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      Work/life experiences of Brookes’ academics


    In the day you are a scientist and then you come home and you are this totally different mummy person.

    Dr Katja Graumann is Lecturer in Cell Biology and an Early Career Research Fellow in the Plant Biology group. She has been at Oxford Brookes University since her undergraduate degree in 2001.

  • Katja came to Brookes as a mature student to study for her undergraduate degree in Cell and Human Biology. When she initially moved from Germany to the UK, it was only with the plan to spend a year abroad after her A-levels. However, she started working here as a carer with disabled people and really enjoyed it. A few years on, she realised that she wanted to study, and on hearing from her German friends that all the textbooks were in English, she thought:

    I might as well stay here.

    It was during her undergraduate degree that Katja discovered research, and, after doing some projects in the lab, she fell in love with it. She reflects that being a mature student was an advantage; it meant that she was entirely focused on her studies and as a result got such a good first that she was able to go straight into a PhD without needing a master’s degree.

    Katja did her PhD at Brookes with Professor David Evans, who was a huge support to her. To this day, Katja explains:

    He’s still around and he still mentors me.

    He helped her with how to write grants, how to manage people and they have collaborated and organised conferences together. She feels extremely lucky to have been able to work with someone so supportive at Brookes:

    Through all the stages he helped me to gain the skills, the confidence really pushed me.

    The research from her PhD was so valuable that it enabled her and her supervisor to establish a research group around some of the key data. After her PhD, Katja continued along the research route. She was successful in securing funding for a postdoctoral position and then she went on to win a prestigious Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship which enabled her to establish her own research.

    Katja met her partner in Oxford when she was researching her doctorate. Recently, they have had a child together through IVF and surrogacy and she says that it was a “lucky coincidence” that she was offered her permanent position when the IVF and surrogacy all came together. Now she is in the very fortunate position of being a young mum with a permanent job.

    Katja says that David Evans in particular, and Oxford Brookes more generally, have been very supportive in this process. She describes David and the rest of the cell biology research group as being “very flexible and very supportive” if she had to have a few days off to go to a clinic. And when they had the baby, Brookes was understanding and accommodating and granted her the whole maternity leave, even though it is not a statutory requirement.

    Katja handles the challenges of being a mother and a scientist by being flexible. She has gone back to work on an 0.8 FTE contract which enables her to manage her workload; although she says that she has had to be “quite disciplined with herself” in terms of resisting the pressure that academics face to work over and above their contracted hours. Her partner also works two days a week from home and the couple have a “very good family network”. She also finds it a relief to have a complete break from work when she gets home. She is grateful that her partner is not also a scientist:

    It’s nice to come home and not talk about science and research.

    However, having two such distinct sides to her life brings its own challenges. She says that when she came back from leave:

    It really hit me your two personalities. In the day, you are a scientist and then you come home and you are this totally different mummy person.

    Katja enjoys working with others. She says that being surrounded by young people and students “keeps you young as well” and she also values the difference she can make through teaching and working alongside people:

    Knowing you make a difference in a person’s life, that’s quite nice.

    For this reason, Katja is looking forward to her new role as a lecturer, and says she has compared notes with her mum who herself was a teacher and so has given her some ideas.

    In fact, Katja remembers one undergraduate student who, when she came in, was initially quite nervous and clearly very new to the world of the lab. Now she has gone on to work for the Oxford Fertility Clinic and actually helped Katja and her partner in that part of their life.

    For Katja, success is about research and helping others progress their research. As a result, her advice to anyone starting out is that

    You need to really be driven by the research question or something that interests you and you need to be good working with people: a social and very driven kind of person.