Speaking about her accomplishment, Karen said: “I love graduations, the celebration of individual achievements within the collective honouring of a group of students moving on to the next stage of their lives. I feel an enormous sense of pride every year, so this year will be extra special.
“My PhD thesis examined the development of green infrastructure policy, which is a way of talking about and managing urban green spaces. I’m still interested in policy development and urban areas, and am currently developing research interests in my School’s Women and the Built Environment research cluster.”
Karen’s favourite elements of her job are conversations with colleagues and students, hearing about different ideas, research and approaches to understanding the world. She said: “I still have to pinch myself sometimes that this is real. One of the best bits of the role is the privilege of working with our students, as such a defining part of their lives. I love seeing their development from first years through to their pride at graduating.”
Karen’s original plan was to be a BBC journalist for a few years, then move on to being an MP, although her career panned out somewhat differently. “At the time I didn’t know an academic was a job. Looking back, I think had I known it was, it would have been my dream job as my priorities were to explain things to people, and make a difference to the world.
“My first job was as a financial systems analyst for an insurance company. I fell into it from the typical late 1990s call centre job, to a secondment for some IT testing when it was thought all the computer systems would fall over due to the new millennium, to then working longer term on the computer systems and training to be an accountant.
“I then realised I’d been caught in a career trajectory that really wasn’t me, and moved to a job in regeneration for Leeds City Council.”
The inspiration to become an academic came from her form tutor at secondary school and her Grandad. “My form tutor, Dr Royston Sang, used to ask us philosophical questions. I found them fascinating yet the rest of the class were hugely irritated by them. He then gave me an introductory philosophy book which led me to discover a whole world of academic thinking.
“My Grandad was an academic specialising in printing technology, although I didn’t understand this as a child. It was only when I started my PhD that his job made any sense to me, and we then had long conversations about conferences he had been to and experiences he had, back in the 1950s-80s. He’s now 97 and still reads my work. I’m hoping my uncle can help with the technology so he can watch the live stream.”
Karen says leaving a very secure job to take up a PhD bursary was the best investment that she has ever made. She has balanced studying for her PhD with raising two children and she still finds time to read children’s bed time stories daily, the last one being ‘That’s not my frog’.
Indeed, Karen credits her eldest son as the biggest influence on her life, saying: “Having him taught me you never know what’s lurking round the corner, and you don’t want to regret the things you didn’t do.”
Karen graduates in the School of Built Environment and Engineering ceremony at 10:00, Wednesday 26 July.