30 years at Keele: May 1986 – May 2016

An occasion like this deserves documenting, and in the end it rather crept up on me. I knew it was coming, but with the last 3 weeks of April being so busy, I was distracted, and in the end it was thanks to a Facebook reminder that I remembered.

So, how did I, a confirmed Londoner, end up here? Well, back in 1986 I was coming to the end of a 2 year postdoctoral contract at Birkbeck College, and my previous postdoctoral supervisor, Richard Catlow had moved from UCL to Keele the previous year (he had been invited by Brian Fender, who had also recently moved to Keele as Vice Chancellor, and who knew him from their Oxford days). Richard had a postdoctoral research fellowship available that was funded by Shell, and he invited me to apply for it. It was concerned with modelling zeolites, and I had some relevant experience from my Birkbeck post, so I was qualified for the fellowship and was offered it. That saw me travel to Keele on 1 May 1986 to start my contract. In preparing this post I have looked at my rather brief diary entries from the time, which have reminded me that my early weeks at Keele consisted of a lot of travelling, initially back to London and my mother’s house in Suffolk to collect some furniture and other things, but also to Amsterdam to visit my new sponsors at the Shell labs.

My initial contract at Keele was for 2 years, and I was quite sure it wouldn’t extend beyond that time. For one thing, at the time I wanted to get back to London, and then there was the unlikeliness of the contract being renewed, or of something else coming up at Keele. How wrong I proved to be! The first thing that happened was that Richard Catlow ingeniously devised a new position for me to apply for when my Shell contract came to an end. It was partly funded by Kodak, to work on some particular materials they were interested in at the time, and partly by Keele, to set up some short courses in topics like X-ray diffraction, and it was another 2 year post. I applied and was appointed, and started the new position in April 1988. It was designated as a lectureship, and I did have some teaching as well as the other responsibilities. The short courses were planned, but never really got off the ground. However, my work with Kodak was interesting, involving a month at their labs in Rochester, NY, working with Roger Baetzold. Then, in 1989, Richard moved back to London, to the Royal Institution. Although there was the possibility of me going with him, I had become established at Keele, and while my post wasn’t permanent at the time, things looked promising. So I stayed put, and once the short courses/Kodak contract finished, I was taken on to the permanent staff as a Lecturer, probably in 1990. I then worked my way up the career ladder, getting promotions to Senior Lecturer in 1996 and Reader in 2000.

So what have been the highlights of the past 30 years?

– In the 1990s it was probably organising the Eurodim conference (European Conference on Defects in Insulating Materials) at Keele (in 1998). I was only asked to do this in 1994 when attending the previous conference in the series (in Lyon, where I am going in a couple of months!) It was well-attended and very successful.

– In the 2000s, when our Chemistry course at Keele came under fire from the senior management, I got involved in our Forensic Science course (teaching Arson and Ballistics), and have taught on it since its start in the middle of the decade. I note in passing that next year we will introduce a Single Honours version of the course, and I am once again involved in developing a new module, this time on Digital Forensics.  I should also add that Chemistry survived, and is thriving now.

– The decade beginning in 2010 has seen me take on roles like Senior Tutor for the School (Physical and Geographical Sciences), Internationalisation Director to the School (to help coordinate Keele’s drive to increase the number of international links and to internationalise its curriculum), and I’ve been asked to sit on various committees dealing with Appeals and Academic Misconduct, where no doubt my longevity at Keele is seen as an asset!

Moving into my fourth decade at the University, I see my main challenge as keeping my research going in an increasingly difficult and challenging funding climate. Looking back to when I started my career, there was a more level playing field for all universities in the UK, and funding for PhD students could be obtained without being part of a larger group of institutions, which is what is required now. But I will push on. There will be new teaching challenges as well (I mentioned Digital Forensics earlier), as well as contributions to our MChem course. But in conclusion, considering I only came here on a temporary contract, it has been a good and fulfilling 30 years. I would also like to mention my wife Angela, who I met at Keele, and who has given me so much help, support and encouragement over the years.

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