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      MAKING A DIFFERENCE

      Work/life experiences of Brookes’ academics

  • ANA'S STORY

    I’ve got a number of angels who are part of my career journey.

    Dr Ana Souza is a Senior Lecturer in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and Applied Linguistics at Oxford Brookes University. She started her career in Education as an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teacher in Brazil, before moving to the UK where she completed an MA and a PhD, switching to teach ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) as well as Portuguese to children as a heritage language.

  • Ana initially wanted to be a speech therapist. However, after learning English alongside her mainstream education, she fell into a career in teaching when she was offered a job as an EFL teacher. Ana went on to study translation at university and upon graduation got a job as a civil servant to work on translations for the post office in Brazil. Instead of pursuing this path, she made a big leap - both for her career and geographically, and accepted a place on an MA studying English Language Teaching at Thames Valley University (now the University of West London).

    At this stage, Ana did not have a career ‘plan’ and envisaged returning to Brazil to continue teaching EFL. However, during her master’s degree she became involved with complementary schools - voluntary organisations which exist to support mother tongue learning in the UK. Ana became so interested in these organisations that she decided to research them, resulting in her staying in the UK to embark on a PhD.

    Ana has been lucky enough to have what she describes as “a number of angels” who have been part of her career journey, including her MA supervisor and the academic who gave her a PhD place at the University of Southampton. She feels that she has been very fortunate,

    Always having someone who identified with me as a person, as a professional, taking me by my hand and guiding me to what I need to do next.

    Having this type of support has been particularly important for Ana due to the challenges of navigating the system as an international student. Similarly, she has found the ‘buddy system’ – where a colleague volunteers to offer friendly support to a new member of staff - at Oxford Brookes University very useful. Ana’s ethnicity and nationality have also played a very positive part in her career; she has links to both Brazilian and UK academic networks and her research is informed by both.

    Ana finds the biggest challenge of her career to be managing the uncertainty in higher education that comes with not having a permanent contract. On the one hand, she feels very lucky that since her PhD, ten years ago, she has always worked in higher education. However, she explains that she has always been on temporary contracts, sometimes multiple contracts at different universities, which is very stressful. With each new job, there is the pressure to make an impression so that they might extend your contract.

    However, she appreciates the flexibility of the research aspect of her job, and the fact that you can often work remotely. “I do a lot of work from home.” She says that Oxford Brookes University has been very good at accommodating a flexible approach to work.

    It has been very easy to negotiate when I teach, when I come for meetings, when I work from home. Obviously, I’m also very good in terms of keeping an eye on the emails, replying, doing Skype supervisions or even meetings over the phone. So being flexible from my part as well.

    Ana feels grateful that her family were so supportive of her decision to move overseas. She says that they encouraged her to pursue her career here, and make sure that she never feels compromised when there are family issues back home. 
    Ana met her husband in the UK before she started her PhD and she says that he has been very supportive, especially during the stressful time when she was writing her thesis. He has always been understanding in giving her the time and space she needs to pursue the work that she does. 
    It’s very important for Ana to make a difference and so she finds the research she does very rewarding because it has a practical application.

    It’s very practical in terms of the impact it has. It really has a social impact. So it’s nice to see that whatever I’m doing in academia or behind closed doors I actually manage to transfer that into social action.

    She also enjoys seeing students develop: “it’s nice to see the progress. It’s rewarding to see that you’re part of that.” Career-wise, doing something she likes is the most important. Looking forward she says that she hopes to get a permanent position, so she has more security and can do longer research projects - there are certain projects that she can’t do because her contracts are temporary. Otherwise “I’m already doing everything I like to do”.

    Success is not about money or titles, but what you can see happening as a result of your work.