Tom Rusbridge

Research Staff Development Consultant at King's College London
PhD History, 2020

Tell us a bit about yourself and your current role.

My name is Tom Rusbridge. I’m the Research Staff Development Consultant at King’s College London. I did a PhD in History at Birmingham and I “graduated” in 2020, and what that means here is there was a video of scrolling names, my name was one of them. I got to visit Birmingham again in September for sort of the graduation proper, that was very nice. What I do in my current role, I’m broadly speaking, a researcher developer so I work in the professional development of researchers at King’s. I design and deliver in-house professional development for a category of staff called research staff. That here means post-doctoral fellows, teaching fellows, research assistants, and technicians. Prior to this role I worked in research and development still, but very much at the doctoral research stage, so I was a doctoral development specialist I suppose, working at a much more modern university, the University of East London and I worked across the faculties there.

What motivated you to do a PhD and what advice do you have for someone considering a PhD?

At the time I wanted to be an academic. I went into a PhD and with the really sort of basic motivation that I wanted to be a lecturer and that's what a lecturer needed. I suppose I’ll talk later with one of these questions about how and why that changed. The advice for somebody considering a PhD is the kind of classic, the three piece. So, project, place, and person.

So what is the project, why is it important to do it at Birmingham? Person, why are you the right person to do that project. You really need to be I think invested in in the first couple wherever you go so this is a project that can take three, four, part time five, six, seven, years sometimes depending on circumstances. So, you really, really need to like the project that you're talking about. You need to have an affinity with the place, the supervisor at the place needs to be right.

Now I would add the fourth P, which is paperwork. There is an awful lot of it and I was certainly the kind of doctor of research who was very grumpy about the amount of paperwork that had to happen. Having seen that from the other side, now I know why the paperwork has to happen. I’d say not necessarily to embrace the paperwork but do understand it and recognise what it offers you. Essentially all of this paperwork is an opportunity to write about your research in a reflective way for a different audience. A progress review, or a supervisory report meeting, are still opportunities to sort of refine your writing and refine your thinking. That's the kind of way of getting around it I think.

What do you enjoy most and what do you find challenging about your role?  

What I really like is that there's a lot of autonomy and a lot of creativity involved in being a research developer. We get to spend time thinking about what is the best way of making a piece of professional development happen and what's the best format for that. It's about mapping that professional development solution on to whatever the problem or the challenge is.

What's challenging is that we operate in big structures. Institutions and universities are complicated places and when somebody somewhere near the top says, oh yeah, we could really use a course on this, we could do some workshops on whatever it might be, of course that has to get operationalised and work its way down and eventually be delivered by people like us. So that's the challenge is that plates move and tessellate at the top of institutional structures and our job is very much kind of on the ground.

Have you faced any barriers during your career journey so far, if so how did you overcome them?

Not really, I’d have to say I’ve been generally very fortunate in my career so far. There have been opportunities, and there we are using the word opportunity, where the work has expanded very quickly and sort of without a certain amount of warning. So, projects appear, they need to happen, people need to make them happen and that that can sometimes land on your plate quite quickly with a bit of a thud. However, I think make time for down time, it is a bit glib but quite important. Working with the system i.e. recognising that there are resources around you that can be pulled on. Those resources might be people and the thing that you're trying to access is pure, simple, restorative support, but yeah recognising that you are part of a sort of an ecosystem and working with that.

How did your time at Birmingham help you prepare for this role?

Chiefly it would be teaching I’d have to say. I had an opportunity in the final funded year of my PhD to teach undergraduate seminars. That set me up really well in terms of public speaking facilitating workshops and that was definitely beneficial.

What are your career plans for the future?

At the moment, I don't have any beyond working in the role that I’m currently doing and trying to do that well. I didn't know that I wanted to do this until I saw the advert appear so I think this is what a careers consultant might call 'planned happenstance'. I understand that's the lingo but I’m not in that field. So I’m sure I’ll know when they appear but at the moment it's working and if something else comes up I might realise, ah that's the next thing.

What advice would you give to students who are interested in your line of work?

The simple one is to try it out, so go along to researcher development sessions at Birmingham.  Speaking as somebody on the delivery end, I’m sure they'll be more than welcome to have you if you if you sign up and turn up. So go along to those, work out what the shape of this is, it is a bit of teaching, it is a bit of design, it is a bit of facilitation. See how comfortable it feels to be in those kinds of environments and then talk to whoever's at the front of the room. So, Birmingham I’m sure like most places will have a combination of in-house and external people coming in. It is a very supportive community so ask them how it is.


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