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      MAKING A DIFFERENCE

      Work/life experiences of Brookes’ academics

  • BRIDGET'S STORY

    When people asked me when I was 18 what I wanted to do in the future and I said: I want to go to university, I want to do a PhD and I want to go and do research.

    Bridget Durning is a Senior Lecturer in the School of the Built Environment at Oxford Brookes University. Bridget is an experienced sustainability consultant and has worked in both research and consultancy in the public and private sectors for over 25 years. Bridget joined Brookes on a research project in 2000 and has held different posts in the University ever since.
  • Upon graduating from the University of Liverpool with a BSc in Geology, Bridget was awarded a place to study for a PhD in Geology at the University of Exeter. Bridget found that she loved the academic world but felt that it was not a good time to enter her field. Academic geology, she says, was in flux - it wasn’t a buoyant subject and there few jobs. Thus, on completion of her PhD she went to work in consultancy, as a geologist in the field for a company called Wimpey Environmental.

    Her first career move came when her husband’s work saw the couple move from London to the North West. Seeing an advert in The Guardian for someone to join a unit within the local authority on the environmental side of things, Bridget decided to apply and was successful. Bridget found this transition from the private to the public side of environmental issues

    Interesting because you felt like you were making a difference to people’s lives.

    Her role involved using her geology knowledge to provide expert advice.

    A few years later, her husband’s job saw them return to Oxford and Bridget went back to work for Wimpey. However, with hindsight returning to her old firm was not the best move: “never go back” she reflects, as she found that her newly acquired skills weren’t taken advantage of. When the company was sold and relocated, she decided it was time for another move. She was also pregnant with her first child and so wanted less of a commute. However, she said that it took her five years from deciding she wanted a different job to find one that she wanted to apply for.

    The job that met her aspirations was the role in which she was first employed at Brookes: managing a big research project. This role was in many ways the perfect synthesis of Bridget’s career experiences. Moreover, she had always hoped to work in academia:

    When people asked me when I was 18 what I wanted to do in the future and I said: I want to go to university, I want to do a PhD and I want to go and do research.

    So I always had that thought at the back of my mind; this is always something I wanted to do. Her move to Brookes thus enabled her to combine her knowledge and experience (now much expanded beyond just geology) with the interest and desire to develop a career within academia.

    During her time at Brookes she said she made the most of opportunities that came to her. Despite not being appointed to an academic role, she talked to colleagues about teaching in environmental management, and took on research and teaching opportunities as they came. Thus, over her time at Brookes she has always had positions that combine a variety of different responsibilities:

    I’ve never had a role where I’m purely an academic. I’ve always had roles where there is some administrative support within them.

    Her current role involves teaching, research and she is also research ethics officer for the Faculty of Technology, Design and Environment.

    Bridget enjoys having a positive impact on people’s lives and likes the opportunities that are afforded for this in the University. She finds that, like with local authorities, in a university you feel like you are making a difference to people’s lives. She says that in contrast to the private sector, which is client focused, at Brookes you can help people. For this reason, she finds her role as faculty ethics officer immensely rewarding, as she can help other staff as well as students. Bridget also values the autonomy of the academic environment. She enjoys the flexibility it offers and being able to manage your own workload.
    Bridget’s highlights relate to influential research that she has produced with colleagues. She says about the first paper she had published, which she wrote with her colleague at Brookes, Professor Alan Jenkins, and which is still one of the most popular papers on the topic, “I think that’s been quite a highlight.” Again, reflecting on a further result of collaboration with colleagues, an edited book on environmental assessment and management, which has been extremely popular and has now been translated into Chinese, Bridget comments understatedly: “that was quite good".

    Whilst neither of Bridget’s parents went to university, her father was influential on her academic interests.

    My dad worked on building sites. That’s why I went into Geology.

    Bridget is now married to an environmental scientist and she says that their careers complement each other; they work together collaborating on research opportunities.

    Their co-operation extends to their family life as well. In order to ensure that the distribution of childcare and household responsibilities is equitable,

    I would plan out the whole year to ensure that, for example, they are both picking their daughter up the same number of times: “he knew where he should be and I knew where I should be.

    Make the most of opportunities that come your way to gain knowledge and experience and develop your skill set. It may mean it takes longer to achieve your goals and aims in life, but they can give you a more interesting journey getting there.