Name: Dr Tom Hargreaves
Age range: 31
Research institution: School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich
Research career length: 4 years
Research Council: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Previously funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
Location: Norwich, England
Brief summary of research: Three main environmental social science research projects:
A-levels: Geography, History, Psychology
BA Geography, University of Cambridge
Masters course run by the sustainability charity, Forum for the Future, at Middlesex University
Master’s Environment, Science and Society at University College London
PhD at University of East Anglia
Postdoctoral research associate: Transition pathways to a low-carbon economy
ESRC-funded Post Doctoral Research Fellowship
EPSRC/EdF funded project looking at 'Community Energy'
Senior Research Associate
“Researchers today are working on ideas that probably won't become common knowledge, government policy or business strategy for 20 years or so. Research is constantly years ahead of the rest of the world and, for me, that's its main purpose and value.”
I first got into geography because of a string of brilliant teachers at school and college. They inspired me to go further because they made the subject fun and engaging, which should be easy, since geography is about the world we live in. Both my parents are academics too, which must have influenced me subconsciously. But probably the greatest influence of all was my PhD supervisor, who has definitely made the biggest mark on my research career so far.
After my Undergraduate degree at Cambridge, I discovered that the sustainability organisation, Forum for the Future, offered a really interesting Master’s degree. The course comprised six one-month work experience placements, during which I discovered my interest in research. Through this course, I met people at Imperial College who offered me a Research Associate position and then spent a year as a researcher at Imperial, before deciding to do a PhD.
In my current post, I do a relatively small amount of teaching and supervision of PhD students, but the vast majority of my time involves conducting research. This includes reading literature, and organising and carrying out fieldwork, such as interviewing people, running focus groups or doing participant observation. Like all academics, I write papers for publication and present them at conferences, seminars and workshops. Most researchers spend some of their time seeking further funding for their work, and I do my fair share of that too.
Whilst individual creativity is a very important part of being a successful researcher, it's almost completely useless unless you can also work with others. You need to be able to talk about your research to colleagues so that they can challenge you, test you and help you move forwards and develop better ideas. Since I collaborate with researchers at other universities, I spend quite a lot of time talking to them on the phone or meeting them in person.
I fully support the value of research for its own sake and don’t feel research should only be judged on its short term social or economic ‘impact’. At the same time, however, I also work hard to ensure that my research helps the people I'm actually researching. This is true whether they’re a local community group, policy makers or even business executives. So even though I really enjoy conducting the research in the first place, it’s applying the findings and trying to make a difference that I often find most fulfilling.
Looking to the future, I’m very committed to continuing my academic career. In the next few years this means applying for lectureships and Fellowships at different universities as well as the ongoing challenge of seeking further research funding. In the longer term, I’m aiming to become a professor at a good university. Fingers crossed.