As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
I had thought of becoming a teacher and also a career in architecture had always appealed.
So when did you first turn towards a social research career?
When I was completing my Masters in the Sociology of Education at KeeleUniversity I became involved in a small-scale research project on how young people experienced their training, funded by a Training & Enterprise Council (TEC) with CSRE (the Centre for Social Research in Education) lead by Prof Dennis Gleeson. My job was to make notes on the interviews with young people that were conducted by the researchers and I also was tasked with coding and entering all of the data form a set of around 400 in-depth questionnaires.
What was your first professional job? And first project there?
I stayed at Keele and worked on a Nuffield-funded research project looking at Education Action Zones and then was appointed as Research Assistant on a OU funded-project looking at the transition experiences of young people as they moved from school to work.
What has been your best professional moment?
Best moment – working on a DfID-funded project on the use of ICT to support the learning of rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa. Part of the project was the development of health and agriculture modules (by in-country academics) and then the piloting of these. We met with a small group of mothers, one of who said that the learning materials that had been developed had for the first time helped her to understand the link between the health of her young children and basic hygiene and cleanliness. For me, this connection of research to practice has been the most important aspect of anything I have worked on.
Worst moment –there have been so many! I guess sending out many 100s of paper copies of a questionnaire to schools and realising that the middle pages had been omitted. Or, travelling for over 8 hours (with delayed trains and flooding to contend with) to get to a school to do an interview with the head for the school to say that they had rung to cancel the interview so couldn’t meet with me. (This was in the days before mobile phones.)
Do you have a social research hero/heroine?
All of those who have made a real difference and are true to what they are doing. Somebody that epitomises this is Prof Jenny Ozga who I had the privilege to work with when she was at KeeleUniversity. She is now Professor of Sociology of Education at Oxford and has completed ground-breaking work around education policy and development.
Do you have a favourite quote?
‘But I being poor have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; tread softly for you tread on my dreams.’ From W B Yeats ‘He wishes for the cloths of Heaven’
What would you say to encourage a young person today considering a social research career?
Social research underpins and informs debates (both explicitly and implicitly) around how we develop as individuals and communities and nations and view our world. It is exciting to be part of this.
Interview by William Solesbury