Ceridwen Roberts is currently a Senior Research Fellow, Department of Social Policy and Interventions, Oxford University, and Commissioning Editor, SRA News.

As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?

As a little girl a ballerina (I wanted to go to Russia!).  By the time I was 11,  Minister of Education.

When did you first turn towards a social research career?

At school I began reading books about the role of education in social mobility. This was the era of debates about promoting comprehensive schools and  there was a family background to this in my father’s life. And mine was a very politically alert upbringing. But at Sussex University I opted for History as a general education, then Industrial Sociology at Bristol and Imperial College.

What was your first professional job?

Lecturer in Industrial Sociology at Trent Polytechnic. In at the deep end, teaching on a Business Studies course, with only two women in a teaching staff of 42 plus one PA/admin person. Outside the work, I got involved in the local women’s movement.

Where did your career go next?

In the late 1970s I joined the new Social Science Branch in the Department of Employment where I stayed for 14 years.  Here I was initially responsible for developing a very large programme of research on women in the labour market.

What has been your best professional moment?

Publication by DEmp, in 1984, of the Women in Employment survey which was the first ever to look at women’s lifetime employment experience. This provided evidence relevant to concerns with equal pay, maternity benefits and (then often disguised) female unemployment.  After that there was no turning back on research in this field.

...and worst moment?

Closure in 2001 of the Family Policy Studies Centre that I had directed since 1992.  Its mixed funding had always been precarious. But the final straw was New Labour’s wish to establish and fund a rival organisation – The  National Family and Parenting Institute. An all too familiar story of the casual destruction of independent social research capacity.

Do you have a social research hero/heroine?

C.Wright Mills, American author of The Sociological Imagination (1959).

Do you have a favourite quote?

Two. "Private troubles become public issues" – C Wright Mills again. And "Speak Truth to Power" – which may have originated with Erich Fromm in his book The Fear of Freedom (1941) but there are many other sources of the phrase.

What would you say to encourage a young person today considering a social research career?

It will be intellectually challenging, not always comfortable and you won’t make a quick buck. But if you have that passion for social inquiry, go for it!

Interview with William Solesbury, May 2011

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