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      Work/life experiences of Brookes’ academics


    I want to be a student.

    Kate is a Research Fellow in the Centre for Diversity Policy Research and Practice in Oxford Brookes Business School. Additionally, she is the Research Director of an anti-FGM charity.

  • Academia is a second career for Kate, who left school at 18 with A-levels, went straight into the corporate world and subsequently enjoyed a high-flying 20-year career in the financial sector, working in consultancy and change management for a number of prestigious firms. When she started to feel that she had achieved as much as she could, Kate revisited her longstanding interest in the social sciences.

    Committing to a career change, Kate decided to follow the academic path and enrolled herself in a bachelor’s degree. She transferred to study Social Change at Oxford Brookes University after initially enrolling in Psychology with the Open University, but soon realised that she wanted to pursue a career that contributed to social justice.

    Kate graduated in 2004 and proceeded to undertake a master’s degree in Equality and Diversity at London Metropolitan University, before returning to Oxford Brookes where she has worked as a researcher and consultant on educational participation and equalities in projects focused mainly on gender inequality.

    Kate recalls that the biggest influence on the direction of her career was the Open University. In her second year of study she went to a summer school and was amazed by what a contrast it was to the financial world:

    I went to this Open University summer school, and nobody could care less about your age, where you came from, all anybody was interested in was the experiments you were doing, really getting into the learning, this intellectual exchange. And I’d never experienced that before because I left school and went straight into the workplace and it just blew me away. I remember getting off the train and coming home, my husband picked me up [at the station] and me saying: I want to be a student.

    From this moment, Kate’s commitment to academia was established.

    Kate loved her master’s degree and the work that she produced during this period: “I was really proud of my master’s and my dissertation on the British National Party. It was really challenging, really hard. I was very proud of that”. However, despite the hard work required, it is clear that an intellectual challenge is a key driving motivation for Kate.

    To have to really sit down and you just think what is going on here. And you have to read it and read it and you start to formulate an idea. And then you get those breakthroughs.

    Making a difference is also a central concern for Kate and this is exemplified across her different roles. In her work with a local rape crisis centre and a refugee charity, Kate has found it extremely worthwhile to use her skills to directly enable them to get more funding. Similarly, she has always enjoyed teaching and the impact that teachers can have on their students.

    I’ve been teaching in some form or another for 25 years or something. And I’m very proud of that. I know I’ve made a positive contribution to some peoples’ lives. So that’s really important to me.

    Kate is married and says that her husband has always been extremely supportive of her career decisions and her busy work life, managing her multiple roles as a Research Fellow and consultant. Kate finds that the biggest help is the flexibility of the hours, which is one of the reasons she enjoys research.

    I’ve never liked a nine to five. I hate nine to five. I like to work the hours around: one- what I like doing, because I prefer to work later in the day and in the evenings and two- because I’ve got other roles I like it to be flexible.

    However, Kate is conscious that the precarious nature of junior research roles combined with study can lead to overwork. Moreover, coming to academia as a second career has had its ups and downs. On the one hand, Kate has transferrable skills such as project and people management which are of great use. However, she finds that these are often not recognised in academia, putting her in the difficult position of being regarded as inexperienced despite her numerous skills learned in the corporate world. Looking forward, Kate hopes to be able to dedicate more time to her preferred research area and wants to establish herself in an academic community. In the future, as long as she is engaged in research, teaching and writing, Kate is happy:

    And I don’t see myself ever retiring, not fully... I still see that I’ve got quite a lot to achieve.

    Make sure that you protect part of your home life - have something that’s your's that’s away from the workplace.