Dr Claire Kelly – MRes Sustainable Environmental Management, and PhD Geography graduate

Current employer: Plymouth University

Current job title: Research Fellow

Current location: Plymouth

What is / was the title of your project?

(PhD thesis) Partnerships in the development and management of marine nature-based tourism: an analysis of effectiveness.

Describe your research in one sentence.

My PhD was focused on understanding the complexity of joint public and private sector partnerships set up to manage marine wildlife tourism, such as dolphin watching, how they do (and don’t work), who is and isn’t involved, and how they could be more effective at what they do.

What was the most exciting element(s) of your project (e.g. fieldwork or conferences etc)? The best bit was getting out in the field and talking to many different people, hearing different perspectives and tapping into local knowledge and expertise. From my experience, one of the most valuable aspects of field work is being able to create opportunities to bring people together so that they can hear different and alternative viewpoints from their own, learn from each other and work together to start to solve really tricky problems.

What was the most exciting outcome(s) of your project?

Facilitating an exchange of ideas and a learning process where we all got something out of the experience. From my Masters research (disturbance to marine wildlife in UK waters), the best bit was getting a paper published as a lead author (with my supervisors as co-authors) which was picked up by the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee – that was a high point too!

Tell us what you have been doing since completing your research.

Since I finished my PhD in 2009, I have been working as a postdoc, first as a Research Assistant and now as a Research Fellow. I am currently working on five projects with different members of staff in SoGEES. That sounds a lot but all of the projects focus on understanding people and their relationship to place in some way. I’ve just come back from Tanzania where we were working in very remote rural areas to understand some of the serious soil erosion challenges facing Maasai herders. My job was to gather a range of social science data and I’m now working alongside a behavioural psychologist, ecological designer, soil and river scientists to look for ways to help the affected communities to find sustainable solutions.

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

The best advice I can give is be flexible and open minded about your research area, and don’t give up. Permanent research positions are almost impossible to find these days. Most people go on to secure a Lectureship, which is fine but I never wanted to do that. Research is what I love and is what I do best. Because of that, it’s been hard to find enough work sometimes so I learned early on to establish and maintain good networks with colleagues within and outside of the University. I have been incredibly lucky in that I’ve got some fantastic colleagues in SoGEES and they have helped me by inviting me to participate in writing research bids, sending me details of jobs coming up within their networks and letting me know when opportunities arise within SoGEES. The downside is that I am always on lots of fixed term contracts, so that’s what I mean about being flexible – you have to develop a ‘portfolio’ career!

How did your time at Plymouth University help you?

As a mature student (I did my Masters at the age of 35), it was a big challenge and I often doubted myself, but the University gave me all the support that I needed. I would not be where I am now without the encouragement of the academic staff at the University, not just in SoGEES but in all of the schools and Faculties that I’ve learned and worked in.

Would you recommend undertaking research at Plymouth University, and why?

Yes, absolutely. We have a great Researcher Development Team and they are fully committed to supporting research staff and postgraduates.

Is there anything else that you would like to share with our current students?

I would just say try and be open to different ways of developing your career. I have a house, a mortgage and a partner who has a permanent job, so moving around the country for PostDoc jobs was not an option for me. I’ve therefore had to think a bit more creatively about how to stay employed as a researcher. That has led to a really interesting set of projects that I’ve worked on, because I’ve had to avoid becoming too specialist. That can go against the academic norm of greater specialism and narrower disciplinary focus and it can be scary to challenge that. So far, though, it’s worked for me!