Doctoral School

Dr Caroline Oprandi

Dr Caroline Oprandi, STEM Centre Manager at Portslade Aldridge Community Academy, tells us how she got her job.

How did you end up doing a PhD?

I was a mature student when I came here to do my PhD back in 2002. My PhD was an Industrial CASE PhD co-sponsored by the BBSCR and my employer Unilever. I had already got an MSc, paid for by my former employer, where I was the Quality Assurance Manager at a Soft Drinks Company. However, whilst working for Unilever my role required liaising with various external professors and I knew then, that I wanted to do a PhD.  At the time I was working on the Unilever Global Tea and Health programme and I wrote a proposal to assess the effects of a component called theanine present in tea, which effects alpha brain wave activity. My PhD took a little longer than expected since I had two children whilst studying.

What did you do next?

After completing my PhD I decided to stay in Brighton. I took up a research post at the University of Sussex in the Centre for Continuing Education. I was recruited for my qualitative and quantitative research skills, as well as my International experience. This was the first time I’d dealt with social policy. I was working in partnership with Brighton and Hove Council and the University of Brighton on an ESF funded, fixed term project, assessing barriers faced by the disadvantaged towards gaining employment. After this project I was employed as a researcher at SPRU (Scientific Policy Research Unit) on another fixed term ESF project called Project U-Know. Project U-Know focused on the interrelatedness of the enterprise, public science/higher education and governmental spheres in order to understand the role of knowledge for European competitiveness.

Life as a post-doctoral researcher is difficult if you want to stay in the same place. It’s much easier if you can travel around the country. You do need to think about how children, if you want them, will fit around your career. I decided to go into teaching, as there were lots of incentives for graduates at the time, particularly in maths and science where there was a £25k tax-free bursary. First I did a one-year SKE (Subject Knowledge Enhancement) course at University of Brighton and then I started on a Chemistry Secondary PGCE. It was a bit of shock, as schools had changed so much since I was last there. Teacher training is hard - it’s not for the faint-hearted. I actually got ill and had to defer for a while but in the meantime, a job came up as the STEM Centre Manager at Portslade Aldridge Community Academy (PACA).

Tell us about your current job

When I was offered the job at PACA it was one of those moments where I felt like I had reached my destination. All of my previous roles, working in business and academia, as well as the teacher training, all came together. The head teacher at the time commented that I had a unique set of skills that matched the job perfectly. I’m so passionate about my job, especially as it allows me to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths and as the STEM Centre Manager I work with the children on various STEM projects. It has been so successful that we are putting STEM on they curriculum for all year 7’s, 8’s and 9’s. We recently won STEM club of the year and the Gatwick Electronics prize at the Big Bang Regional Show. Students from the University of Sussex Informatics Department and the Physics and Astronomy Department have been integral to the success of PACA’s STEM centre. They have volunteered their time and expertise to help on the various projects.

I also run a Primary STEM club and via working in partnership with Mile Oak Primary School we now have a Primary Science and Technology bus, donated by Brighton and Hove buses, to be used by all of the local primaries. Brighton and Hove buses have painted it, added two domes on top for stargazing and we recently won a £10k grant to revamp it. Businesses have also been offering their help and support to the STEM centre; donating various things from Raspberry Pi’s and weather stations to gardening tools. Our aim is to ensure that creativity within science is firmly put back on the agenda!

I also write a weekly Science and Technology column for Brighton’s Latest magazine.

What’s your top tip for doctoral researchers?

These days you’re selling yourself as a product and employers want to see something beyond your PhD.

Doctoral School

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