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      Work/life experiences of Brookes’ academics


    Be patient, be tenacious and be hardworking.

    Brigitte Clark is a Senior Lecturer in the Law School at Oxford Brookes University and has been at Oxford Brookes since August 2012.

  • Brigitte, who grew up in Zimbabwe, completed her first Law degree at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa before moving to the UK to study for a master’s degree at Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge. After this short spell in the UK, during which Brigitte had been accompanied by her fiancé, the couple moved back to South Africa to get married.

    Brigitte then spent three years doing her training contract in a law firm in Cape Town where she qualified as a solicitor and conveyancer. However, she found it very challenging working as a practising lawyer under the legal system in South Africa at that time so, when a job came up as a Junior Lecturer at the University of Cape Town, she decided to apply and was appointed as such. This role enabled her to write and research with greater freedom.

    After eight years at the University of Cape Town, she moved back to her old alma mater – Rhodes University. It was during her next nine years at Rhodes University that she was awarded her doctorate, which she completed alongside a full-time teaching and administrative load and bringing up three children.

    Eventually I just sat down and wrote my doctorate in a year after many years of research and trying to write with multiple distractions. I felt a great sense of achievement (although I knew it was far from perfect).

    In the same year, she was awarded a medal for distinguished research at Rhodes University.

    When Brigitte moved back to Rhodes University, she was already a Senior Lecturer at the University of Cape Town, the oldest and one of the best Universities in South Africa. However, the Law Department at Rhodes University only offered her the position at Lecturer level. This was the first time Brigitte had to go back to being a Lecturer, and then reapply for senior lectureship because, as a woman whose husband had secured a job in the area,

    They knew they had me…In fact, I’ve applied for promotion from Lecturer to Senior Lecturer in my life three times. I think I’m probably the only woman who has ever had to do that.

    The third time came when the couple moved to the UK and she was again appointed as Lecturer at the University of East Anglia despite having previously held the post of Associate Professor and Deputy Dean. Unsurprisingly, Brigitte finds that

    There’s a sense of déjà vu when I’m filling in these forms”. Thankfully, when she moved to Oxford Brookes, she didn’t have to go through the same process a fourth time: “that was a great tribute to Oxford Brookes that they didn’t put me back to Lecturer again!

    Moving between different institutions and countries has taught Brigitte a lot.

    I’ve been employed at four different universities and I’ve seen how they all work which I think has been interesting…If there is one thing I have learned from this, it is that you never tell your new university how the previous university used to operate...

    Brigitte loves academia, and has found that it fits well with family life.

    I think academic life is ideal for me…I enjoy the flexibility of it, the academic stimulation. I enjoy seeing students develop and improve. And I enjoy the response from students when you talk about something which is interesting to them. That response is very satisfying.

    She also loves being able to talk about Family Law with other specialists in the field, for example, at conferences. Success for her means successful juggling. She is married to a Headmaster and has three (now adult) children, who still need moral support, so she says:

    I just want to carry on with what I’m doing; being able to support the other members of my family […] I just take one day at a time really. You can’t do everything. You can’t be a perfectionist… As long as I’m doing things as well as I know I can, that’s success.

    It is for this reason, that she looks up to Baroness Hale of Richmond, the President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.

    She manages to juggle all those things successfully and she has a good sense of humour, she doesn’t take herself too seriously. I think she’s a great role model for many girls and women. She’s gone from being an academic to a judge but she still goes to all the academic conferences. I don’t know how she does it!

    Brigitte herself comes from an academic family. Her father was a barrister, solicitor, academic and judge and her mother was a school-teacher and librarian. It is a source of “great pride” to Brigitte that her own daughter has gone on to follow in her footsteps; she is currently starting her own career after qualifying as a solicitor.

    Be patient, be tenacious and hardworking. If you have those qualities, the rewards will come. But there’s a lot of hard work and difficult times before you get to a position where you can really enjoy the fruits of your labour. Also - think carefully about what you want in life.