Reflecting on 2018

Sharon Flynn
Feb 1 · 5 min read

I found 2018 quite tough. There were some issues with my family; I had my 50th birthday in September; and I spent quite a lot of the year on crutches, particularly from mid October through almost all the way to Christmas. In the grand scheme of things, and in comparison to other people’s experiences, it wasn’t disastrous. But I reached the end of the year feeling quite low, and relieved that 2018 was finally over.

Something or somebody suggested that I should identify five positive things about 2018, I can’t remember who. But it seemed like a good thing to do, even if my first response was a blank. So here are five positive things, in no particular order.

Keynote at Durham Blackboard Users’ Conference

I had the huge honour of giving a keynote at the annual Durham Blackboard Users’ Conference in January 2018. I’ve been going to this event annually for a number of years, so it was an absolute pleasure to be invited to present to a community that I know so well. The theme was The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, and I applied this to digital competency development for academic staff.

A further joy was that my daughter (aged 16) was able to travel with me, was welcomed by the organisers at DCAD, and was witness to my keynote presentation. Moreover, we were able to stay at Durham Castle, as well as attend the conference dinner. The only downside was the very bad cold and cough I had at the time — I was so relieved to make it through the presentation without a coughing fit.

I was also lucky to be asked to give a second keynote in Utrecht in November, this time at the International conference higher education for students with disabilities. This was a completely different topic, arising from a project on Inclusive Teaching (more on this below).


In late 2017 I was accepted onto the Aurora leadership development programme, one of about 20 from NUI Galway. The first event was in 2017, but the other four all took place in 2018. This programme gave me the time, space and opportunity to reflect on my own professional practice as a leader.

Moreover, as part of the programme, I was also provided with a mentor within the University, the first time I had such a relationship with somebody who was (and is) generous to give of her time, experience and knowledge to help me develop in my current role and see things from another perspective. I have found this extremely valuable and I hope that I can pay-it-on in the future.

The most positive aspect of my involvement with Aurora has been the establishment of new networks of professional women working in higher education in Ireland. The Aurora events and, in particular, the Action Learning Set encouraged a culture of sharing and support that I have not experienced previously. It didn’t matter, in fact it helped, that we were all from different institutions and different functional areas.

Through Aurora I have also connected with women inside my university to form new support groups, and indeed, new work opportunities. I think I found my invisible support network (as so nicely put by @DynamicEcology). And it feels good to have a group of people, not immediately connected to my work, but who understand the environment, to support each other.

Inclusive Teaching

Leading directly from this, one of these new, small clusters, has led to the hatching of a project on Inclusive Teaching within the College of Business, Public Policy and Law. Together with Shivaun Quinlivan, Lucy Ann Buckley, the NUIG SU and other partners, we are looking at how we can make the learning experience more inclusive for all students in the college.

I am constantly amazed by the work ethic of these two women and their determination to get things done. What I like about this project is that it is about changing a culture and we are just going ahead and doing it. It was through this project that I ended up giving a keynote in Utrecht, on crutches. Watch this space for more on the project, what we’re doing and the expected outcomes.


In late August/early September, at a particularly manic time in my life (we were running our annual Blackboard Festival, it was the start of our new academic year, I celebrated my 50th birthday, and my son moved to Dublin for his first year in college), and encouraged by the wonderful @catherinecronin, I took on the curation of @femedtech on twitter. Looking back I wonder: what was I thinking?

Being somewhat preoccupied, I decided to set up the account on my phone and using Tweetdeck on my desktop. My strategy, insofar as I had one, was to follow the twitter stream for the account and the stream for the #femedtech tag and follow (pretty much) anybody who was mentioned there, as well as those who liked or commented on the tweets. I also tried to amplify the voices of women in those streams, as well as women in my own stream, by retweeting or commenting on relevant tweets. That way, I kept up activity on the account, and also grew the list of followers. It helped that altc was coming up, so there was quite a bit of material.

At another time (the next time?) I would like to have more of a strategy. I do feel that by taking on the curation, I arrived at a better understanding of what @femedtech is about.


Totally not work-related, but parkrun became a huge part of my life in 2018. I achieved a PB there in February, the day before I fell and injured my right knee. I did a couple more slow runs in early summer, but haven’t been able to run (fractured left knee) since July. Rather than enjoy Saturday morning lie-ins I decided instead to start volunteering, eventually becoming volunteer coordinator. On January 12th 2019 I celebrated my 25th volunteering day — and have the t-shirt to prove it.

Volunteering at parkrun has made me part of another supportive community. I know that on the day I finally build up to being tailwalker (my current goal), I will have a whole community cheering me on.

Looking back, I can see that the common theme in the positives for 2018 is community; networks of people. There’s a lesson in that.

Sharon Flynn

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