11 October 2009
By Elizabeth Dodson
I have a confession to make… I completed my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at the same institution, and I have now been a full time researcher there for almost 5 years. Apparently this is considered by many as academic suicide, but is it really such a bad thing?
Well there are a number of reasons to move around:
- To be exposed to new ideas and techniques
- To be challenged by new research areas
- To show that you’re adaptable and can work with new people in a range of settings
- To demonstrate a commitment to your own career development
Of course moving between institutions is also a product of the fixed term contract, but is it always necessary? People suspect that staying in the same place is somehow lazy. I’ve heard it compared to still living with your parents in your thirties, but such generalist assumptions annoy me.
I was lucky to get into my first choice university for my undergraduate degree. I wanted to do further research related to my final year project and applied for a studentship to stay on and complete a PhD. This relied on my continued access to the original subject group, at an organisation I had volunteered for over a number of years. These are not relationships that can be built quickly, so it made absolute sense to stay where I was.
At the start of my PhD I was looking for somewhere to live and found a mortgage on a small house would cost about the same a renting a single room. It was an obvious choice and one that reinforced my roots in this area. When it came to job hunting near the end of the PhD, I focused initially on jobs within commuting distance and my eye was particularly caught by a post at my university. It was in a research institute attached to the university, which also operated as a private consultancy. This was a totally different feel from my previous department and presented many new challenges.
I entered an entirely new research area and hit the ground running. I went from studying the effects of brain injuries to the causes of road accidents. I had been doing purely qualitative research and now had to master the collection and analysis of quantitative data. Having worked entirely within psychology, I now had to brush up on my maths and physics. Within a couple of weeks I was travelling to meetings across Europe to collaborate with experts from around the globe. I’ve spent time in France, Germany, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Sweden and America, learning new methods, sharing ideas and working with a highly diverse range of people.
So I go back to the original list of reasons to move and why would I? I’m at a good university, with excellent resources for researchers and I now have that elusive open-ended contract. I’m constantly challenged and exposed to new ways of working within a world leading multidisciplinary team. I’m not saying that I’ll never explore pastures new, but I don’t want to feel forced to move by the assumption that you have to be employed in geographically different places to be somehow worthy as a researcher. For now at least, in the immortal words of Dorothy Gale, “There’s no place like home”.