Don's diary: tour d'emploi

July 26, 2002

Autumn 2000
The research proposal I submitted to a large programme on transport has failed in the second round.

This is a blow to my plans for developing research directions on the culture of cycle commuting and transport choices. More to the point, it would have kept me employed for a further two years beyond my current project, which ends next spring. It is also a blow to my work schedule as I will need to spend more time writing research proposals rather than actually doing research. And most important, it is a personal blow as my wife and I have just moved to a new city as part of the relocation of the research unit I belong to.

Was the move a bad idea? Perhaps it would have been better to stay where we were in the south - nearer family and perhaps with no worse job prospects when the current project comes to an end. But my wife has got a one-year teaching job, so it is not all doom and gloom.

Spring 2001
Just as my funding runs out, some temporary research appears with another unit on a project related to my interests: public participation and the urban environment.

Along with other temporary research - also on public participation - and additional funding secured for me by the director of my unit, this work should ensure my position till next spring.

In the meantime, I use precious research time attending meetings to discuss the implications for university researchers of a new European Commission directive concerning fixed-term contracts. My wife also faces uncertainties - until the school offers her the appealing mix of teaching English and music.

January 2002
My prospects seem at an all-time low. Three or four (I lose count) research proposals are rejected - the best hope seems to be applying for a research grant in the US for 2003-04, but what will I do in between, assuming I even get this?

Begin to wonder if Sainsbury's needs anybody to stack shelves. Use up yet more research time filling in online CVs via a couple of new websites.

Spring 2002
Suddenly, several buses all come along at once. After much discussion, I get a commercial consultancy on the cultural dimensions of digital photography.

At the same time, a proposal extending the environment and participation work I was involved with is successful. I get a small grant from the university to study use and perceptions of the National Cycle Network, which has been sponsored by the Millennium Fund. And I win a place on the Whitehall summer placement scheme to review cycling research for the Department for Transport (DFT).

In addition, I am approached to become involved with the new English Regions Cycling Development Team being set up to boost bicycle provision and use.

I go from waking up at 5am worried about having no work to waking up at 5am worried about the prospect of too much.

My wife is offered a permanent contract.

Summer 2002
My role in the cycling development team is agreed. Initially, I will work part time while fulfilling my existing research commitments.

I note that while the DFT has awarded AEA Technology (my new employer) a three-year contract, my own is not for the same fixed term as it would be in a university.

I reflect on how my attitude towards my career has been transformed in the past two years. Despite loving the diversity and flexibility of university research, the terms and conditions make it easy to leave. Perhaps the European Commission will force through changes, but for the moment I am relieved to be entering an area where a national shortage of transport planners means my options in three years should be much broader than shelf stacking.

Paul Rosen is a research fellow in the Science and Technology Studies Unit, University of York. He took up his post as one of the new team of cycling development coordinators in early July.

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