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Postdoctoral Researcher in the Department of Earth Sciences & current co-chair of the MPLS Researcher Staff Forum.

What were you doing before you became a Researcher at the University of Oxford?

Adina Pusok

I graduated with an undergraduate degree in Earth Sciences in Oxford in 2012, so the city and the university were already familiar to me. I then moved to Mainz, Germany to pursue a PhD degree in Geophysics at the Johannes Gutenberg University, followed by a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego, USA.

I have been a researcher at Oxford University for the past four years. I joined the summer before the pandemic lockdown so the beginning, inevitably, was somewhat challenging. But things started picking up from summer of 2021, and the last two years have been incredible. It’s very different coming back to Oxford as a researcher. Even though I enjoyed my undergraduate time here, as a researcher you are much more in control of your schedule, and there is the bonus of not having exams. Also, I focus now on an area of research that I enjoy and find interesting!

What advice would you give to your younger self – just starting out at Oxford?

Work is a big and important part of my life here at Oxford, but I would advise my younger self to get a good balance between work and personal life, and don’t miss out on the opportunities that the University and the city has to offer. Being proactive can completely change your experience in Oxford! This applies to both research and personal life. There are many smart and interesting people here - so go and meet as many as you feasibly can within your department or within the wider University. They could become potential collaborators, advise you and provide expertise in an area of interest to you, or just be a mentor and a friend. There is also plenty to do and see within the city, not just within the University, and plenty of hobbies to try or communities to join! The sense of community is very strong in Oxford!

Give an example of the last time you had fun in your role.

I’m not just saying this, but I enjoy my research and all the bits related to the academic life, which gives me passion and drive. I am sure that is the same for many researchers. In my work, I build computer models of the Earth’s interior so after months of coding and verification I’m thrilled when I see that the code works and produces some exciting new results. Somewhat more tedious, but even publishing and sharing the results at conferences and workshops can be a satisfying part of my research.

I also find the representative role that I have within the MPLS Researcher Staff Forum enjoyable as it involves bringing together postdocs with different expertise, often at an event we’ve organised. I care about community involvement and I strive to improve little by little the postdoc research experience in MPLS, Oxford and in general.

What is your favourite part of being a researcher?

For me it is simply about working with smart people and doing the research: learning, coding, producing and analysing simulation results, and generating new ideas. I also enjoy and value the occasional teaching element in my role. I supervise and offer a small number of undergraduate tutorials, but I learn so much from students, and it is always a reminder not to forget the basics – “why we do what we do”.

If you could change Research Culture in one way – how would you change it?

Most of the toxicity in academia comes from the precarity of job contracts, the pressure to produce and to publish, to bring in funding, and the lack of career diversity (i.e., teaching vs research roles). Coupled with the insecurity of the job market, these factors create stress and disagreements, and can lead to proliferation of lower quality research, misconduct, and mental health issues.

In my experience, most researchers just want to do the research they enjoy, sometimes combined with teaching. That shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing for career development; teaching is just as valuable and rewarding but current emphasis rests so heavily on publishing and being an academic leader that it can have a negative effect on researchers who don’t necessarily want that. So, I think the way I would change it is to introduce more realistic workloads and recognising a diverse set of skills among researchers.

Several statistics this year showed that many researchers are struggling to keep up with ‘what is expected’ within a normal work hour week. We need to focus on researchers as people that can thrive rather than tools for production and support them to reach their full potential.

Have you attended any of the Researcher Training & Development courses?  Which ones would you recommend?

Yes, I tend to attend courses that fall in line with my academic interests or needs. I’ve attended some good courses on grant applications, unconscious bias in MPLS, but also some other courses offered throughout the University. One course that had a big impact on me, personally and professionally, was the Advanced Teaching and Learning course offered by the Centre of Teaching and Learning. Being more reflective on my teaching practices, and striving for good practices, not just improved my teaching skills, but also my research, and helped me become a more confident researcher.