Campus Questionnaire: Work that hangs around on Sunday

November 11, 2005

Name: Marcus Davidson

Age: 32

Job: Postdoctoral research fellow in the Advanced Materials and Biomaterials Research Centre, School of Engineering and the Built Environment, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen.

Background: A BSc in applied science at Robert Gordon University followed by an MSc and a PhD at Dundee University. The masters course included a research project studying high-temperature superconductors, an area that was generating a huge amount of interest at the time. This work whetted my appetite for research and I was fortunate enough to work on my PhD in the same department.

Working hours: Research doesn't generally follow normal office hours and you can often find yourself in the lab at strange times. During our recent relocation I recall arriving at work at 7am on a Sunday morning to see our one tonne surface analysis machine dangling from a crane nine metres above the street. You have to be prepared to keep odd hours.

Number of students: I supervise three PhD students, which is a full-time job in itself.

Biggest challenge faced this year: As a research fellow your job is at the mercy of the funding bodies. The life of a research fellow is often reduced to that of an itinerant scientist, moving on every few years when the money dries up. Unfortunately, most universities don't commit finances to bridge funding gaps.

Worst moment in university life: Being handed my notice rates fairly low down the scale. It seems that the recent introduction of permanent contracts has not improved the job security of research staff.

What is your working space like? Lack of office space in our city-centre building means that I share a classroom with my three PhD students. Not ideal, but the seventh-floor views over Aberdeen are stunning.

What university facilities do you use? RGU recently built a stunning campus on the outskirts of the city, on the banks of the River Dee, and it recently opened a £10 million sports centre.

Do you interact much with other parts of the university? Although I work in the School of Engineering, the research we do is more closely related to that of other departments, in particular the schools of pharmacy and life sciences. We interact with other schools but there is little in the way of structured research collaboration within the university, which is a shame.

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