Jenni Barclay shares her career experiences and talks about working at the UEA Jenni Barclay shares her career experiences and talks about working at the UEA

I am a Professor in Volcanology in the School of Environmental Sciences (To link to Jenni's Staff Page, click here). I first came to work here in September 1999, employed as a Lecturer. I pursue research and teaching here; the variety that this brings is what I really enjoy about my job.

What inspired you to pursue a career in environmental sciences?

As a young kid I was really fascinated by the natural environment, but particularly in the physical processes that controlled the behaviour of things like volcanoes, tsunami and avalanches.

As a teenager I can distinctly remember watching people from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU in Environmental Sciences) talking about volcanoes and climate on programs like ‘Horizon'. That was incredibly inspiring - so it now feels like a real privilege to be working on volcanic processes in the same place as them!

Who encouraged you along the way? (Who are your role models and heroes?)

My mum and dad always really encouraged my natural curiosity about how things worked, and in hindsight were pretty indulgent about my desire to travel and explore the natural environment worldwide as a student.

I've struggled with confidence since I was at School and the encouragement from my PhD Supervisors was really vital in helping me succeed not only with my PhD but also in mentoring me through a ‘tricky patch' as a contract researcher when I wanted to just pack it in and have a ‘normal' life. Invaluable.

Beyond that, while here in ENV I have some great colleagues, both peers and senior colleagues who have helped to both inspire and support me in equal measure.

What do you most enjoy about your job?

Definitely the variety. I'm always looking for new challenges and to learn new things; so that makes this pretty much the dream job for someone like me.

I love that trying to teach students really forces you to think about what the most important components of a subject are, in order to see it from their perspective. Often you really need to dis-mantle a topic that you might otherwise take for granted.

I also love seeing new data that tells me something I didn't know before, or proves or disproves a hypothesis we've been working towards.

What do you particularly appreciate or enjoy about working in ENV?

The lack of disciplinary boundaries and the respect people have for each other's expertise. We genuinely do meet and talk with people well beyond our own specialism and that makes for a very rich environment. My research career has really benefited from those interactions; I've worked with social scientists, meteorologists and sedimentologists here!

It's all pretty inspiring for teaching too; for example, I love that in our first year introductory unit we teach concepts like ‘buoyancy' and suddenly that enables students to understand melt movement in the lithosphere, continental uplift, ocean circulation, the creation of storm cells – all sorts of stuff!

How easy is it to achieve the balance you would like between an interesting career and your other responsibilities and interests?

The one thing that is a real issue is learning to balance your time; the old ‘work-life' balance problem. I've had two kids and like anyone with caring commitments you can't actually afford to get that balance wrong because others immediately suffer.

I think it's about learning to use your time as effectively as possible. We need to fight the battle hard against ‘presenteeism' and nurture the thinking that an academic career does not need to demand superhuman hours. It's so easy to forget that part of what we do is creative and if we make time for other interests, our efficiency rises!

How can a good advisee/mentor encourage their students/colleagues?

A lot of academia is about presenting the very best case and an almost perfect view of you and your research. I think it's pretty important that your academic department provides room and space for discussion where we can all admit to components of the job that we are finding challenging and to provide a sounding board for solving problems. I think the starting point with a good mentoring role is to admit that we are all human in the end!

Good advice I've received has never been too prescriptive but helped to figure out which options might suit me the best, from teaching techniques to research pathways.