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Lucy - research fellow
Name: Lucy
PhD discipline: Philosophy
Area(s) of work: I.T.; academia
Year of graduation: 2001
Date of Interview: 24/06/2008

Now Playing: Lucy - research fellow
Lucy shares some insights into her current role as a Research Fellow.

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Can you tell me what your current appointment is? 

I am a junior research fellow. That's a temporary contract – it is for three years. It is a position that is pretty common mainly at Oxford and Cambridge and sometimes London. Not so common elsewhere I think. But it is basically a three year almost purely research post and so the motivation for getting such a post once you have finished your PhD is to build up a research record so that you are in a better position to apply for permanent jobs.

What does that involve on a day-to-day basis? 

Well my position is a little bit unusual because I don't just do research I also do things like I do a little bit of research assistance for somebody else.  I do a lot of trying to seek out funding opportunities for the institute that I belong to and making funding applications and so I don't just do research.

On a day to day basis I probably arrive at work and check my emails ideally do research all day interspersed with more email checking and sort of looking at irrelevant websites and so on. On a less ideal day it can mean things like arriving at work checking my emails for too long. Marking exams – that has been something I have had to do recently. And so even though it is a research post there can be whole days where frustratingly I don't get any research done at all. But maybe some of the other junior research fellowships wouldn't involve that – that might just be pure research.

What is the research that you are doing is it your own research? 

Yes it is all my research. One other thing that is unusual about my position is that the institute I belong to has a sort of fairly specific research programme, which wasn't really related to the sort of research I had done before. And so when I arrived I had quite a few months sort of familiarising myself with the subject and starting research in a completely different area, which I actually think is quite a positive thing.  Because having talked to some other people it seems like there is a temptation if you get a junior research fellowship just after you've finished your PhD just basically to kind of expand on your PhD topic and so you are sort of confined by the research you have already done. People may develop various chapters into articles and maybe write a book but they sort of feel a bit trapped sometimes, or that is what some people have said to me. But I have sort of more or less left that behind and I am doing something completely different. And so even though it is quite daunting to start something new it is actually quite a good thing in the long term I think.

And so did you decide on the new area of research or was it something that when you applied for this particular research fellowship that was outlined for you that you would be researching? 

The post wasn't defined in terms of readership, which some of them are, you know, sometimes you will find advertised a JRF in this particular project – like it is fairly sort of defined what you have to do. But mine was defined by the institute that I belong to which is part of philosophy but it has a sort of very specific area of research. And so when I applied I had sort of thought of ways in which my existing research would be relevant to the research that we do here but as it turned out I have strayed fairly far from what I thought I would be doing but that's fine.

What will come out of your three years in terms of publications do you think? 

Frustratingly not as many as I had thought – I don't know why that is. I think possibly it is a very unstructured way of working when you are an undergraduate you obviously have various deadlines that you have to stick to, you have to write an essay a week or whatever it is. And you know, even when you are a PhD you've got regular meetings with your supervisor. When I was a PhD student I had various meetings insisted upon by my funders just to make sure I was writing it up and so on. And so you have these sort of milestones that you can work towards.

In a JRF it is slightly different because you don't necessarily have anybody checking up on you, you know, you could just write nothing and you wouldn't particularly get told off. But you know the position is mainly to help you to develop your research record and so you could end up doing nothing. And so without any deadlines it's quite difficult. I mean, one problem I find is that I will often become interested in something start writing about it and then before I've finished it I will become interested in something else and I start doing that.

I'm actually in my last year of the fellowship now and so my priority now is to try and tie up all the loose ends developed and I will hopefully get a year of decent publications out of it but I couldn't say how many.

And so rather than sort of accumulating an article and an article and an article and another article you're rather exploring lots of areas a little bit like the thesis and then having a period of writing up towards the end of it where you draw all the things together.

A little bit, yeah. I mean in a way that is very undisciplined but in another sense it's a response to the sort of opportunities you get doing this sort of job. I will be researching on area and then somebody will contact me say from another university who is putting together a conference and says 'you know we are doing this conference on this area that is broadly related to what you're doing? Would you be interested in giving a paper on…?' and it will be a specific area that I haven't investigated before and so I go and investigate that. But whilst it's distracting it is also a really good opportunity to get another thing on your CV, you know, a sort of invited conference presentation and potentially a publication out of it. You know, lots of conference organisers publish the proceedings of their conferences. And so I guess it is important to give a balance between discipline and kind of seizing the opportunities that come your way. 

Is a research fellowship like a job in the sense that you get a monthly salary?

Mine is, I don't know I can't speak for all of them. I mean, I have an office that I come to. I arrive at 9ish and I leave at 6ish. I don't think many people do that and its not necessarily, sort of, all those hours are productive time but I sort of have a background, before I came here I was working in a more or less nine to five job, and I just sort of kept that discipline. In the institute I work in everybody is research based nobody does any teaching and I arrive at nine-ish often to be the only one around. There are lots of people who arrive at two in the afternoon and stay all night. And so in some ways it's like a sort of nine to five job but in other ways it is not. It is kind of what you make it; nobody would really tell me off if I didn't turn up at all, they probably wouldn't notice for weeks!  Yeah it is the kind of job that you have to make of it what you can.

Do you think there is anything else that somebody doing a PhD would want to know about your job?

I suppose one thing to say in some ways it is very much like doing a PhD because you are kind of on your own and you are doing research and so if you love your PhD work you will probably love a junior research fellowship. If you hate it, which for various reasons I came to dislike what I was doing mainly because of stress, as I said, it did it in two years and so it was kind of fairly stressful. I sort of grew to dislike it a bit towards the end and you know if you dislike it you probably won't like a junior research fellowship 

I suppose another thing to say is that competition for this sort of work is really intense and if you are a PhD student, whilst the temptation is just to focus on getting your thesis finished, it is probably really useful if you can do things like give presentations at seminars and conferences. Get a publication out of your time as a PhD student if you can and all that sort of thing will add to your chances of, you know, research work afterwards.

Does your current research have any direct connection to the area of research in your PhD?

Not really. The stuff I'm doing now is motivated by the same really broad questions but no not really. I suppose, looking at the sort of things I write, it is not even in the same area of philosophy. I don't do metaphysics anymore but there are certain similarities. 

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