From student to Professor: Why a UK education will give you the best possible start
By Natalia Kucirkova
Professor Natalia Kucirkova gained a Psychology degree from the University of Bath, before undertaking a master's, then PhD, researching psychology, childhood and new technologies with The Open University. Natalia is now an internationally recognised researcher in the field of child psychology, with a particular expertise in how stories can teach children important lessons about society and social justice.
A key focus of her work relates to new technologies, and the influence e-books and reading apps can have on a child’s formative reading experiences. Originally from Slovakia, Natalia now leads the FILIORUM Centre at the University of Stavanger in Norway.
The Centre’s goal is to promote belonging, communication and play for all children, and to create a national hub for cutting-edge research, innovation and policy guidance on quality early childhood education.
In this blog she shares how her UK experience gave her the best possible foundation to build a career.
The best possible place to study
I had always wanted to study psychology but growing up in Eastern Europe there were few avenues open to me, particularly as a young woman. In contrast, the United Kingdom offered a great number of opportunities.
It’s a dominant force in this field and many other areas of academic research, so I knew I would learn a great deal by being in the UK full time, particularly because I would have access to so much of the world’s best research.
A unique academic experience
A fundamental part of my learning was the UK’s unique focus on critical thinking. Being able to interrogate information and think creatively is an extremely important skill as a researcher.
As part of my work, I go to many international research conferences. There, I can notice the differences in research training related to ‘critical thinking’ skills and the status graduate students from different countries have. It makes me really appreciate the graduate training and support I received in the UK.
I had really positive experiences in the UK. Not least because I had the opportunity to study with such exceptional lecturers and staff.
At the University of Bath, Professor Richard Joiner really inspired me. His main area of research is the use of digital technology to support learning, and he encouraged me to shape my own ideas in this area.
I would also like to thank Professor Teresa Cremin and my PhD supervisors, David Messer and Kieron Sheehy at the Open University, where I studied for my master’s and doctoral degree. At every step during my studies at the Open University, I was shown kindness and given lots of encouragement and support.
My positive experiences at The Open University continue to inspire me today, helping me to go the extra mile and take action to make the world a better place. It is extremely important to have people who believe in you.
A life-changing opportunity
While at the University of Bath, Professor Joiner helped me gain a year-long placement at the Department of Education, Oxford, working alongside the educational psychologist, Professor Kathy Sylva.
Hand on heart, this placement with Professor Sylva helped to change my life. She is an incredible person who pushed my understanding of educational research to the next level. The placement opened up a world of new ideas and connections for me.
Being able to apply what I had learned in a real-world setting was something which continued with my PhD. As part of my doctoral studies, I co-developed an actual, working app for children that was based on my research and would make a positive difference in children’s educational development. This was before apps were everywhere. I’m very grateful to have been able to translate research into a real product for families.
A beautiful place to study
I have to be honest, studying was really hard work! There were a lot of long hours and my degrees required a lot of perseverance and commitment. With small successes and acknowledgments along the way, I felt rewarded for the hard work. I know that in some places that might not be the case for students.
And the UK is a beautiful country. In Bath I would often take time to enjoy the city surroundings. It was also great to be in the place where Jane Austen had lived, as I had read her books as a teenager. I loved the grand old buildings and country walks she had written about.
The best possible start
I’m incredibly fortunate to have a professorship at 35 and I doubt I would have been able to achieve this without my UK experiences. It gave me the best possible foundation to begin building my career.
Last year, I received two prizes for my work, including a prestigious Jacobs Foundation Fellowship and a Norwegian Research Council award for early career researchers. I’m very grateful to all the wonderful teachers, colleagues and mentors in the UK who enabled me to grow and achieve what I have.