I graduated from Birmingham in 2008 and initially found it difficult to leave INLOGOV, where I enjoyed my time completing my PhD. However I live near Leicester and, by chance, shortly after I left INLOGOV several friends and colleagues moved to the Local Government Research Unit at De Montfort University. Initially I took on a number of short term contracts as a visiting research fellow, mainly helping with field research on public participation and neighbourhood working. The turning point came when, encouraged by colleagues at DMU, I apply for a Research Fellowship with the Arts and Humanities Research Council which was focused on a Citizen Power project in Peterborough.
While I wasn’t successful in gaining the fellowship itself, I was offered an award from the AHRC for a research project on Understanding the Impacts of Citizen Participation in Peterborough. This award funded my work on a more stable basis for two years and, in addition to reports and journal papers, one of the outputs from that research is an RSA animation aimed at disseminating the main findings to a non-academic audience.
When I was not interviewing and observing in Peterborough, I was teaching and working on a book with Vivien Lowndes. We had a common interest in applying institutional theory to political analysis and she had a contract with Palgrave Macmillan to write a book on the subject. We put together some draft chapters pretty quickly and tested them out by going up to the Politics Department at the University of Sheffield, where Vivien gave some masterclasses to postgraduate students. The feedback we received from that and other reviewers was very positive and we ploughed on.
I should have learned from the PhD process, I guess, that the actual writing is only half the battle, and getting the thing ready for publication (references, indices, blurb, text for the cover) can take a long time. Anyway, the book was published on 31st May of this year in the Palgrave Macmillan Political Analysis series under the title ‘Why Institutions Matter: the New Institutionalism in Political Science‘, and has been a source of both surprise and amusement to my friends and family.
Perhaps the best advice I was given after graduating was from my PhD supervisor and was about finding ‘an academic home’. That can be quite difficult for many graduates who may have spent four, five or more years in the same academic environment. I have been lucky that DMU was on my doorstep and a number of colleagues moved there at the same time. From here I aim to keep the same balance going between teaching, research and writing, making sure I get out into the field as often as possible, and keep in touch with friends and colleagues from INLOGOV and elsewhere.
Mark Roberts is a Research Fellow in the Department of Politics and Public Policy at De Montfort University, Leicester. His research interests include citizen participation, neighbourhood working, new institutional theory, interpretive analysis and the influence of religion and race in urban politics. Before completing his PhD at INLOGOV, Dr Roberts worked in local authority social work for twenty nine years, with his last post being Deputy Director of Social Services in Sandwell MBC in the West Midlands.