Posted by Liane Azevedo
When I was asked to write a story about how I managed to move from contract research to an academic post, I realized that my life did not follow this route. Having a research academic post came as a reward from an old wish I’d had since I started my studies in exercise science.
Exercise and sports has always been part of my life, I started as a swimmer and then competed as a triathlete for many years (no one could tell this now when I just manage to sprint to get the train!). Although sport has always been part of my life I decided to do my undergraduate degree in biology.
Then one day I went to a seminar in exercise science from a professor who later became my masters supervisor. That presentation really changed my life and on that day I decided what I wanted to do. I was really intrigued by how my body was responding to exercise and really wanted to learn more. So, I decided to do my undergraduate dissertation in exercise physiology for my degree in Biology and started to explore ways that I could do performance tests with the athletes.
By that time, I had a serious injury and was struggling to compete in triathlon at the level that I was used to. So I had more time and lots of friends that I could count on to be my “guinea pigs” and try the performance tests. I did some courses, started a masters degree and open a little company called “Performance Lab” where we performed tests on athletes, did exercise evaluations at gyms and provided consultancy for a shoe company.
So, I was working long hours and getting lots of practice. However, there came a point where I started to feel that I was repeating the same information to my “clients” every day and wasn’t learning anything new. Until one day I went to a conference, not as an attendee but to work in the exhibitor hall for the shoe company that I was providing consultancy to. There I saw that one of the people presenting was Professor Tim Noakes from University of Cape Town. He is a well-known scientist in our field and an amazing speaker. By coincidence I had his famous book “Lore of Running” with me that day, which I used a lot to help me with prescriptions for running shoes. I was sooo excited when I saw him that my friend asked me if I had seen Brad Pitt! I said almost…
I filled myself with courage and went to talk to Prof. Noakes and ask for an autograph on my book. He was amazingly kind and the conversation went on and he asked if I was interested in doing a PhD in South Africa! You can understand that that night I didn’t sleep and the next day I started drafting my e-mail to his department. To make the story short I was accepted for the PhD in the area of biomechanics and I lived in South Africa for an amazing 3 years.
However, jobs in South Africa are not easy to get, especially for foreigners, so I started to look for jobs across the world. I saw a post for a lecturer in the UK that I thought it would really fit well with my expertise as the university had a biomechanics lab and were providing consultancy work. So, I applied and worked as a lecturer for 3 years. I enjoyed my time there but I was mainly teaching 9am to 5pm and I really missed the research atmosphere that I had had in South Africa. So, I kept my eyes open until I saw the Fuse post at Teesside.
Without going on too much about my own experience, I think some important advice that I could give people who are completing a PhD and want to move to a academic research post is that you might not get to where you want straight away. You might need to go for a teaching post for some years first. But if an academic post is really what you want you shouldn’t loose sight of it. Look for posts that are more research orientated and more importantly try to publish, attend conferences and if possible be involved in grants - which might be able to “buy out” some of your teaching and give you more opportunity to be involved in research.
I think being involved in practice has also helped me in my career. In public health this could mean trying to do applied work with practice partners that could maybe turn into a research project so you could slowly move yourself slowly towards a research academic post.