Fifteen to One | Monica Jones

Welcome to the latest instalment in our fascinating new Q&A feature series in which we put 15 challenging questions to one of our senior leaders.

Monica Jones is the University’s Chief Data Officer

Fifteen to One | Monica Jones. December 2022

From key projects they’re working on to random claims to fame, we discover what really makes them tick!

Next up in the ‘hot seat’ is Monica Jones, the University’s Chief Data Officer.

Find out what inspires her… and how she ended up running with a Dame!

Can you describe your role in 100 words?

As Chief Data Officer, I’m responsible for ensuring the University uses its data in a responsible and effective way. My main effort has been writing the Data Strategy for the University and setting up a central Data Service. This was a new role that was created at the beginning of this year. The Data Strategy has a number of commitments – we’re going to improve access, provision and use to turn data from being a burden into an asset. 

What are your top tips for future-proofing your career? 

Be strategic – have a goal in mind and set yourself challenges along the way to achieve that. But I would also say be flexible. I don't believe in luck – I don’t think there’s such a thing. I believe in good planning and opportunity. So, if you’re highly organised and everything else in your life is fine, then when opportunities come along, you can take that calculated risk. That’s what I’ve done during the past 30 years, so when there’s an opportunity, I’m prepared for it. 

What are the best ways to connect with other data professionals? 

I connect by attending networking events and through social media, such as LinkedIn. Just build up your own network and keep in touch with people. 

What’s really impressed you about Leeds?

The University is a great place to work – it’s very inclusive and you feel very welcome. The Vice-Chancellor has a very clear vision for the next 10 years, and it’s really helpful to have that leadership from the top. I think the ambition associated with the global impact is really energising. When I was writing the Data Strategy, I was able connect it to the main strategy, but also digital transformation and research, so it felt like it was all joined up.

What question have you most frequently been asked in your role?

When’s the Data Service going to be fully up and running? People know these things need doing, but it’s got to be somebody’s day job! I’ve been recruiting furiously during the past few months and, by the end of the year, we’ll have all 14 roles filled. 

What are you most looking forward to working on?

I’m looking forward to implementing the Data Strategy, without a shadow of a doubt. It’s great to have an almost blank piece of paper and be able to set it all out. I’ve got a three-year plan and we’re coming up to the end of the first year. 

We’ve got significant funding through the Digital Enablement programme to undertake transformation projects around data integration and creating a central data repository. I’m very excited to turn that into a reality and realise the benefits. Another good thing about Leeds is the investment in digital transformation. It’s enabling to know you have the funding there to be able to do it. 

Is there something, or someone, that has inspired you in your career?

From my perspective, I’ve had three parts to my career. The first 17 years of my working life were spent serving in the Army, which inspired me to travel the world and do good. 

The next 15 years I spent working for the NHS, and it was inspiring to use data to help save lives. I was working specifically on cancer data during COVID-19, which potentially saved thousands of lives, so that’s something inspiring to get out of bed for in the morning! We recognised the impact COVID-19 had on cancer services and were able to provide the evidence to the government through the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) via Health Data Research UK. This was made a priority in the NHS Recovery Plan, so that was rewarding. 

Now, in the third part of my career, at the University, I have the opportunity to pass on my knowledge and experience to ensure there’s a consistent and strategic use of data – internally and externally – that is transparent and efficiently delivers value and improves lives.

We all have that professional or personal achievement we’re incredibly proud of. What’s yours?

I think those of us who were in frontline NHS roles when the pandemic hit felt that we needed to do our bit, particularly as a veteran of the forces. The number of times the NHS helped us in operational theatres, being able to give back to it was something I personally felt I needed to do. It was good to be able to use data to provide the evidence COVID-19 was having such an impact on cancer patients that we needed to do something about it nationally. 

What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career that you know now?

As I’ve got older, I’ve got wiser and so there’s a continuum that people use, from data to information, to knowledge, to wisdom. It’s unusual to get to that stage and it doesn’t happen all the time, but sometimes I see a situation and I’ve had that experience, so I can make the right decision – so perhaps knowing how to get to that point.  

If you didn’t work in HE, what would have been your chosen career?

I would have continued working in the NHS. 

What are your campus highlights?

I love the library! I find it captivating when you go into the Brotherton Library. I was very lucky to get a personal tour from Masud Khokhar, the University Librarian and Keeper of the Brotherton Collection. He took me all over the building – we did 13,000 steps that day! Masud told me all the history of the Brotherton Library. When it was built, they based it on the British Museum Reading Room, and because it was built by Yorkshire folk, they wanted it to be a little bit bigger in all dimensions than the London one to prove Leeds could do it better! 

I love reading and writing. I’ve written quite a few articles and a couple of chapters during the pandemic, which contributed to a book that’s now in the library – so it’s nice to get to that point. 

Have you found a favourite spot on campus?

When I want a little quiet reflection, I’ll either go into the Brotherton Library or the Laidlaw Library. I like going to the Special Collections and the café in the Parkinson Building to take a bit of time out, have a cup of tea and browse. 

What do you do to relax away from University life?

I like to travel. I like swimming – myself and my partner swim at The Edge twice a week. We’ve recently started doing open water swimming, so in the summertime we went to the Lake District and went out with an instructor. As a woman, and as you get older, something that’s very inspiring and relaxing is feeling at one with nature – it’s cold but invigorating.  

Where’s your favourite travel destination and why?

I love skiing and being in the mountains. I love the Swiss Alps – you feel like you’re on top of the world on a sunny day, when the snow is clear and crisp. That’s my favourite place to be. 

What’s your random claim to fame?

I’ve been running with Dame Kelly Holmes. When I was in the Army, she was a corporal and the physical training instructor, and I was a captain. We were based at Beaconsfield, so twice a year you do Army running tests and she shouted for me to run faster! 

Further information

Check out our past Fifteen to One Q&A features, including:

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