University of Leeds, Parkinson Building with t...
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Last week, for the first time in just under than three years, I visited the Institute of Psychological Sciences at the University of Leeds.  On Thursday attended the Greater Yorkshire Memory Meeting and the next day, with Clare Rathbone of Reading, gave a seminar on some research and our experiences of postdoctoral study.

It was great to see some old faces and great to be back in a city I know well.  The trip was also timely, giving me the opportunity of a long train journey down on which to read plenty of journal articles and devote some time to thinking about research.  But what I got most from the trip was a tremendous appreciation of the  enthusiasm, intelligence and endeavour of the PhD students I encountered.  It was quite wonderful to speak with them about their research and to get a sense of the plasticity of their approaches to science.  They aren’t yet ‘world-expert researchers of X’ or ‘wed to theory Y’ , but are revelling in the acquisition of expertise… it’s a very exciting time of their careers and as a result they are invigorating people to speak to.

It got me thinking about the formation of my own lab.  Whilst the UK system doesn’t generally allow for the self-contained modular lab that I so enjoyed being a part of in the US, working with people you look forward to encountering and speaking to on a daily basis would undoubtedly inoculate you against some of the increasingly prevalent sadnesses of the British University system (which has already started encroaching on the student experience despite assertions from the coalition government that it wouldn’t, e.g. through the cancellation of student assessment due to paper shortages).  I look forward to taking on PhD students with as much enthusiasm as those I encountered in Leeds – I just hope that those who are good enough to make a difference to society through research aren’t forced away from a postgraduate career by the “fair and affordable” system that will see them in up to £27,000 of debt from tuition fees alone before they even contemplate another three years of study.

We arrived in Scotland, as planned, in September and have spent the last month settling in to our new surroundings.

My first few weeks as a lecturer have been hectic.  I still don’t have any computer equipment at work, which is making accomplishing anything substantial a tough task.  An unexpected complication of my lack of computing facilities was the knock on effect it had on my ability to engage in the bureaucracy and form-filling that I knew would take up much of my time.  These tasks are rendered even more complicated without a printer, and resulted in me having to pay the local public library a visit in order to use their facilities.

Budget 2010
Image by The Prime Minister's Office via Flickr

Amidst all my frustration at not being able to hit the ground running, I know I am very lucky.  I have landed a permanent position at one of the most uncertain times for British Universities.  Talk in the corridors is of the 80% cuts to teaching, significant cuts to research and abolition of capped tuition fees that are expected in tomorrow’s Comprehensive Spending Review.  The coalition government is extricating itself from the higher education system and this will have inevitable ramifications; in the form of university closures and privatisations.

I am lucky and I have to hope that I am also lucky when it comes to getting grants.  Research councils will have their budgets slashed and there will be huge demand for what little funding they can make available.  fMRI research certainly isn’t cheap, and if I am going to carry on with it here, as my job title ‘Lecturer in Neuroimaging’ would suggest I should, I am going to have to secure external funding pretty soon.

Tomorrow will be tough in anticipation of the lean years ahead.  Nevertheless I certainly won’t be the hardest hit by the cuts, and for that I am thankful.