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      Work/life experiences of Brookes’ academics


    Different perspectives are fun. You learn a lot from your colleagues.

    Tim Shreeve is a Professor of Conservation Ecology and has been at Oxford Brookes since he joined in 1982 as a PhD student.

  • Tim's love for invertebrate ecology and conservation goes way back to his childhood. He says that his grandfather, who used to be the Keeper of Entomology at the Natural History Museum, was his inspiration.

    He got me enthused, wandering around with a butterfly net when I was 10-11. He got me really interested in the natural world.

    Ever since then, Tim's passion for biology was cemented. However, after graduating in Biology from the University of Sussex, he didn't initially know what he wanted to do. It wasn't until two years later that he went on study for an MSc at the University of Essex to pursue his love for biology. It was at this point that he developed his passion for research and became certain that he wanted to move into academia. At this time, he recalls that he was fortunate because some of his grandfather’s colleagues were still around, so Tim was able to talk and engage with them. It was in 1982, a year after completing the MSc, that Tim came to Brookes to begin his PhD. He then spent some time between part-time teaching, temporary contracts and consultancy work before he applied for and was appointed to the role of lecturer. This was an ideal role for Tim because, alongside his love of research, he values teaching, which he describes as:

    Encouraging the next generation enormously.

    Tim has three children aged between 12 and 18 with his wife Deborah, a colleague in the Biology department at Brookes. He jokes:

    We used to be the gossip. It was like are they aren't they...Yes they are!

    He feels that the combination of academic flexibility, and the fact that they both work at the same institution has made juggling children with high profile careers fairly easy. Although he does quip that when his first child was born.

    We were actually quite lucky because I broke my Achilles tendon so I was homebound when she was two months old. So I wasn’t coming into work for a month which made things very easy for Deborah. But I don’t recommend breaking your Achilles tendon.

    However, whilst the flexibility of academia makes juggling children with a career possible, the other side of this is that occasionally he'll find himself working at two in the morning.

    But the understanding is that we are professionals and you will get things done as you need to get them done; there’s an expectation that everybody lives up to.

    Tim credits his colleagues at other institutions with supporting his career. He says of Professor Roger Dennis, a colleague from Staffordshire University:

    We fire ideas off each other, which is actually quite good.

    He also has an international network of colleagues and he finds having these external links very important for supporting his career:

    Different perspectives are fun. You learn a lot from your colleagues.

    Reflecting on his research success, Tim says:

    You never know what you’re going to find out. You have to go with the opportunities.

    Nonetheless, as with all academics, Tim has had his fair share of pursuing avenues that ultimately don't work. However, he takes a positive approach to these and is of the opinion that

    Blind alleys are part of research, you learn from them.

    The most important thing for Tim career-wise is research and he feels infinitely lucky that what was once his hobby is now his profession: “it is absolutely, I'll use the word, ‘wonderful’”. He takes great pride in his appointments, reflecting that becoming a Professor “actually gave me a wonderful feeling.” He credits the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Alistair Fitt, with being extremely encouraging in helping him to achieve this. The intellectual rewards of his research outputs are the highlight of his job, and linked to this, the respect that he receives from his colleagues and the fact that he has built up an international reputation, which he says “has just happened”. He also really values what ex-students go on to do:

    You see what some of your old students are up to and you think actually I've had a bit of an input into that. It's great. It’s about encouraging that next generation.

    Despite his international acclaim, and being a highly respected scientist in his field, Tim says that the biggest thing for him is having three children. He defines success as being happy, being content.