"I undertook a PhD focusing on agricultural development in Chile at the University of Birmingham. I was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and managed to complete the degree in four years. The doctorate was certainly hard work, although I lived and studied in Chile for a year, which was fantastic.
"After finishing my doctorate, I got a job as a geography lecturer and taught a number of courses that were closely connected to my PhD. I enjoyed the academic role, both the lecturing and the research. It continued to give me opportunities to go to South America and to do interesting and fulfilling work. However, I also noticed that I was doing less hands-on research and was increasingly ending up as a project manager, supervising other researchers as part of large-scale projects. I also started to feel that I could not see myself working in an academic environment for my whole career. While I was doing well with my research, I did not feel driven enough to be a professor.
"After five years as a lecturer I felt it was time for a change. I looked around with a pretty open mind and saw a job in government social research in the Department for Work and Pensions. Up until then I had only vaguely realised that the government did social research, but I fancied something different so I applied and got the job.
"When I left academia, I realised that I would probably never go back, but this did not worry me unduly. I felt excited that I was moving on to something new. However, it took me a while to adjust to doing research in a new context as I found I had less autonomy and personal control over the research process. The role does however give me the chance to influence government policy development.
"I have worked on a wide range of issues since I’ve moved into government research and with a wide range of research contractors, academics, policy makers and lobby groups . The area I have probably worked in most has been the evaluation of lone parent employment programmes. I am now ‘on loan’; to a government Advisory Committee as their research and policy specialist. This allows me to work on a range of topical issues from across the whole of DWP policy. While I have consistently used my methodological training, very little of what I have worked on has had any connection to specialisms that I built up during my PhD.
"I really enjoyed the experience of undertaking a PhD and working as a lecturer, but the move to government research was definitely the right one for me. While it was not my primary motivation, I think that I have probably done better financially than I would have in an academic role. The work is interesting and varied but has enabled me to have a good work-life balance. I now have two young children and work flexibly, which might have been more difficult in academia. The balance of work and family would also have been complicated by the non-UK basis of my academic research."