Research Fellow at University of Wollongong - Emma Heffernan

Course: PhD in Architecture, Design and Environment

Current location: Wollongong, Australia

“The most exciting part of my career to date is probably the step I have just taken in moving to Australia for three years.”

Tell us about your career path since graduation.

I initially had no work lined up for after completing my PhD and spent much of the summer writing research proposals with my supervisor to try to secure some research funding. Whilst doing this I also put out feelers for lecturing work and links back to practice. In the autumn I was then flooded with options and ended up with three jobs. I have since successfully secured a three year position as Research Fellow at the University of Wollongong.

How has your degree helped/influenced your career path?

Without completing my PhD I have no doubt that I would not have gained lecturing experience, nor would I have been offered the position at the Sustainable Buildings Research Centre at University of Wollongong. My doctorate has certainly influenced my career path. However, I also believe that the construction industry experience I brought with me to my PhD has been beneficial, both in my research and teaching. I think that it has also contributed to me securing the position at the University of Wollongong.

What is the most difficult thing which you have faced in your career?

The most difficult thing I have faced in my career is balancing a family with a career. I believe that academia is more accommodating of working mothers in a number of ways than many sectors. Indeed, this was influential in my deciding to undertake a PhD when I did.

What is the best, most exciting or fun thing that you have done in your career?

The most exciting part of my career to date is probably the step I have just taken in moving to Australia for three years. I am hoping that a further three years in a good research environment will give me a strong foundation for a career in academia.

Imagine you were about to start university again - with the benefit of hindsight - what would you now tell yourself to have done differently?

Within academia publications are key. During my PhD I published a number of conference papers and one journal article, but if I had the opportunity again I would probably have tried to focus on further journal articles.

If you were just about to graduate again, what would you do differently?

I don’t think I would do much differently. I know people who started their next position, either as a post doc or lecturer, before finishing their PhD and they really struggled to finish their thesis. So although it was a little nerve wracking to finish without any fixed plans for what was coming next, this gave me the freedom to concentrate on finishing my thesis.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get in to the same line of work?

Read lots, think lots, and write lots.

How did studying at Plymouth help you?

I had the support of a fantastic supervisor, Pieter de Wilde, who successfully supported me in completing my PhD. I also had the benefit of support from industry partners at Cornwall Council and Cornwall Sustainable Buildings Trust because the funding came through the Combined Universities in Cornwall from the European Social Fund. The Researcher Development Programme helped me to enhance my skills where I saw necessary.

What lessons/skills did you gain from your course?

My skills in research were developed and enhanced throughout my PhD, as were my skills in writing. Overall, it has given me a great foundation for a career in academia.

What is your favourite memory of studying at Plymouth?

I think it would be the graduation on The Hoe: a lovely day and a truly memorable occasion of which to be proud.

Do you stay in touch with other Plymouth University alumni or lecturers?

Yes. I have made some friends for life whilst doing my PhD and will certainly maintain contact with my supervisor with whom I hope to continue to collaborate.

Would you recommend undertaking a course with Plymouth University, and why?

Yes. It’s a good university in a great city.