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      Work/life experiences of Brookes’ academics


    Have confidence in yourself!

    Catherine Dilnot is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Accounting, Finance and Economics at Oxford Brookes University. She started at Oxford Brookes in 1991, and has had various part-time roles since.

  • After graduating with a degree in Physics from the University of Oxford, Catherine took on a job at KPMG where she qualified as a chartered accountant. She spent eight years at the firm, during which she got married and had a child, before shifting careers entirely and taking up a job at Oxford Brookes.

    Her move to Oxford Brookes was the fortunate result of an encounter with a former Professor in the Business School, Laura Spira. The pair met at the launch of the Oxford Office of KPMG where Laura, herself an ex-KPMG accountant, encouraged Catherine to teach at Oxford Brookes as a guest lecturer.

    This meeting came at a good time; Catherine had been considering moving into a role that would enable her to spend more time with her young family. She felt that teaching was a more interesting prospect than the part-time work she was offered at KPMG so when she heard that there were some part-time jobs available at Brookes, and was subsequently appointed as a senior lecturer on a half time contract, she was delighted:

    It was great and it was compatible with family life.

    Catherine had a year off when her second daughter was born and when she came back to work, had to look after her elder daughter who was unwell at the time. She dropped her hours and became an associate (hourly) lecturer for a few years.

    It was interesting but part-time and flexible which was a great joy really. I have felt incredibly lucky at Brookes that Brookes has been so flexible.

    This flexibility also enabled her to do voluntary work which she finds extremely rewarding. She has brought her voluntary experience into her course at Oxford Brookes, establishing the ACES scheme (Accounting for Community: Engaging Students) where students can provide accounting and bookkeeping services to local charities in their second year.

    Whilst Catherine was initially inclined towards teaching, the balance slowly shifted towards research. It was when Professor Laura Spira, a key figure in Catherine’s career, alerted her to the fact that the Institute of Chartered Accountants wanted someone to conduct some research into gender and access to the profession that Catherine realised this was what she was interested in:

    This made me realise I was more interested in who did what and why…I did that and loved it.

    As a result, she decided to pursue a research career and took a year out of teaching to do a master’s degree in research methods at the London School of Economics. She says this was:

    The really big turning point which was to upskill to be able to do quantitative research properly.

    Now Catherine is back teaching at Brookes, but also pursuing a part-time PhD at the University College London’s Institute of Education, exploring fair access to universities and the leading professions, and in particular the role of subject choice.

    Catherine is clearly driven by her love of numbers and the potential to make a difference. She says:

    If I’ve got a day and I can just sit and number crunch, I really love that.

    Her research is having a considerable political impact:

    What I really, really like is that my work does seem to be making a difference now in policy. So I know that Justine Greening has read a paper that has come out.

    She enjoys the combination of affecting policy, and impacting directly on students’ lives through teaching. The fact that her students’ lives will be “transformed” through their education is of utmost value to her and she is now at the stage in her career where she is able to affect social mobility both at the macro policy level and at the micro, individual level.

    Thus, she gets immense satisfaction out of both the teaching and research aspects of her job. With students, she says:

    That moment when you can see the penny drops, that’s lovely too.

    And research-wise:

    I love it when people say I read your work and thought it was really interesting. That’s just fabulous.

    For her, success constitutes others taking notice of her work. She says:

    I’m not very good at applying for promotions and things.

    Although she hopes to progress through to Reader so that she has more time for research.

    I’ve got so many more papers in me, my supervisors sort of laugh at me because I have this long list of things I really want to look at. So managing to do some of that would be success.

    Catherine is from an academic family and so education is extremely important to her, hence her research interest in affecting policy to broaden access to university education. Her husband is Warden of an Oxford College and she appreciates the fact that this means that she gets to meet students at Oxford Brookes and the University of Oxford, and so has access to an incredible network of stimulating people.

    She has two adult daughters, both teachers and reflects:

    I think the children are quite sweetly proud that I’m doing what I’m doing now.

    She believes that age brings you a confidence to excel.

    Doing a doctorate at my age, I have the confidence that if I don’t understand a paper for the first few tries, I’ll get there in the end.