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      Work/life experiences of Brookes’ academics


    I prefer to see opportunities and take them as they come.

    Johnathan (Johnny) Collett is a Research Fellow in Movement Science at Oxford Brookes University.

  • Johnny has been at Oxford Brookes since his undergraduate degree. He initially enrolled on a BA at the University of Northampton, however transferred to Brookes part way through so that he could live at home and continue his hobby, a job as a gardener. Johnny had been a gardener prior to going to university and it is something that he still loves. On completing his undergraduate degree, he initially went back to gardening, however was soon offered a job as a Research Assistant which is what set the academic career in motion. His love of research led to Johnny embarking on a PhD. Johnny never imagined that he would become an academic. Whilst his parents were always extremely supportive, neither of them was from a university background nor was Johnny considered very academic at school. In hindsight, it is clear that this was not because of lack of intelligence but because he was dyslexic; a diagnosis he eventually received at university. Therefore, whilst there was a clue to this academic potential when he did very well in his GCSEs, he did less well at A-Level and so went to college to top them up. It was at college that his talent was really noticed. He says he was lucky to have a particularly supportive tutor who encouraged him to apply for university and to study for his first degree.

    I didn’t see myself as at all academic but they obviously saw it.

    Getting diagnosed as dyslexic, after one of the tutors at Oxford Brookes suggest he get tested, was in many ways a relief:

    Suddenly my bad A-levels made sense […] I just thought I wasn’t academic but it was actually a problem with my writing […] I thought I was clever but I didn’t really understand why I wasn’t getting good grades.

    This enabled him to reconsider his relationship with academia and to gain confidence in his own intelligence. In fact, the diagnosis was a key turning point as otherwise he wouldn’t have taken this career path. The next big turning point came when he was offered a job as a Research Assistant. He says that Professor Helen Dawes, his boss at Brookes:

    Has probably been the biggest influence as she gave me the RA position.

    Johnny is driven by his love of research and the potential to make a difference.

    I do really like research, I like finding out new stuff and I like the fact that ideally the research I’m in can directly help people and improve their lives… Knowing that you’re trying to make a difference is rewarding.

    There are some aspects of academia that he finds challenging: the instability of an early research career - and for him personally - conferences and the focus on public speaking which can be hard with his dyslexia. However, on the other hand, he takes great satisfaction in achieving publications and grants.

    Johnny is married with a two-year-old son. He says that he was extremely lucky in that he got a permanent contract at the same time that he started his family. Family life is extremely important to him and he takes a lot of responsibility for his son. As a result, he has found that he has altered his work to best accommodate the two:

    Having a son made a big difference in terms of having to make compromises. Suddenly you have to fit everything around your son’s timings.

    Johnny thinks that it is important to balance what is important in the present, as a husband and father, with more future-oriented career ambitions. Hence, he says that

    Success is a feeling of contentment

    - adding that to feel content you need to be achieving. So, it’s balancing a sense of progression without losing sight of what is valuable in the present. Advancement is important for him career-wise, but not to the extent that it comes at the cost of a work-life balance.

    Meeting those responsibilities at home yet being able to put enough into your career that you are progressing. There’s always going to be some conflict between work and home, sometimes you have to prioritise one over the other.

    Johnny has never set out with a clear plan, preferring to be open to opportunities as they present themselves:

    I prefer to see opportunities and take them as they come.

    Only do it if you really want to do it. Your motivations have got to be right and you have to really want to do it; so it’s not about prestige but about passion.