of the importance of not taking myself too seriously! 


Mary Thomson 

Vice Principal, SRUC.  


Posted by Mary Thompson on 08/03/2024

Tags: Enterprise
Categories: SRUC and Campuses