What were the highlights of your early career prior to becoming a social researcher?
I have enjoyed an extremely varied career. My first job was with Ferodo, the brake-lining manufacturer as an industrial management trainee. They sent me to Caernarvon where my life-long love of mountains helped me to make the switch to become an Outward Bound instructor, firstly at Aberdovey in mid-Wales and then in Zambia. Then I tried to be a teacher but found classrooms too constricting after the great out-doors. Having got married and wanting to raise a family I needed a secure job and that was when I trained as an accountant in London. In 1987 I moved to Guildford where I set up a new business in partnership with a brave colleague. Our little firm flourished as we exploited the new technology of PCs to take work away from larger, but less nimble, firms and we steadily grew in numbers of staff and clients. But nothing lasts forever, and in 2004 I left and went back into the academic world.
Why did you move to work in social research?
I had reached my 50’s before I found out that social research was the career for me. At university I read economics because I liked logic and numbers, and as I have mentioned I spent most of my working life as an accountant. However in 2004 I gave that up and did an MSc at Surrey University in Social Research Methods, expecting to specialise in quantitative analysis but finding that I enjoyed the qualitative methods just as much. I was influenced to try this degree by my daughter, who did a sociology course at school and came home telling us that it was just like typical family conversations around the meal table, so maybe I have been a sociologist for longer than I think!
What are career highlights of your social research career?
When I had completed the MSc at Surrey, I was lucky enough to get a research post in the same department. I initially worked on the ESRC-funded Question Bank (an online resource providing a searchable database of survey questions) for three years. And then I worked on another ESRC-funded project at Surrey called Qualitative Innovations in CAQDAS, this time working with qualitative analysis software.
In late 2011 that came to an end and I was made redundant. Being 60 years old by then I began easing myself towards retirement. However, in early 2011 Patten Smith approached me with an offer I couldn’t refuse, to become the Treasurer for the SRA, and thus combine my accountancy background with my social research interest, all unpaid of course but using much of that free time I now have!
Looking back what has been your greatest career achievement?
I am very proud of the fact that the accountancy firm that I co-founded is still thriving 25 years later, without either of its founding partners, and that many of the small businesses that I worked with many years ago are also still thriving. I always saw my role as that of helping businesses to survive and prosper, rather than simply reducing their tax bills. But maybe in a few years’ time I will be even more proud of my role in helping the SRA through this difficult period.
Who is your social research hero/heroine?
A person who has been a great help and influence on me is Patrick Sturgis, the current director of the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods (NCRM). He was a lecturer at Surrey when I did my MSc and he supervised my dissertation, making a real impact at one stage when he insisted on more rigour in my analysis that led to a major rewrite in the last two weeks. He was also a co-director of the Question Bank when I worked there. And he introduced me to Patten Smith, something that indirectly led to my present position in the SRA.
When did you become involved with the SRA?
Patten approached me in early 2011 and, as the SRA did not have a Treasurer at that time, I agreed to join the organisation and the Board at the same time. So I have only been involved for around 18 months, but it has been a hectic time!
What is your role on the SRA board?
My role should be that of overseeing the financial functions, but with the cashflow crisis that we found ourselves in by the summer of 2011 it became necessary to make all of the employed staff redundant and reduce the office functions to the bare minimum. For a few months this meant that Ceridwen Roberts and I had to do all of the administration on a voluntary basis until we could begin to establish a positive cashflow and pay the creditors. We now have two part-time employees working in the office, but I am still doing the bookkeeping – so, as Treasurer, I have to oversee my own voluntary work, which is slightly less than ideal! I hope that in the next 12 months we will find ourselves on a more stable path and then we should be able to employ a part-time bookkeeper once more, so that I can step back a bit.
What do you enjoy about your involvement with SRA?
The last 16 months have been stressful and dramatic at times, but it is very pleasing to see the SRA beginning to thrive once more after so nearly collapsing. The Board is developing several new initiatives, to strengthen the advocacy role in particular and to provide more support for members, and this is exciting as we see the core purposes being advanced. I am very glad to have Graham Farrant working for us as our office manager, because he manages to do the things that I hate, such as negotiating with BT!
Which of the SRA plans are you particularly excited about?
I am excited to know that two initiatives are taking shape that I hope will make a major contribution to the effectiveness of social research in the next few years. These will make the SRA a place where researchers can come together and discuss issues of policy and practice at various levels of influence and experience. For too long we have allowed a discourse of market competition to dominate at the expense of ideals and professional standards. Our society needs good quality social research to expose the myths about market efficiency and researchers need to break down the walls that the politicians have erected between us with their policies of divide and rule and the commodification of knowledge. I am seeing a stronger campaigning organisation emerging from the struggles of last year.
Looking forward - where would you like to see Social Research and the SRA being in 5 years time?
I do not think that there is going to be a quick recovery from our present economic problems, and the strains of unrealistic expectations will probably get worse as a result. It will be more important than at any time in the last 50 years that we have information to help us understand how policies that are intended to deliver economic effects are impacting on our social cohesion. That information will only be reliable if it is generated through good quality methods by well-informed researchers and for this we need a strong co-ordinating body to praise the good practice and shame the shoddy. The SRA should be well-placed to do that.
What do you do in your spare time?
I have two main hobbies. One is bell-ringing, I am vice-captain at a local church tower where I spend quite a lot of time teaching other people how to ring, as well as helping to mark weddings and regular church services. The other is hash running, which involves following a trail laid by another runner around the countryside, with added interest from junctions and false trails that act as a handicapping system to keep a group with varying abilities together. Over 25 years of hashing I have developed a detailed knowledge of the footpaths of Surrey, although I seem to be nearer the back of the bunch than the front these days so this knowledge is less useful. Both of these activities seem to end in a pub, which is handy as I do enjoy sampling real ales!