After Heriot’s Blog

Next on the blog we have Sophie Patterson

Please get in touch if you wish to share your story ‘after Heriot’s’.

Sophie Patterson, Class of 2009

headshot of sophie patterson

What is your current role?

I’m an International Projects Officer for the University of Edinburgh, based in their School of Biological Sciences (SBS). I manage international projects for SBS, which includes things like research collaborations with other universities abroad, and running summer schools in the area of Science and Engineering for visiting international students. The main project I work on is a partnership with a new biotechnology university in India, which the University of Edinburgh has started in collaboration with their state government. This involves sending our faculty to India to teach, hosting students from India in our labs, and everything from recruiting professors to choosing a university logo! Some of the key elements of the role are organisation, good communication, and cultural sensitivity. I’m looking forward to my first visit to the new university this spring.

What was your journey to get there?

Like for many people, my journey to this role was not planned, but it all makes sense in hindsight. When I left Heriot’s, I thought I might like to work for the civil service, the UN, or an international think tank. I went to study Modern History at St Andrews, but soon switched to International Relations and Social Anthropology. I was keen to travel afterwards and have some adventures, and went to teach English in a high school for one year in Japan through the JET Programme. After a brief interlude doing Alumni Relations at a boarding school near London, the next adventure was in the USA, studying for a Master’s in Non-profit Management at the University of Oregon. While studying, I worked as a Graduate Teaching Fellow in the university’s international office coordinating an amazing scholarship and service programme for students all over the world called ICSP, and this paid my tuition and living expenses. Working closely with inspiring students, I realised my passion was in promoting cross-cultural education and exchange, rather than the fundraising or alumni side of universities. When I returned to Edinburgh in 2018, I worked at Edinburgh Napier University recruiting students from Canada and the USA, and enjoyed many road trips across the two countries for work. I finally started my current role in late 2022.

What are your achievements?

I’m very grateful to have found a career path where I can use my strengths and skills, while also contributing to something I believe in. Striking this balance has been a real process over the last ten years. International education is changing in the light of many factors like the pandemic, geopolitical shifts and climate change, but the importance of the soft power or international collaboration and research remains. Working directly with international students in Oregon who overcome so much to earn their degrees was very fulfilling, and now I’m delighted to be behind the scenes facilitating intercultural understanding more indirectly. Personally, I’m also proud to be a mum to a wonderful toddler – and managing to balance this with work and travel (just about).

What are your favourite memories of Heriot’s?

Many of my closest friends are from Heriot’s and it’s the people and the teachers who stay with you. For me, Heriot’s was a place you could be yourself, explore new ideas about who that might be, and be inspired by the achievements and the kindness of the students around me. It was also a place to re-enact trench warfare in Mr McCabe’ history classroom, dissect Disney’s Hercules in Mrs Jennings’ Latin cupboard, and start writing poems with Mr Wyllie and Mr Simpson in the English tower. The history trip to Berlin and Duke of Edinburgh expeditions have stuck with me… I also remember plenty of pranks, playground idiocy and ‘general horseplay’ on the lawns when Mr Dickson wasn’t around.

Any top tips for current pupils when planning their future?

Not everyone knows what they want to do when they leave school (I would probably try clinical psychology if I had to go back and do it again), so just take it one step at a time and work hard to proactively explore your strengths and your passions. Almost everyone is figuring it out as they go along, so try to have the confidence at uni to join things, lead things, and start things, and don’t second guess yourself. Spend some time really thinking about what makes you unique and what comes naturally to you – they might not be qualities that you can list on a C.V. or personal statement, but recognising them will help you find a really good fit. Leave some time in your 20s to just explore and make mistakes you can learn from. Sit in the discomfort of what my friend calls the PUWYs (Post University Wilderness Years) and don’t rush to eliminate uncertainty. And finally, don’t worry too much about ‘changing the world’ – build expertise in an areas you enjoy and you will hopefully a discover how you can really contribute later down the road.