Nikolaos Galiatsatos

Burnham Lecturer in Royal School of Military Survey, UK.

Former research staff in Durham University, UK, departments of Geography and Archaeology.

This story comes from our What do research staff do next? project, investigating the careers of research staff who moved from research posts to other occupations and employment sectors. You can use these stories to better understand how these researchers transition, what careers they have and their reflections on the transition process and current career paths.

Research staff experience

I worked as a postdoctoral researcher in higher education for almost eight years. I had a series of contracts – both short and long ones – with the Department of Geography and the Department of Archaeology at Durham University. My main research area was on remote sensing and GIS, but as this was not application-specific it allowed me to get involved in a variety of applications in different fields. I worked on landslides on a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) emergency grant, on two landscape archaeology grants – funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Leverhulme Trust, on a forestry project with an EU grant, and on consultancy projects for governmental organisations.

My achievements were one AHRC grant, ten journal papers (two awards), seven book chapters (one award), several conference proceedings (one award), and other indicators of esteem, such as keynote speaker.

The main reason for leaving HE research is that I was fed up with fixed-term contracts, plus the fact that I became a father. After eight years of fixed-term contracts, I was offered one more year – with no certainty about the future. So when my current post at the Royal School of Military Survey turned up, it was a relief to secure a permanent job at last.

Transition to new career

I am still in transition, as there are on-going collaborations and research projects that needed to be completed. To achieve these, I applied for an Honorary Research Fellow position at Durham University. This allows me a three-year period of continued access to research groups and facilities within the University environment, something I am grateful for. 

As I don't want to lose contact with research, I have started looking at options beyond that three-year period. These include collaborations with other universities and links with research institutes. 

The most challenging aspects of my new job were the comparative lack of opportunities for research, and the distance from my family. (My job is based in Berkshire, southern England – four to five hours drive from Durham in the north-east.) I am fortunate that my current employer has given me support on both these issues – for my involvement in ongoing research collaborations and for a flexible working pattern that helps to create some family time.

Current job

The Royal School of Military Survey (RSMS) is a survey training facility for UK military personnel and international students, with a long history, and great prestige within the military community.

My current job is purely a teaching position, with plenty of admin included (a doctorate is not essential for this post). I still miss aspects of my previous institution’s research culture, which was an ambitious one. Generating research funding here is very difficult, as RSMS is not eligible to submit research grant proposals.

On the plus side, there is a small cohort of people here who would like to work towards a research culture. Unlike my previous working environment in academia, which was highly focussed on particular goals, at RSMS we are provided some ‘space’ to achieve personal research aims.

Competencies old and new

During my years in HE research, I took the initiative to acquire the PGCert (Postgraduate Certificate) for Teaching and Learning in HE, and thus to become an HEA (Higher Education Academy) Fellow. Furthermore, I seized opportunities to deliver lectures and practicals at different levels (undergrads and postgrads) and also supervised doctoral students. This experience created a full teaching portfolio that has proved very useful for my current job.

However, I still had new things to learn. While in HE the focus was on academic and research skills, in my current job the focus is on technical and industry skills. As such, I needed to develop a different approach to my teaching, and also get some commercial awareness. Nevertheless, my academic background is highly appreciated and well received by the students.

Reflecting on my career path

I wish I had known that my PhD was not the end, but the beginning. I feel that I was not properly prepared during my PhD for a research career and there was plenty of ground to make up. Perhaps my second mistake is multi-disciplinarity. Although this is the current trend, I believe it is not properly accepted within HE. As my current research is within many disciplines, certain of my publications always get ignored when applying for research jobs (e.g. my Archaeology publications are ignored when applying for a Geography post and vice versa).

My aspiration is to make a difference wherever I am. Career-wise, I would like to be in a working environment not far from my family that allows me time to pursue research, while helping students mature and achieve their greatest potential.

Suggestions and advice

Learn about your rights (the Concordat) and get involved in communities like Vitae.

Don’t be naïve about your chances of getting a permanent academic post. Long service as a researcher does not count in the promotion stakes.

If you are single and set on an academic career, then get mobile, i.e. move from institution to institution. This is probably the best way to get networked and produce many publications.

If mobility is difficult (due to partner, or family), then get as much as you can from your current institution (e.g. PGCert, other training) and get involved in areas other than research (such as teaching, admin, entrepreneurship). Unless you are a genius in your field, or your field is in fashion, having skills flexibility is probably the best way to open the doors to out-of-HE positions.

Last but not least, be open-minded and persevere.