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Meet Tanju Sen, Assistant Principal (Flexible Deployment), Student Support and Wellbeing 

Where did it all start?

Coming from a family of academics (my great grandfather was a Professor of English and my grandfather a Professor of History in Colonial India), my deep inherited curiosity about the world’s diverse people and cultures inspired me towards travel. I am indebted to the works of Thomas Hardy, and the resonance I found of Hardy’s landscapes in the works of Rabindranath Tagore, which inspired me to uproot and leave my then-home in India, travel alone to the UK, and take up a scholarship to study History at Newcastle University. (I had a Master’s degree with research with a distinction awarded from Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda and had been teaching History in a well-known high school.) I still recall that heady mixture of excitement and terror as I stepped from the plane at Newcastle Airport…but life to me has always been a great adventure, or nothing! 

In life and career, I have taken steps which are understood as courageous. However, this is not ‘different’, or ‘unusual’. Every woman’s life brings challenges and opportunities to engage in this way. Crossing continents and being multilingual has helped me in navigating barriers at every step. My family, my faith, my friends and my colleagues have been my strength and support.

Tell us about your career to date

After working as a civil servant to support myself while completing my research degree, I joined Durham University in 2012, initially as a mentor at St Mary’s College, which I combined with volunteering at the Durham Cathedral library and the Oriental Museum.

In 2015, I took up full-time employment as a Research Administrator in the Department of Anthropology, then progressed to work with the Student Support and Wellbeing Directorate as Student Cases Co-ordinator from 2016 onwards. From June 2018, I spent three years at the University of Bath as a Project Manager, scoping and managing quality assurance and standards, governance, policy, and latterly developing systems to ensure the delivery of high-quality learning and teaching during Covid-19 times.

Though I loved the beautiful city of Bath, I missed a student-facing role and liked working on projects that concerned student wellbeing more than others. This knowledge, fuelled with wanting to strike a work-life balance, encouraged me to return to Durham University in November 2021 as Assistant Principal (Flexible Deployment) within the Student Support and Wellbeing Directorate. I continue to support the Oriental Museum as a South Asia research and community engagement volunteer.

Being an Assistant Principal in a peripatetic new role has been rewarding, challenging and, at times, frustrating, but I am determined to make it work both for Colleges and the central team. I work across Colleges to support students and colleagues in all aspects of pastoral care. Each student case and context, like every Durham College, is unique, and I enjoy experiencing how all our students add to the rich, multicultural, vibrant tapestry of this University. Through a diversity of tasks and roles within Student Support, I feel deeply that my voice and presence are integral to the value I bring to this role.

What are your next steps in your career?

I enjoy my Professional Services job at Durham University, however, research is calling me back. I married into an academic family (my father-in-law is an economist and my husband a chemist) who are very supportive of my decision. From October 2023, I will join Durham’s Department of Theology and Religion while continuing to work part time. This is another of those life decisions that calls for courage: I am aware of the current low representation of working women joining higher education. I keep a 'crumpet of courage' poster on my desk for moments of doubt!

What advice would you give women looking to succeed in your area of work?  

Crucially, our power and gifts as women, irrespective of background or culture, are at once both unique to ourselves, and commonly shared by us all. It is this paradox of unity and diversity that compels me; we need to appreciate and honour our own worth, alongside that of others. I have always embraced change, and combine flexibility, empathy and non-judgement, but perhaps the most significant life skill is the ability to be honest with ourselves about our weaknesses and to keep working on them. This is so important – the complementarity of skills within a team, and our willingness to share tasks and responsibilities and appreciation amongst our colleagues. But to achieve this, we need to be open to valuing and appreciating each other. This is true for any area of work. 

Do you have any tips for maintaining a healthy work/life balance?

Through all the misfortunes of the pandemic, we have been forced to be aware that we can only work well knowing that we and our loved ones are safe. The gift of these times has been the learning that we need to focus on our life-work boundaries, and appreciate the value of our time, and our own wellbeing. For those in high-pressure, front-line careers, self-care becomes crucial. To relax, I enjoy cooking, going for walks, catching up with friends and family, and taking in an occasional film.

What are your interests/passions outside of work?

I enjoy a good theatre production - the most memorable pre-Covid ones being Arthur Miller’s 'The Price' with Sir David Suchet as Gregory Solomon (I had a star-struck moment saying hello to him afterwards) and 'Vienna 1934 - Munich 1938' - written and directed by Vanessa Redgrave.

I like attending the Proms whenever possible, gardening, and reading everything that I find interesting, including world literature. My Scottish husband has introduced a city-bred girl to the joys of the hills, though I still find them scary as well.