Jane Evans, is an independent social research consultant; also on the SRA’s Board
As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
An artist or a ballerina.
When did you first turn towards a social research career?
At the time of the Heysel Stadium disaster when I realised I wanted to understand more about what lay behind people’s social behaviour, so while still working at a bank I enrolled with the OU to study for a degree in social policy.
What was your first professional job? And first project there?
My first research job was at the Institute of Education where I was involved in a major project looking at young people’s aspirations for qualifications in the context of globalisation. We worked in or with colleagues in several countries, including Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, China, India, Kenya. There was lots of opportunity for international travel which I made the most of.
Where did your career go next? What motivated that/those moves?
I got my PhD while working part time at the Institute of Education but decided I would like to work outside of academia. I worked for Barnardo’s in policy research for nine years understanding how policy affected the vulnerable children they work with. It was my privilege to speak to hundreds of young people across the UK and hear about their experiences, the issues that affected them and their lives.
What has been your best professional moment?
I most enjoyed work with children who had a parent in prison. We were interested in what their experiences of visiting their dads were like so I conducted participant observation research, taking the role of play worker in visiting hall creches and on family days so that I could follow the journey of quite small children through the gates and into the visit and talk to them over the face painting, Play-Doh and card making activities. It was challenging because I could not take my usual recording equipment in with me so had to take notes from memory on the train home. It was also often very emotionally affecting. But it felt very worthwhile to improve situations like tiny children going through security separately from carers and being sniffed by lovely, but possibly to a toddler, scary dogs.
When conducting an ethical review having to call another researcher and tell her that her sensitive research could not go ahead as it stood and would need substantial alterations. She was upset and cried, although the REC had definitely taken the right line.
Do you have a social research hero/heroine?
Michael Young and Peter Wilmott who wrote Family and Kinship in East London in 1957. To this day it is a fascinating read and an amazingly thorough piece of social research. Today I live in a 1950s former council house in Essex just like the ones described in the chapter about moving out to ‘Greenleigh’ and I like to think of the families around here being those in the book who originally came to this area from Bethnal Green.
Do you have a favourite quote?
‘Start before you’re ‘ready’.’ There always seems to be delay on research projects because of recruitment issues or waiting for ethical review etc so good to get going on what you can and save time later.
What would you say to encourage a young person today considering a social research career?
I would encourage her and tell her that she will have the most fascinating and privileged career listening to and making sense of people’s social experiences.