Wednesday, 14 March 2012

I wasn’t looking for academia, it came looking for me

Posted by Dorothy Newbury-Birth

I often sit at my desk and wonder how I got here. My path to academia wasn’t the usual one. I think many academics know what they want and how to get there and work towards it from an early age. I didn’t. When I saw the careers advisor at school, I told them I wanted to be a long distance lorry driver!

Dot's desk
I left school with a handful of CSE’s. I never for one moment thought of college or university – it was never an option. I wasn’t looking for academia but I do think it was looking for me.

When I became a single parent at 24 I decided I needed some ‘qualifications’ to get me an office job. I was absolutely determined that I would work and not be on benefits. I started with a GCSE in Sociology, as it was the only thing I could fit in around working in the wool shop. Five years later, I left university with a 2:1 in Social Sciences and a husband who I’d met during my time there. It was time for me to find a job.

I was invited for interview for the first job I applied for– a part time junior researcher at Newcastle University studying alcohol and drug use amongst medical students. During the interview I was asked if I would consider doing the research as a PhD over the next three years. I smiled very confidently and said yes, that sounded fantastic and I would love to do that.

About half an hour after the interview I got a phone call to say that I had got the job/studentship. It was then that I rang my husband and was able to ask the question that I hadn’t been able to ask in interview. “Mark they’ve offered me it”, I said. “Mark, they’ve offered me it as a PhD. Mark, what’s a PhD?”?

There was complete silence – “Dot, its fine. Its great”, he said. “But what is it?” I asked. “You need to write a book” he replied. Hmmmmmm. Oh well, that sounded okay. I started my PhD in April 1997 and loved it from day one. In September that same year I called Mark at work. “Mark, I’ve had a journal article accepted in the Lancet”, I said. “Mark, what’s the Lancet?”.

So here I am sitting at my desk, looking at my lovely daffodils and thinking that it doesn’t matter how I got here. I am here. I love my job. I do wonder though if I will ever get another paper in the Lancet.

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