Helena Pozniak
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Post Graduate Research 2014

The Guardian

When former barrister Lucy Bolton swapped her wig and gown for an academic career, she suffered a pang of regret - but it didn’t last long. She’s now a lecturer in film studies at Queen Mary University of London; this week she’s been busy, speaking to the British Film Institute about Japanese horror, and explaining fear-inducing film making techniques on the radio. In her spare time she’ll catch up on a couple of films – a passion hasn’t left her since she quit the bar to embark upon an masters in film and television studies at the University of Westminster – she funded her early postgraduate studies by working part time as an advocate. “A friend warned I might lose my love of film by turning it into a career – that certainly hasn’t happened,” she says. Finding funding is one of the hardest aspects of a job that otherwise ticks all her boxes of intellectual freedom and independence. Bolton paid her own way through the first year of a PhD, only receiving a grant from the Arts & Humanities Research Council when she had a body of work to prove her dedication.

Funding for scientific research on the other hand is easier to come by but still protracted – a research project underway at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton has taken nearly 25 years to come to fruition. But it’s inspired researcher Laura Hepburn, who’s busy writing up data from her field trips – a couple of cruises to the Southern Ocean, where days spent monitoring underwater cameras were punctuated by the odd whale sighting. Her PhD explores the geochemistry of hydrothermal vents, and her love of the ocean began with a childhood passion for underwater exploration. “I love the outreach work with schools and colleges, and analysing the data – but it’s the field work that makes me want to stay in academia.”

Finding the right supervisor to kick start a research career is essential, and students advise seeking out an academic whose interests match your own. “Look at their publication record, speak to people in their lab, get information on how many students they have successfully seen,” advises Dr Bernadette Byrne, deputy director of the Graduate School at Imperial College London. Moving from doctorate level to a full-time academic is difficult, Byrne concedes. “You’ll need a good, fundable research problem and a proven research track record.”

As well as the nous to pursue an opportunity, a career in academia requires passion, creativity and determination. “You’ve got to love independent research. I am extremely self-disciplined,” says Bolton. “You start a PhD with a blank piece of paper – if the thought of writing 100,000 words makes you desperate to start, you should do it by hook or by crook: but it’s a long haul.”

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