RNCM Principal: A Day in the Life

Professor Linda Merrick, Principal
A Day in the Life: Monday 17 October 2022

Linda MerrickThe role of Principal of the RNCM is a real privilege but brings huge responsibilities. There’s no textbook telling you how to do the job, so you can only draw on the experience of those in the role before you and holding similar positions home and overseas.

No-one tells you that it can be both incredibly interactive and social, but also pretty lonely when you are tasked to make difficult or unpopular decisions for the greater good of the institution now and into the future. You can’t socialise with colleagues in the way you would in other roles, as you are always on duty, whether you are in the building, working for the College externally, or even out and about doing your shopping!

At a time when we need to work within serious financial and human resource constraints, and through a time of unprecedented political and economic uncertainty – let alone through a global pandemic – the magnitude of responsibility can at times become almost overwhelming. The role, however, requires you to rise above the day-to-day challenges and concerns, empower and support colleagues and give them the confidence they need to flourish in their roles. Above all else, they need to know that they work for an amazing institution that is well-led and in which they are respected and trusted for the invaluable contributions they make.

When people ask me what I do, it’s really tricky to answer, as every day is different and presents a new set of challenges and opportunities. It can be difficult for others to see what is going on ‘behind the scenes’. The following is therefore a snapshot of a typical Monday and gives an insight into what the job of a Principal involves:


Early rise and a quick check of emails for anything urgent from the day before. There is a report of a suspected security incident close to the College over the weekend that resulted in us needing to evoke the Emergency Planning and Response procedure to keep everyone safe, so I need to thank those who were in charge and check everything is now resolved. There are some nice reviews of performance activities and some diary appointments to confirm and book in. Also some sets of papers for internal meetings and the Halle Board Awayday I am attending later in the week.

8 – 8.30am
Short clarinet warm-up.

8.30 – 9am
Read the latest version of WonkHE, the Higher Education sector’s weekly news bulletin. This contains a summary of strategic issues linked to useful articles and is an important source of information on sector updates for any Principal or Vice-Chancellor. Whilst the RNCM is a conservatoire, it is also a highly regulated publicly-funded higher education institution, treated the same as any large multi-discipline university, so it is critical we keep abreast of what is going on across the whole sector.

Informal online meeting with the Deputy Principals, Director of Finance and Clerk to the Board of Governors to agree priorities and run through the week ahead. The Director of Finance gives an update on the wider economic situation and changes that might affect us, the Deputy Principal (Operations) updates on capital projects and the Deputy Principal (Performance and Programmes) and I agree who is going to cover which events during Sally Beamish’s composer In Focus residency, as both of us will be out of the building this week working off site on different days.

10 – 10.30am
Drive into work, having avoided the worst of the traffic and fitted in as much as I can in advance. Make a couple of work calls on route from the car to save time later.

10.30 – 11am
The emails are building up – it is normal to receive over 150 per day. Catch up with my EA to go through the diary, check my post, discuss upcoming meetings and events and deal with pressing issues. I then clear as much of my inbox as I can. Early emails include invitations to City events, requests for information from overseas partners, updates on last week’s staffing appointments and ongoing correspondence relating to the Jersey Young Musician of the Year competition inviting RNCM staff to act as jury members.

11am – 12pm
Chair the ‘Executive Roundtable’; a new informal forum when Executive colleagues each raise one key issue that is top of their priority list to share and discuss with peers. This is proving a really useful mechanism to ensure everyone is up-to-speed with institutional priorities, progress business, encourage collaboration and manage workload peaks and troughs. It complements the formal Executive Committee meetings we have every month.


12 – 12.30pm
A 1:1 meeting with the Director of Development to discuss upcoming events, including our London fund-raiser and an event coming up later in the week, some of the larger-scale plans in train and review guest lists.

12.30 – 1.15pm
A quick coffee in the café, including a walk around the College to speak to colleagues and students and drop in on teams prior to the lunchtime concert.

1.15 – 2pm
Lunchtime concert and an opportunity to meet and greet Sally Beamish and her husband

2 – 2.30pm
Weekly meeting with the SU President to discuss any issues students are facing and hear about her plans for the week. We talk about the Underrepresented event on Tuesday evening which I will be attending and how we can make the most of this important occasion.

2.30 – 3pm
A briefing for the new Principal of LAMDA, who will be joining his first Conservatoires UK Board meeting in London on Wednesday. I have been the Chair of Conservatoires UK for 6 years now, so have a leadership responsibility for the network of 11 conservatoires who are now members, including inducting new members of the group.

3 – 3.30pm
Meeting with the Policy Advisor for Conservatoires UK to go through the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting and ensure everything is in place.

3.30 – 4.20pm
Read my papers for the Halle Board Awayday on Tuesday and the Conservatoires UK Board in London on Wednesday, which I am Chairing. Contact a couple of my fellow Principals informally to expedite business on the day. Draft a reference for a student’s visa and for a member of staff and deal with the remaining day-to-day business in my inbox- staffing issues, more invitations to City events and contact from current and potential partners in our overseas networks, briefing notes for events, updates on key developments in the sector, notification of meeting dates in Manchester and London etc.

4.20 – 5pm
Drive home, making a couple of work calls to colleagues on route


5 – 6pm
Weekly online meeting with the Greater Manchester Vice-Chancellors’ Network

6 – 7pm
An hour’s clarinet practice!

7 – 8pm

Clear my inbox – I never leave more than 10 emails there at the close of the day, and these have been opened and left as a reminder, or because I can’t address them immediately.

Close of the day after a pretty tiring but pretty normal Monday!

3 November 2022