Neil Radford

Neil is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Derby.

“Luck is an interesting concept. I think it is possible to perceive that things are lucky when, in fact, they are largely influenced by other factors...”

"Perhaps strangely, I had few career intentions during my first degree (biological sciences). I had the vague notion of finding a job within environmental science but had no real direction in mind. I was offered the PhD studentship (lake ecology), and decided to take it – partly because I had no better plan, and partly because I was flattered to be offered the chance. Doing the PhD felt like my first job (holiday jobs aside). As well as full-time study, I had opportunities to teach within laboratory sessions and lecture on part-time degree courses, and to MA students. Through those experiences I discovered the ‘buzz’ of teaching.

"I started my PGCE (secondary science) ten days after my PhD viva. Corrections to the latter were then completed when I could during my PGCE year and my first year of teaching. From my PGCE I took my first teaching job at a mixed 11–18 secondary school in Kettering. I was there for three years and then moved to a mixed 11–18 Catholic secondary school in Nottingham – this was a sideways move initially, which enabled me to commute less and facilitated a house move. This second school opened up lots of opportunities for me, in particular the chance to be involved in – and ultimately to lead – a whole school improvement project (IQEA). That very successful project opened my eyes to the possibility of training teachers, and facilitated my successful application to the University of Derby to set up and run PGCE secondary science. My roles at Derby have been many and varied, including work on PGCE Secondary, PGCE Primary, B.Ed, MA and EdD programmes. I was ITE science subject leader from 2005-2009.

"I have never really created a career plan. In my final year I accessed the University Careers Service library and had a careers interview, but neither were useful. I also attended a selection panel for management training with Severn Trent Water. We weren’t compatible! When I decided to go into teaching, I researched how, and applied to do a PGCE. At that time I didn’t envisage staying in secondary phase teaching for my whole career. At one stage I was keen to leave teaching, so I took a career survey to assess other possible careers that my skill-set might be appropriate for. It came back with teaching at the top of the list! It did help me to look at my transferable skills. I realised that, with the re-branding of polytechnics, there would be more opportunity for teaching-focused lectureships – rather than research-focused – so I intended to teach for about ten years and then return to university to lecture in ecology.

"A key turning point for me was being offered the PhD studentship, as this ultimately set me on and facilitated the more academic career I now enjoy. It has opened up further opportunities, e.g. working on Masters and Doctor of Education programmes. I’d applied informally to my undergraduate dissertation supervisor to do an MPhil by research, but these were full so he offered me the studentship instead. I took it because I had nothing else in the pipeline, and I was enthused by the project and his faith in me. Another key turning point was the decision to move into the higher education sector, and this was prompted from my enjoyment of training teachers (INSET) within the IQEA project – and because I was becoming disenchanted with my role in secondary education. I was looking for a new challenge.

"Luck is an interesting concept. I think it is possible to perceive that things are lucky when, in fact, they are largely influenced by other factors. For example, it was lucky, perhaps, that my undergraduate supervisor had a PhD studentship available when I went to see him about the MPhil. That he offered it to me was more to do with the fact that I’d got a first on my dissertation, and that we got on very well personally. Similarly, I might feel that it was lucky that a lectureship came up at Derby at the right time for me – however, similar positions come up fairly regularly across the region. Despite the lucky timing, the Derby job would have had little impact on my career if I had not attained the qualifications, skills and attributes that enabled me to secure the role.

"I’m generally quite cautious and, however much I perceived the move to higher education as a risk, considered a step into the unknown. Yet it was the best decision I ever made career-wise! I have been fortunate in that my plans, such as they are, have usually worked out – principally due to my cautious approach, I guess. The plan to teach for ten years, and then to teach in HE, worked in eight years. It is worth saying, though, that by not really having substantive plans there is nothing really to go wrong!

"Career, to me, represents the path I’ve taken within my working life, and to some extent the qualifications path I took to provide access to that working life. It seems to me that, in some senses, one’s career can be just the job you do or jobs you have done, but to me it seems more than that – it encompasses the actions and intentions that took you into those jobs, and your intended path beyond the present time."