Another year in the life of an early career researcher

Another year in the life of an early career researcher

In this reflective post looking analytically at my second year as a full-time academic, I focus on achievements and promotion, my strategy for career progression and observations on how the institutional culture works against women and people of colour.

In my first post in this series written in August 2015, I shared how on starting my first full-academic role within three months of gaining my PhD, I abandoned my five-year research plan, identified new research interests and had been busy trying to stick to an ambitious publication plan. I also shared how I had sought to engage others within and beyond the academic community with my research through international conferences and guest lectures.


Twelve months on, the hard work has paid off. I applied both for pay progression and for promotion from lecturer to senior lecturer at the end of August as part of the annual pay progression and promotion scheme at Bournemouth University.

This scheme provides all staff, both academic and operational, with the opportunity to apply for extra pay progression (above the one increment annual increase) on the grounds of one year’s excellent service or three years sustained good performance. Staff can also apply for promotion to a higher grade. I was successful on both counts, and my promotion was confirmed a week after attending a four-panel interview.

At my institution, applying for promotion requires evidencing your contribution to education, research and professional practice and how you facilitate synergy between these areas, both through a cover letter and a lengthy document than runs to almost thirty pages, including every aspect of your academic role.

Some of the contributions/achievements over my two years of service that I presented in my application were:


  • Developing social justice pedagogy and applying it to a programme of curriculum diversification and enhanced teaching practice, on a consultancy basis for other HEIs.
  • Developing social justice pedagogy and applying it to my own teaching practice.
  • Developing a new degree unit based on social justice pedagogy.
  • Sharing best teaching practice at an international conference on Education and Social Justice in Hawaii, USA.
  • Gaining Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy.


  • Publishing two book chapters and two journal articles.
  • Presenting papers at international conferences in The Czech Republic, Dubai, Hawaii and New York State.
  • Being invited to join advisory editorial boards.
  • Leading collaborative research projects.
  • Being awarded an internal research grant.

Professional Practice

  • Leadership of Black British Academics, developing pro-active strategies to enhance race equality in HE and integrating this into education and research at Bournemouth University.
  • Hosting annual events (Black British Academics) designed to engage the academic and non-academic community with intersectional issues around race equality, including an event at Bournemouth University.
  • Drawing on the intellectual and cultural capital within Black British Academics to develop research to extend understanding of racial inequalities in HE.
  • Supporting events and initiatives at Bournemouth University (through Black British Academics) such as the Athena Swan Charter.

The Institutional Culture in HE and My Career Strategy

While I am obviously very pleased to have gained promotion, and feel a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment, my experiences and observations both at my current and past institutions demonstrate that the institutional culture works to the disadvantage of women and people of colour when it comes to career progression.

At my institution, there is only one female professor in my department and I am quite sure that there has never been a person of colour holding a professorship. The most senior roles are largely held by White males and very few women seem to make it beyond grade 8.

Gender aside, in general I find there to be a lack of transparency about how certain people are selected for certain roles and opportunities that are not made available to everyone. Cliques exist across education, research and professional practice which promotes exclusion to some and privilege to others, rather than promoting equality and inclusion for everyone.

When I started working at Bournemouth University I knew I would have to work much harder and have a much stronger profile and level of productivity across my academic roles to avoid being invisible, as one of only two females of colour in my department.

What I have observed in recent years is that I have thrived not because of the academic culture at my institution, but in spite of it. The persistence of cliques at faculty level mean that the roles and responsibilities that contribute to meeting the criteria for promotion to a higher grade are not made available to everyone.  Moreover, people like me who challenge rather than assimilate into the status quo are often unpopular among such cliques and those who possess privileged identities.

I have thrived within this environment because of the external academic community where I have a strong sense of belonging, where I have worked tirelessly to create a supportive and collaborative environment for academics of colour – Black British Academics.

I can confidently say that the contributions to my institution across Education, Research and Professional Practice all involve Black British Academics to a large extent. In education, my work around social justice pedagogy started with Aisha Richards, founder/director of Shades of Noir and I adapted the principles we developed to my own teaching practice, which led to my developing a new degree unit and presenting our work at an education conference. It is the integration of Black British Academics into my academic role that creates the synergy between education, research and professional practice.

Moving Forward, Plans for the Future

I will continue to be proactive, both in my academic role across teaching, research and professional practice and through Black British Academics in defining the issues around racial inequalities in HE and the wider society and advancing innovative strategies and solutions to address them. I do so because a commitment to social justice, equality and cultural democracy are the values that drive me – not just in my professional life but in my personal life as well.

While it would be nice not to have to work against barriers embedded in the institutional culture, I will continue to endeavour to dismantle them to create a smoother path for others. I will continue to articulate the existence of these barriers, both as a form of resistance, and as a strategy to help transform the institutional culture, both within and beyond my institution until it is more equitable.

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3 thoughts on “Another year in the life of an early career researcher

  • 3rd December 2016 at 4:57 pm

    Thanks for sharing this Deborah, it's very insightful. I am also at a very critical point having just started doctoral studies and finding emerging battles of what is considered to be an 'acceptable topic' and ways of discussing it. I am also interested in how you mentioned the importance of having networks and communities alongside those of practice to assist in our own sense of belonging and to ensure there are 'other voices' we pay attention to alongside those in our practice communities. My own faith community and Black British Academics are two of these networks providing such a sense of belonging and have been essential to helping me navigate each of the practice, research and education paradigms to which I belong. I look forward to hearing more about your experiences and wisdom in this arena – you are truly forging a much needed path for us to follow.  Maureen

  • 6th December 2016 at 6:07 pm

    Thank you so much for this. I hear you on so many levels. I have only been part of your group for a very short time but already feel that it will help to keep me on my path to finish my PhD and move above my current grade.

  • 7th December 2016 at 12:51 pm

    Deborah – facinating to read – as ever honest direct and reflective – best wishes

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