Dr. Pamela Campanelli is a survey methodologist, chartered statistician and chartered scientist. She currently runs her own business called “The Survey Coach” which provides training and consultancy. But she is also involved in many academic activities such as co-writing journal articles from a recent ESRC research grant she had with ISER and NatCen, being an associate editor for JOS and an editor for several other journals, being an internal examiner for the University of Hong Kong, and being on various committees such as the GSS Methodology Advisory Committee at ONS.
As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
As a child I wanted to be a teacher. Over time the type of teacher varied. By the time I was ready for university I had decided to become a teacher of mathematics in a secondary school. But I ended up doing a psychology degree at the University of Michigan with a statistics component instead.
When did you first turn towards a social research career?
My first job was at the Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) data archive at the University of Michigan. But, after archiving social research datasets for 2 years, I was really keen to be actually doing the research. Simultaneously I applied for both a Master’s programme in social research/survey research methods and a research associate job for a health psychologist at the University of Michigan. I was accepted for both. Fortunately, the head of the Master’s programme (Dr. Robert Groves) and the health psychologist agreed to a compromise and I was able to do both part-time.
What was your first professional job? And first project there?
After graduation, I worked as a survey statistician at the US Bureau of the Census. My very first week I was asked to write a respondent debriefing study to identify problems with the labour force survey questionnaire (called the Current Population Survey). This was part of a larger project between the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labour Statistics to evaluate and completely redesign the questionnaire.
Where did your career go next? What motivated that/those moves?
In 1990 after attending a conference in the UK, I fell in love with the UK. This could have been because of my British grandmother who lived with my family when I was growing up and my Canadian father being a complete “Anglophile”. I became obsessed about moving to the UK. Ironically the first persons I saw at a later US conference was Dr. Jacqueline Scott (Cambridge University) who I knew from the University of Michigan. She asked me if I knew of anyone who would like to come to the UK and work on the British Household Panel Study (BHPS) at the University of Essex. I said “yes, take me” immediately. Being in an academic environment at the University of Essex, I was encouraged to complete a PhD. Although I later moved to the National Centre for Social Research as a Research Director, I was able to complete my PhD in statistics at the LSE using a special experiment to measure interviewer variance that Colm O’Muircheartaigh and I had set up in wave 2 of the BHPS.
After 20 years of doing social research, I set up my own training and consultancy business, “The Survey Coach”. People in the UK may recognise my name for the training courses I run, which cover all aspects of how to do a survey with the goal of enabling participants to do high quality quantitative social research. So the childhood teaching ambition came back, but in a different form than expected! The teaching has also led to a lot of travel both within the UK and to the US, Switzerland, Hong Kong, South Africa, Malaysia, Thailand, Australia, Brazil and Kazakhstan.
What has been your best professional moment?
There isn’t just one best moment but many. Knowing I’ve made a contribution to course participants or consultancy clients means a lot to me. And equally I find the travel makes me a better person. As I fall in love with the people and places, I let go of fears and prejudices.
No bad moments. But I could share a funny, slightly embarrassing one. My students at the University of Michigan made a questionnaire which I proofread. There was a question on National Public Radio. But neither the spell checker nor I caught the missing “l” in “public”.
Do you have a social research hero/heroine?
My hero is Dr Robert Groves – sorry to pick an American one! He started the Master’s programme in Social Research Methods at the University of Michigan which later became a PhD programme in Survey Research Methods. Later, with colleagues, he started the Joint Program in Survey Methodology and became director of Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan. Later he became Director of the US Bureau of the Census. He has spent his life trying to improve the quality of research methods and of research methods training to create excellence in social research.
Do you have a favourite quote?
“Good statistics, therefore, represent a key role in good policy making. The impact of policy can be measured with good statistics. If policy cannot be measured, it is not a good policy.” Aziz Othman, (2005), The Role of Statistics in Factual-Based Policy-Making.
What would you say to encourage a young person today considering a social research career?
Social research makes a great career because it is very interesting topic, it makes a great contribution to society and jobs can be found in many different sectors: government, academia, survey companies, and specialised institutes.