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Robert - finishing up and moving on
Name: Robert
PhD discipline: History
Area(s) of work: Academic research support administration
Year of graduation: 2003
Date of Interview: 17/06/2008

Now Playing: Robert - finishing up and moving on
Robert recalls the sometimes disheartening experience of applying for academic posts towards the end of his PhD. He explains his ultimate change of direction, into a non-academic post.

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Please can you talk me through the transition from finishing your PhD to starting a temporary contract and then moving on from there to your subsequent job? 

Sure. Well I submitted my PhD in March 2003, and around that time I was temping all over the place, all kinds of different things some of which were quite interesting, some of which really, really weren't. And I had the viva in May 2003. Now it was around the same time that I had the viva it was at the temp agency I was with which was one that did a lot of work with you know galleries and various kind of cultural organisations, who offered me work in an art college which was initially supposed to be for a few weeks but then because of lots of things going wrong in the art college, it ended up being a lot longer than that and somebody – what happened was one member of staff left, another one injured herself on holiday and was off for a long time, which meant that when they realised I think that I could actually – that I actually knew a bit about research and was able to at least had a sort of working knowledge of things like the RAE, and knew what a journal article looked like, knew a bit about funding bodies, they stuck me in the research office and for a little while, I mean out of the whole six months I don't want to exaggerate it but out of the six months I was there for maybe two weeks or so I, even though I was temping, was literally the research office. And it was a bit of a – it was very hectic and it's a bit of a sort of baptism of fire but they actually thought I was quite good at it. And I sort of found it a lot more interesting than I thought I might have expected.  

Now at this time that institution was going through re-structuring which meant that the position I was covering as a temp ceased to exist which meant that I couldn't really do anything else there other than be a temp. there wasn't any way the position – the position I was doing ceased to exist and was replaced by something a lot senior that would have a lot of other responsibilities including management responsibilities that clearly I couldn't have applied for. Now at that time I thought 'well you know this is alright' and saw another full-time permanent position doing essentially the same thing being advertised in the art and design faculty of another university in London which I applied for and got. The art college that I had been temping at was part of a larger sort of federation and I got to know some of the people in the other colleges of that federation when I was working there. One of them was somebody who also had a PhD in history funnily enough. And some of the more – I got to know some of the other more senior people through what I was doing, and immediately after I'd accepted the permanent job in the Art and Design faculty of the other university one of the more senior people within the sort of central organisation phoned me up and said 'there's this job, a permanent job has come up at this other college and we'd like you to apply for it' so I had to say 'well very sorry but' so that was how I ended up where I was in the first permanent job that I took afterwards. And it evolved I think fairly directly from the fact that I'd been temping where I had been and the fact that the job that I did cover as a temp ceased to exist because otherwise I think people more or less said to me that if that hadn't been the case then I could have stayed there.

Was there an interview for the next job?


And how did that go? Did you have to prepare for it?

Yeah I did yeah. It was four people. It was let me think, two academic staff and two administrative staff. It was the head of the administration of that faculty. The assistant registrar of the university, they were the two administrative staff. The director of post graduate studies and the director of research of that faculty as well. And yeah it was fairly – I didn't find it difficult. I generally don't find interviews terribly difficult. I'm not – I know it sounds – you know, I know not very many people say that but I tend not to get that worked up about interviews.

Why do you think that is?

I don't know. I don't know. I think it's something that I think I'd heard so much about how awful interviews were when I was younger I got quite worked up about it, gone into a couple and thought this isn't too bad. And sort of always thought that you know generally I mean there was obviously there are exceptions that can be horrendous, but generally I don't – I can generally I think you know equip myself fairly well and I think I'm fairly confident about speaking and I think I can usually, not always, but I think I can usually think on my feet fairly well. And I don't really – I tend not to find them that daunting. But the interview for that first permanent position was fine. I seemed to get on quite well with them.

Do you remember what they asked you?

They asked me about what I knew about funding for research. They asked me what I knew about things like the Research Assessment Exercise and about research outputs. They asked me a little bit about what kinds of things constituted research in Art and Design. And one of the things that I'd done in the temp job that I did for six months in the art college had been helping to compile a data base of that college's research output which was preparatory to the RAE so I'd come straight from doing that. So I was able pretty much to tell them what they wanted really. I mean I knew the kind of – I knew about the kind of things that they were asking and they what else did they ask? They asked things about dealing with difficult individuals so you know it was a job, that first job was something that involved dealing with research students as well and dealing with admissions applications, it was more or less a 50-50 split between dealing with research students and dealing with staff stuff, staff research. And so they wanted to know that I could handle it if students were causing difficulties or whatever. Not that any did in the end, with one exception I think.

So they asked about sort of you know how I reacted to particular hypothetical situations, and also what I knew about things like research student admissions and things like that because I'd been through all that stuff myself.

Did they comment on the PhD?

I can't remember.

Do you remember if they were generally receptive towards the fact that you had one?

I think they were yeah. I think so. I think that certainly when I got there, it was quite favourably regarded I think

And then when and why did you decide to leave that position?

There were – I left that position in February 2005 after I'd been there for sixteen months. Although I accepted the position I moved to which is my current position obviously a month or so before I left obviously. There were a number of reasons for it, I mean part of it was that I felt I was being grossly under paid and I actually went to the head of the administration of the faculty with a copy of my job description and copies of a whole load of other job descriptions that I got off the web, and said 'well I'm earning x amount for a job in London but I know that people with identical job descriptions working in I can remember one in Sheffield so somewhere with a lower cost of living, are earning £6/7000 a year more than me. Can I please have lots more money?' And he said 'well, I'll see what I can do'. Went away, HR said 'well, we can give him a little bit' which I – and I mean a little bit – and I sort of felt that was quite insulting as did my direct manager who was somebody who I worked with very closely, got on very, very well with and am actually still in touch with. And she kind of encouraged me to make this point and when that happened she said to me later on, although she left the other institution before I did, she said to me, the next time I saw her after I left she said 'as soon as that happened I knew you were going to leave'.  

There was also the fact that there was a fairly major personality clash with a senior member of the faculty who I found extremely difficult to work with and I couldn't have remained working with that person for much longer.

And so were you looking in the Guardian for jobs to come up, how did you go about your job search? 

It was the Guardian and it was those two almost entirely in fact. I don't think there was anywhere else that I saw anything advertised.

Did it take long for a position to be advertised that you wanted to apply for?

No it didn't at all. No, it was actually very quick. I was slightly surprised by how much stuff was coming up. Although the job that I got my current position was actually the first one that I applied for after deciding that I was going to move on so it was very, very quick.

Was it a similar job that you are doing now that you were doing before?

It has similarities. It doesn't have any involvement with research student stuff which the previous job did. That's completely gone. It's in a central research office rather than in a faculty, which is very different. Not being kind of embedded within a faculty was something that I found took a little while to get used to. It's much more being – it's simply down to the very different way that this institution is structured but being on the same corridor as the senior management is very different from having an office in a faculty where you're surrounded by lecturers and researchers and at first I found that quite difficult. Now I don't really think about it until just now. But that at the time was something that I found very, very different.

But had that job within a faculty equipped you to do the job you are doing now?

Oh definitely. Definitely. There was no way – now way that it could have happened any other way. I mean yeah, what I got doing that job was absolutely instrumental to this one yes.

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