Julian Burkinshaw

Julian Burkinshaw

What are you researching for your PhD and what motivates you to study this area?

My research is looking at how working practices, particularly the rise and use of flexible initiatives, might influence the demand for commuting in the future. The project aims to intervene in the commute using a policy focus, to assess what participants feel might be required to ultimately discourage private car use. Using social practice theory allows the study to break down the commute, working practices and household responsibilities into their individual elements and dimensions to investigate key contributors to commute demand and examine which might be important in the future.

Commuting fascinates me and intervening in it to reduce private car use interests me. Commuting is associated with a multitude of problems and issues and so reducing the demand, or increasing sustainable mode use may alleviate or solve some of these problems. My undergraduate dissertation first prompted me to think about this through the analysis of a travel plan at a multi-national company, and the scale of private car use surprised me; given that the organisation was located on a newly constructed business park with excellent public transport accessibility. The dissertation, therefore, sparked my interest in how to reduce private car use and how one could intervene in the commute further.

Why did you decide to study at ITS?

Principally, it was to work with Professor Greg Marsden at a world-renowned research institute. I was keen to continue my research from undergraduate level and was offered the chance to do a Masters at the University of Salford under my then supervisor. However, I decided to contact Greg and explore the possibility of joining a PhD straight away. It was, therefore, the pull of working with a leading researcher in a leading research institute and environment that attracted me to study at ITS.

What did you do before you were a PhD student?

I did a BA in Geography at the University of Salford.

How would you describe the experience of being a PhD student?

Quite simply: challenging, rewarding and fun. It was quite relaxed in the first couple of weeks as you begin to find your feet, but that honeymoon period (so-to-speak) soon drifts away and proper work starts. The amount of work and intensity are two things not to be underestimated and can be quite surprising at times. Having said that, there would be no point in doing a PhD if you weren’t challenged, so it is best to just enjoy it!

What kind of support do you get?

Officially, I believe that you and your supervisors are expected to meet on at least 10 occasions a year. I have had no trouble at all when it comes to seeing my supervisors (even with one of them being the director of the Institute), thus support is never far. I would say the majority of staff run an open-door policy in which you can just knock on to see if they are in and they are more than welcome to chat, which is excellent. Most PhD students also advocate this – if ever you want to chat to a PhD student!

There is excellent support when it comes to facilities, libraries and training. Every PhD student currently is assigned a workspace and computer and the access to resources from the library is vast. The training opportunities are incredible, with courses available on practically everything you might encounter or use during your research – definitely one of the most important aspects of the support you can receive.

The PhD cohort within ITS is usually quite lively and tries to organise various social events that aim for everyone to get to know one another. The PhD students also run their own writing group, and soon to be a reading group, which offers advice and aims at improving the writing skills of all that attend.

How are you financing your studies?

My fees are being paid by ITS through the AD May Scholarship. I am therefore finding my own maintenance.

What do you aim to do once you’ve completed your PhD?

Continue with research into a Post-Doc and then move into lecturing and becoming an academic.

Do you have any advice for prospective PhD students?

It may be clichéd, but you get out what you put in. I am one of 4 PhD representatives and our role is principally an intermediary between the PhD cohort and staff within the department, faculty and school to pass on any suggestions, thoughts, feelings or any else that arises from students’ studies.

These roles have helped me become more immersed in the experience of being a PhD student and I would suggest, especially in your first year, to get involved in anything and everything is organised by the department and fellow students to become a more integrated part of the department.

Furthermore, I would suggest applying for demonstrating and fieldwork positions. These positions offer unprecedented experience, and in particular reference to the fieldwork, offer great opportunities for teamwork, responsibility and creativity.