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      MAKING A DIFFERENCE

      Work/life experiences of Brookes’ academics

  • CAROL'S STORY

    For me success is being able to achieve something you were aiming for and are happy to achieve.

    Carol Brown is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology and Education at Oxford Brookes University. She joined Oxford Brookes in 2016, while she was completing her DPhil at the University of Oxford.


  • Carol’s first degree was in Psychology from Royal Holloway, University of London. After graduating, she undertook a master’s degree in Social Studies. She initially trained as a mental health social worker before working in the field for about five years. When Carol started her family, she retrained as a psychology teacher, seeking a job that she felt would fit in with family life. At this time, she also did some research projects and wrote textbooks. However, as her children started to grow up, she wanted to transition from being an A-level teacher into academia because she enjoys “the academic demands of research”. Although her background was in psychology, Carol was offered a DPhil place at the University of Oxford doing education research. She says she sort of

    Fell into that… I wouldn’t have thought of doing education.

    But she soon realised that her skills could be applied in a different area. Thus, she began her DPhil in Education in 2012. At this point, her children were going from primary to secondary school.

    That meant there was more flexibility in terms of not needing to be around all the time. It also meant that I was able to work during the day while they were at school. That made it quite a good transition at that time.

    However, Carol was soon faced with the challenges of combining multiple roles, as she had also taken on a research assistant job to support her studies. This meant that she was effectively doing three jobs:

    It was quite challenging to split myself against work and doing a DPhil and being a mum. That was quite challenging in terms of the number of hours available.

    Moving to Oxford Brookes, she was pleasantly surprised with how accommodating the University is around childcare considerations.

    I think that Brookes are particularly good. I was particularly struck when I came for interview and they said we’ll ring you later but obviously not around three o’clock. So, there was that automatic assumption that of course you wouldn’t be around at three in contrast to the assumption that you should be…I think the inherent assumption is that you can do both [your job and childcare] adequately and that is fine.

    Carol was the first in her family to go to university. She laughs:

    I come from a working-class non-academic background so to go to university was quite radical; to do a PhD is considered an alternative to having to get a proper job!

    Her husband and children have been extremely supportive throughout her DPhil, which she feels has now paid off, as being in academia gives her more flexibility than when she was a teacher. She is able to work part-time and, in contrast to teaching, values being able to manage her own workload. Carol’s longstanding desire to enter academia has proved fulfilling. She says that one of her biggest achievements was being able to get this job at Oxford Brookes:

    That felt like a big achievement and made me feel like my professional background had been a benefit in itself.

    And she is extremely happy in it:

    I love most things about my career and lifestyle: I love the demands, I love academia, I love the debates.

    For Carol, the most important thing career-wise, is being happy in the job she is in and feeling like she can benefit students. Success for her is:

    Being able to achieve something that was your aim or your goal. And therefore that’s my priority when I’m teaching the students: everyone comes from a different place and what is achievable for some is not for others. So, for me, success is being able to achieve something you were aiming for and are happy to achieve.

    Looking ahead, she wants to carry out more research and more outreach work, using her knowledge and skills in a more practical way:

    To use my research background in academia to aid people beyond the academic community.

    You have to be self-disciplined, make sure you’ve got a good support network and I would say choose your institution carefully… Despite the fact that lots of people will tell you how hard it is: if you want to do it, do it!