Dr Cath Dillon is an Independent Researcher and Co-Chair of SRA North & Midlands
As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
It changed over time (nurse, doctor, dancer, writer). Growing up, many of my family worked for the public sector and there was an expectation to be useful and contribute to society. However, I still harbour secret ambitions to be an acrobat or artist.
When did you first turn towards a social research career?
Every careers questionnaire I have ever tried has recommended that I should be a researcher or teacher, and this is exactly what I have done over time in different guises, no matter my attempts to escape. I started to read psychology texts as a teenager, and though I studied and worked in the field of experimental psychology for a number of years I was drawn more to applied rather than theoretical work - and so I found myself working on projects what would be classed more as social research than psychology.
What was your first professional job? And first project there?
After I graduated I was lucky to work for my third year dissertation supervisor (Prof. John Morton) at the MRC Cognitive Development unit at University College London until the Unit closed on his retirement. I worked across the memory research team setting up and running experiments on event memory, mainly with nursery age children in early years settings across London.
Where did your career go next? What motivated that/those moves?
Although I was looking for further employment, the feedback I received was that I should apply for a PhD, which I hadn’t previously considered. I fell in with a new research team at Goldsmiths College who were funded by the then ‘Future Media’ research group at the Independent Television Commission. I received funding from the ITC to conduct doctoral research into ‘Emotional Responses to Immersive Media’. The team later became ‘i2 media research ltd.’ and I worked with them on a number of projects, such as a national survey of family’s use of the internet and safety tools.
What has been your best professional moment?
Every time I deliver a report that provides an organisation with much needed evidence and insight, and especially if this can influence practice or policy. I enjoy research as a problem solving activity, gathering the evidence to help organisations develop and make decisions.
However, I was also surprised and a bit pleased to be the only social scientist presenting at the International Council of Museums (Collections Care) Triennial Conference in 2017!
I was senior researcher at a children’s charity for a number of years, working intensively on a series of consultations that built the evidence base to change the way they delivered services to families. Unfortunately, the final consultation coincided with the last recession and the research team, along with a number of other services, were cut. This felt a little like we had researched ourselves out of jobs. However, if this hadn’t happened I might not have been bold enough to follow my interests, do voluntary work, get involved with local organisations, work independently and then transfer my knowledge of psychology and social research to heritage projects
Do you have a social research hero/heroine?
It is right that academic references are non-gendered, but it perhaps masked to me the influence of women in early social science, and I remember being delighted to find that many familiar names from cognitive science were female e.g. Deutsch, Treisman, Gibson.
Do you have a favourite quote?
This is very cheesy and from a birthday card, but ‘Think big thoughts, relish small pleasures’ sums me up. Alternatively, I enjoy public speaking and presenting, but still have to regularly say to myself ‘Stop, Breathe and Think’.
What would you say to encourage a young person today considering a social research career?
All types of organisation need research skills in some way, whether survey design, data management and analysis, user consultations or evaluations. Research training gives you a grounding in how to meet those needs in a robust, methodical and ethical way. If you find yourself forging an independent path it will be highly likely that there is an organisation in your locality who will be pleased to see you and relieved that you can take a research weight off their shoulder. You just have to find them, and regular networking really works.