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Profile of Dr Claire Barlow

Claire is a Senior Lecturer in Manufacturing and Deputy Head of Department (Teaching)

cbarlow.jpgI was brought up in an environment where reading, questioning, creativity and problem-solving were the norm. My father (a medical doctor) was immensely practical, loved gadgets and had a great talent for devising ingenious mechanical devices; my mother (an artist) imposed aesthetic standards and created a hospitable and welcoming home through which passed a constant stream of curious friends and relatives. It all provided a great foundation for a career as an academic and a research scientist.

I came to Cambridge to read Natural Sciences, specializing in Materials Science, and remained in that department for my PhD. I joined the engineering department as a postdoc to work with Professor Mike Ashby, who was not only tremendously inspirational but also very supportive. I moved over to the Manufacturing and Management division, then in Mill Lane, as a lecturer in MET. It was (and is) a very friendly place, but my first year was a difficult time. There was a lot to learn, particularly with the industrial elements of the course, and the managerial side was new to me. However, my main problem was that the course lacked transparency, and I was forever finding out about things I should be doing only after I’d failed to do them. Once I’d discovered what was going on, my organizational instincts kicked in and I started to make suggestions for improvements to the running of MET. I found that if I prepared the ground carefully with relevant staff and then presented a well-argued proposal, with a sensible plan for how it could be implemented, then people were generally happy to let me get on with it. It’s not surprising that I very soon found myself MET Course Director, a post I held for a decade. I learnt a lot about how organizations work, how to run an efficient operation without the dysfunctional people derailing it, how to implement change and how to strike a balance between democracy and oligarchy.

Undergraduates are at the heart of the department, and teaching is for me a high priority. In my current role as Deputy Head of Department (Undergraduate Teaching) I have the opportunity to meddle with structures and procedures, trying to make the system run as smoothly and efficiently as possible. On the whole, staff in the Department are co-operative, and many are wonderfully enthusiastic about teaching matters.

I value the autonomy that an academic career has enabled: I’m not good at following other peoples’ agendas. I have tended to do what interests me rather than what would be strategically sensible, so my career progression has been rather irregular. I value the interdisciplinary environment in the department and the opportunities it has provided to do things I enjoy, and to make things happen. I’ve felt very privileged to work here.

At home I am supported by my husband, Jim Woodhouse (also in CUED), who is wonderfully domesticated and does the household chores while thinking about his work (he says). He has grown-up children who have flown the nest (though not very far).