The thrill-seeking Glaswegian who finds it impossible to switch off

Linda Fisher is an administrator who hates committees. Her commitment to the courses she organises at the Institute for Continuing Education (ICE) has turned her into an email addict — but she lets off steam in surprising ways.

Linda Fisher says she’s “not quite James Bond”

I’m an academic administrator at the Institute for Continuing Education (ICE) at Madingley Hall. Each morning I drive from home in a Cambridgeshire village to work in an Elizabethan mansion with a park laid out by Capability Brown. What’s not to like?

Most of the time I’m sane and sensible. But when I turned 50, I decided to challenge myself every year with an activity that took me out of my comfort zone. I’ve done the world’s highest bungee jump at Bloukrans bridge in South Africa, sky diving also in South Africa, zip wire in Costa Rica, and something called Jetlev in much less exotic Bedfordshire.

It’s my job to organise everything about some of the courses we run — everything apart from actually teaching them. I work closely with the academics doing the teaching, particularly in international relations, archaeology and landscape history. My tasks include programme planning, budgeting, quality assurance and basically ensuring students, and tutors, get the high quality provision they deserve.

I’m just back from invigilating a mock exam for some of our students. Many of the students on our part-time master’s courses haven’t sat an exam for years — and lots of them are not used to writing essays by hand. One good way of helping them is to do some exam practice.

People can tell right away from my accent that I’m from Glasgow. I was brought up just outside Glasgow and went to Glasgow University. My original plan was to train as a history teacher but I swapped to English Literature and Language because I loved the study of language. I dropped the teaching plan when I realised I didn’t want go straight back to school.

In my final year, I went to a careers fair. Looking round the stalls, I came across the National Health Graduate Management Training Scheme and asked for more information. The person I spoke to was discouraging. She told me they took eight graduates a year for Scotland and suggested I’d be wasting my time in applying.

My response was instant: “Give me the application form.” My application was successful and at the age of 28 I was, in effect, in charge of a busy Edinburgh hospital. All these years later, I’m astonished that this actually happened. Of course, I was part of a team, but all the same the responsibility was huge.

I’ve always been an organised person. My younger sister and brother would say bossy. I like to know what I’m doing and have a clear plan. On the other hand, what I love about my job at ICE is that no two days are the same and I have to multi-task, flipping between problems that range from strategic planning to dealing with upset students to arranging the seating plan for a formal dinner.

My husband’s job brought us to Cambridge in 1996. By this time I was a mum and had taken a career path away from hospital administration into careers advice. I spotted an advertisement for a programme manager post at the then Board of ICE and applied at the last minute. I ignored all the advice I’d been giving to others and didn’t even make a copy of my application form.

ICE offers part-time course of various kinds — from weekend courses to two-year master’s programmes. Our tutors come not just from Cambridge but many other institutions. Our ethos is to offer courses that fit within people’s lives — whether they want to enhance their careers or pursue an interest for its own sake.

I look after the master’s course in international relations. Our students come from all over the world and it’s a real privilege to get to know them. The commitment they make, and investment of time and money, is considerable. They come from as far afield as Japan and the USA. We work really hard to make their courses the best experience possible.

It’s a cliché but I’m a people person. What I like most about my job is the opportunity to help students with their problems or to direct them to other people who can help. It might be a college tutor or it might be someone in another department — that is why having good networks is so important.

I hate committees — though I know they’re vital — I much prefer working on an individual level when you can sort things out fast.

I’m hopelessly addicted to email. Our bosses tell us we shouldn’t look at our emails at night or out of office hours. Back in October I was responding to emails while lying on a tropical beach in St Lucia. I justify my obsession by arguing that it doesn’t take a moment to put a student’s mind at rest and stop them worrying.

I’ve just celebrated a big birthday. To mark this one, I quite fancy having a go at paragliding — maybe in Iceland — later this year. My husband is very sensibly keeping his feet firmly on the ground.

This profile is part of our This Cambridge Life series.

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