Simone Tulumello, our able moderator/coordinator at the AESOP YA Blog had asked me to relate my personal experiences on getting a job in academia. As some of you readers may have noted I have a new title: Assistant Professor at Istanbul Technical University, Department of Urban and Regional Planning. I had been pondering what to write when I and others in the Planning world heard the sad news that one of the most talented and influential thinkers in the field, Prof. Sir Peter Hall, had passed away on July 30th.
It would be impossible to fit into this writing all that Prof. Hall has achieved within his career. I leave that to the able hands of others who I am sure will continue writing about Prof. Hall’s contributions for quite a long time. For this blog I will focus on one important insight that he has shared with me that I believe is of out-most importance to young researchers who are embarking on their career paths. I was one of the fortunate people to have worked very closely with Prof. Hall since 2007 when I started my first year of PhD studies under his supervision (I was doubly fortunate because my second supervisor was Prof. Mike Batty). I had embarked on a journey to continue Prof. Hall’s long study in the formation and development of cities as stipulated by the Balzan Prize that he had received in 2005 and generously shared with me and other fellow students to support our PhDs. I had a special status as overseas student. Despite receiving the same contribution for my PhD from the Balzan fund I was paying triple the amount of tuition fees that Prof. Hall’s other students were paying. The journey was not an easy one. As many who have embarked on a PhD know, it is a fine talent to perform at the highest standard on a tight budget.
Within my first year of studies, in order to support my work and my living, with the encouragement of Prof. Hall, I applied for a research project fund. It was not the first time I had applied for funding. It had been part of my work in my previous career as project manager in a non-profit housing corporation. And yet it was hard. I was applying on behalf of myself, with no experience or works to refer to except for my professional career and my previous studies. The process of writing the application was grueling as each time I sat in front of the computer I was waging a battle with my self-doubt. However with the guidance of Prof. Hall I worked diligently on the application. With each re-writing my confidence in the application and in myself grew. I had even begun to think of the possibility of getting the funding. Finally it was done and gone.
I cannot recall how much time it took to get a reply, but I recall that I thought about the funding, and how it would boost my research and get me back on my feet financially. I had attempted to draft my PhD work plan to reflect the funding, but Prof. Hall asked me to wait until I got a reply. I did not understand his caution since he had been the one urging me on when I had been reluctant to apply. He had also been quite positive in his assessment of the final application. But trusting his knowledge I waited. I drafted the work plan around the funding which I had, which paled in comparison to what could have been. So when the reply came and my application was denied, I was crestfallen. It was then that Prof. Hall showed me a recent application that he himself had submitted and that had been rejected. I was shocked. I could not imagine that Prof. Hall would be unsuccessful. That is when he turned to me and said ‘Basak, some we win, some we lose…’.
Those words stayed with me since then, and I have tried to follow them. They have guided me in my decisions within my PhD and after. I have worked diligently, knowing that without giving it the best that I can I would never know if that would be the path to success. In the meantime, Prof. Hall fought his battle with cancer with all his might, but sadly for all of us, this time it was not a win.