Dr Catherine Paxton

Bodley Fellow

It seems incredible, now, to think that the post of Senior Tutor was ever a part-time job. However, that was indeed the case until 2003, when Dr Catherine Paxton was appointed as the College’s first full-time Senior Tutor. It’s fair to say that the College has never looked back.

Although new to Merton when she first took up the role in 2003, Catherine was no stranger to Merton Street. She had spent her undergraduate years at Corpus Christi, studying History, and stayed on at Corpus for her DPhil, also in Modern History.

After her DPhil, Catherine left academia for the world of the NHS, where she rose to become an NHS Trust Director. Then in 2003 came the creation of a new full-time position at Merton. As she puts it, "Merton took a gamble by recruiting an NHS general manager as its first full-time Senior Tutor."

She found the change of environment a rewarding one. "After my experience of constant reorganisations and contracting out, Merton's longevity and bespoke provision were balm to the soul." Catherine also says she found it hugely exciting to be a pioneer in the role, in which she sought "to professionalise the College's support to students with disabilities, to enhance the welcome and induction for new Fellows, and to encourage a serious commitment to equality and diversity." 

She spent five years in the role. Then, after a two-year spell as a Senior Project Consultant to the central University and a year with her family in Boston, Massachusetts, she returned to Merton in 2011, once more as Senior Tutor.

She stayed a further three years, until 2014, clocking up a total of eight years as Senior Tutor. Then in 2015, she again took up a position at central University. This time the appointment was as Director of Student Welfare and Support Services, where she was responsible for the Counselling Service, Disability Advisory Service, and for leading on student health and welfare across the collegiate university – enlarging on the work she had developed in these areas at Merton.

And then change came again. In Catherine’s words, "I was thoroughly enjoying this position but when a Divisional Registrar vacancy arose in the Social Sciences Division, I knew I needed to explore such a rare opportunity." In this role, she worked as operational partner to the academic Head of Division and led the professional services team in the divisional office to provide an effective interface between the fourteen Social Sciences departments and the central university. She says she frequently drew on the insights she gained at Merton into what it means to sustain excellence.

Catherine greatly values her links with Merton, and the College values its links with Catherine: she was made a Merton Bodley Fellow in 2020. And now, having left her University position in March, she is exploring options for a new career based on her lifelong interest in food, with plans to undertake the Ballymaloe Cookery School as soon as Covid permits. We cannot wait to see where this new venture takes her.

Merton & Me

Thinking of the first day you walked through the Merton Lodge arch, what was your first impression?

The sight was quite familiar from undergraduate visits to my friend Kate whom I met when we were both producing garden Shakespeare plays in the Trinity term of our second year.  But the feelings I experienced in 2003 were a heady mix of excitement, trepidation, and amazement that I had been entrusted with such a significant role in the College.

Do you have a particular memory that stands out from your time at Merton?

I loved eating a chunk of the College when it was rendered in cake for the 750th Anniversary and, for once, everyone was allowed on the grass in Fellows Quad for the most amazing tea.

Tell us something about yourself that we would not know.

The most outstanding sporting achievements of my life (so far) have been egg-and-spoon race victories in the first and final years of primary school.

What tips would you give your younger self to prepare for the career you have achieved?

No experience is wasted: I have been amazed at what I could subsequently draw from what seemed like a dead end at the time.

Describe Merton in three words.

Charged with purpose.

Dr Catherine Paxton and Dr Jane Gover in conversation

Dr Jane Gover, Fellow & Senior Tutor at Merton since May 2020, and a former colleague of Catherine from her days in the University’s Social Sciences Division, had a conversation with her about her career, her time at Merton, and more.