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      Work/life experiences of Brookes’ academics


    Success is about having that belief in yourself and a drive that keeps you focused on what you want to do and to get it done.

    Dr Esra Kurul is Reader in the School of the Built Environment. She joined Brookes in 2004.
  • Esra trained as an architect in Turkey. She was working as a research assistant alongside studying for her master’s degree at Middle East Technical University in Ankara, when her friend encouraged her to sit a second exam to see if she could get a scholarship for a master’s degree at the University of York. Esra was initially reluctant, having sat the exam the previous year and been unsuccessful:

    I hate failing and I framed that as failing.

    However, thanks to the encouragement of her friend she went for it and won the scholarship. Not planning to stay in the UK for a long time, Esra left Turkey without much hesitation:

    There was a bit of a moment when I was questioning what I was doing as the flight took off from Ankara. But until that point I had no questions about what I was doing.

    Esra’s love of travel gave her the confidence to move:

    I have always loved travelling and getting exposed to new places, new cultures and meeting people.

    Her master’s degree was extremely international and she loved this.

    However, when the master’s degree offered the opportunity of being extended to a PhD, Esra took it - deciding to move to London where she completed her PhD at the prestigious Bartlett School of Graduate Studies at UCL. Upon completion, Esra took on a role as a Research Fellow at Glasgow Caledonian University for 16 months before taking her appointment here at Brookes in 2004.
    Esra is married with two young daughters. She met her husband, a physicist, in 2006 and the young couple spent a few years together, travelling and enjoying life in Oxford, before subsequently starting a family. Their encounter came at a very lucky time; having spent ten years in the UK, Esra was wondering whether it was time to move back to Turkey and if she hadn’t met her husband when she did, she may have done so. Now Esra is managing a young family alongside her career:

    We have two careers to look after as well as two beautiful children to look after, and ourselves to look after.

    However, Esra is lucky that the flexibility of her husband’s job enables Esra to focus on hers:

    I have a very, very supportive husband. He’s prepared to give my professional needs a priority over his own…I don’t think without him I would have managed.

    Additionally, Esra finds that the flexibility of her job helps her manage to maintain both aspects of her life - that she can work at home a couple of days a week if she needs to.

    The couple are also fortunate because, despite both parents living far away- her husband’s are in Northumberland - they have a close support network of international friends that they made through the children’s nursery.

    I feel sometimes we have this pseudo-family network.

    The couple make sure that they take the opportunity to visit parents in Turkey or Northumberland during holiday time. Esra says her parents are very supportive of her decision to move to the UK, despite the fact that it was difficult for them because she was leaving home and the country all at once. But Esra is still extremely close to them:

    They are still my rock and a big part of my life, I love spending quality time with them and so do the girls.

    Esra loves the flexibility and stimulation that comes from academia; the “ability to keep an inquisitive mind”. Moreover, in comparison to Turkey, there is much more job security for academics in the UK. For her, the highlights pertain to both her own research and enabling students’ research: “winning external funding for research” as well as

    The feeling that comes from students who come with very little confidence in their ability to do research or write a dissertation and you work with them over a period of time and they get a distinction quite unexpectedly. Or, somebody turns up at your door, just before they leave to go back to their country and tells you how much input you made to their experience at Brookes. Not necessarily a big event, but those small points. The highlights are both helping a student to reach their capacity and academic recognition.

    The most important thing for Esra career-wise is making a practical impact:

    Leaving my stamp in the field that I work in through my research. I really want that research to be applied in practical situations.

    For her, success is about

    Being able to set yourself goals and to achieve them and not being held back or set back by systems or the institutional environment. Having that belief in yourself and a drive that keeps you focused on what you want to do and to get it done.

    Be single minded about what you want to achieve, set yourself career targets and try to stick to them as much as possible. And be a bit selfish, if you can. You need to put your effort into what’s going to get you where you want to be.