• HSS Banner


      Work/life experiences of Brookes’ academics


    I just love the university environment… it’s the place I feel comfortable and happy.

    Joanne Begiato is a Professor of History and Head of the Department of History, Philosophy and Culture. She joined Brookes in 2005 from Murray Edwards College, University of Cambridge.

  • It wasn’t until Joanne was an undergraduate at the University of Durham that she realised it was possible to have a life as an academic. She recalls that although the allure of academia struck her, she was initially thinking along the more ‘practical’ lines of pursuing law. Playing down her immense talent and dedication, she says it was the good luck of getting funding for a PhD, and “naivety” that led her to apply for the prestigious Junior Research Fellowship (JRF) at Merton College, Oxford, both of which have helped her reach where she is now. A number of people have played important roles in this journey. Both her PhD supervisor and the academic who was initially going to supervise her have been mentors who helped in the early stages of her career. Meanwhile, whilst Joanne, being extremely self-motivated, has never had role models per se, she says she looks up to Professor Anne-Marie Kilday at Brookes, who she sees as

    A relatively young woman who has achieved a great deal and continues to do a lot in several aspects of academic life.

    It was during Joanne’s JRF that her son was born. As the first female Fellow to have a baby at Merton, she discovered that there were no provisions for her to put the research fellowship on hold or to extend it. Therefore, although she was able to take two terms’ maternity leave, this had to come out of the fellowship and she essentially managed to do in two years the work that most people would do in three.

    During this period, Joanne’s mother, who had recently retired, was an immense support. Without her, Joanne says she would have been caught in the bind of having to make difficult decisions between her career and being a mother, and would probably have gone part-time.
    It is clear that Joanne’s absolute passion is her research and she sets herself extremely high expectations:

    Success for me as an individual means excellent reviews, lots of publications and for people to be talking about my research.

    When asked what she enjoys most about her job, she says:

    The sheer joy of being able to write, of being able to do research on things that I find so interesting. Being able to follow those things up, not having to start in one place and do that forever. Being able to start on marital conflict and end up by working on emotional objects and you know masculinities now… You just get to think creatively. That’s what I love about the job. And I just love the university environment. I’m one of those people that probably if I hadn’t been an academic I would have stayed in academia. I love the feel of the University… It’s the only place I feel comfortable and happy.

    The highlights of her career have been related to her research: achieving a first as an undergraduate, getting a book contract from her PhD, and winning a Leverhulme Research Fellowship for her second book. And, looking forward, she wants this recognition of her research to continue:

    Really what I would like is to be respected for my research... To be doing real, cutting edge research. I would like some more books by the end of my career and I’d like those books to be really well reviewed. Just to carry on doing the best research I can, that’s what I would like.

    Joanne has recently got re-married to a historian who works at Roehampton University and she loves the fact that they can talk about their ideas and sometimes work at home alongside each other.

    I’m very lucky because my husband is a historian, we can actually sit at a weekend at the same desk, working on our respective things.

    In fact, now that her son has started an A-level in history, the family home is an intensely stimulating space:

    We have conversations at the weekend when he’s doing an essay and we’re all talking about this stuff. For me that is just wonderful.

    Despite her passion for discussing history at any time of the day, Joanne is clear that at this point in her life, now that she has achieved so much, her family comes first.

    I will not now work into the evenings. I’m always mindful that you need to have a balance.

    And this also includes congratulating herself on things that aren’t typical markers of success:

    You should be prepared to acknowledge when you do well in those everyday situations.

    She is also gaining a lot from her role as Head of Department and enjoys being able to facilitate her School and colleagues in achieving their best.

    Whatever the pressure of a PhD, try to focus on fulfilling what you want to get out of it.