Jane Perry provides social research design, management and analysis for a variety of clients including Church Action on Poverty, Oxfam GB, Child Poverty Action Group and RNIB. She’s also a very part-time parliamentary researcher for Steven Croft, Bishop of Sheffield. She can be found at www.janeperry.co.uk and on Twitter: @janeperrysr.
As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
A primary school teacher, like my Mum. Mum, perhaps wisely, advised me to study psychology as route into teaching. By the time I’d finished, her experience of working in Education had, sadly, put me off the teaching idea.
When did you first turn towards a social research career?
Towards the end of my first degree in Social and Political Science, I didn’t really know what to do and so was thinking about doing a PhD. My Director of Studies, perhaps wisely, advised me to do an MSc in Research Methods (an ESRC scholarship at Edinburgh University). By the time I’d finished, the experience of independent study had, sadly, put me off the PhD idea.
What was your first professional job? And first project there?
Faced with the reality of actually having to ‘get a job’, an advert for a Researcher post at SCPR (now the National Centre for Social Research) caught my eye. My first post at SCPR was on the Family Resources Survey, but my first project there was support for the National Child Development and British Cohort Studies - both of which retain a fond place in my heart.
Where did your career go next? What motivated that/those moves?
I loved working at NatCen, and learnt a huge amount about research design and project management. A few years in I began to get itchy feet and, in particular, wanted to be more involved in analysis and reporting. Working on the reports of the Families and Children Study 2001 for the Policy Studies Institute fitted the bill perfectly.
FACS gave me great analysis and research communication experience, but was also a real eye opener about the reality of poverty in the UK. Coupled with a desire to relocate outside London, Senior Research Officer at DWP in Sheffield felt like a natural next step. At DWP I managed research and evaluations exploring the experience of partners of benefit claimants and also spent some time working directly for the DWP Strategy Unit.
Maternity leave and the opportunity work with NatCen again gave me the confidence I needed to make the break from DWP. I’ve been working as an independent freelance researcher ever since. Freelance work is varied, precarious and challenging. It is also fascinating and fits fairly well round busy family life. I mostly work on projects related to livelihoods and welfare in the UK, having moved towards mixed-mode studies and found new passions for participative research and community development.
What has been your best professional moment?
Launching the Emergency Use Only research into food bank use at the Houses of Parliament in November 2014. The first question came from a well-known journalist, directly challenging the research methodology. Thankfully I’d been awake half the night anticipating exactly those sort of questions and had a fairly good answer prepared. Noticing several eminent academics nodding vigorously in agreement, and later backing the study, was definitely a career highlight.
Right back at the beginning, my very first day at SCPR was the debrief for a survey pilot which had not gone particularly well. The interviewers weren’t happy, the client wasn’t happy, the research team wasn’t happy. It was a baptism of fire. Looking back, I had no idea that social research wasn’t always like that.
Do you have a social research hero/heroine?
Professionally - I was about to say Roger Jowell, but a glance down previous iterations of this column reveals that isn’t a particularly original choice. I feel privileged to have learnt a huge amount from my first colleagues at NatCen, including Paddy Costigan, Graham Farrant and Grahame Whitfield, and then later Alan Marsh at PSI. Methodologically I admire anyone with the foresight, tenacity and selflessness to set up a major longitudinal panel study. More immediately – Ruth Lister’s ‘Poverty’ is seminal and I’ve recently become aware of her tireless work bringing an evidence-based perspective to the House of Lords.
Do you have a favourite quote?
“Nothing about us - without us - is for us” (various, but most recently Scotland’s Poverty Truth Commission)
What would you say to encourage a young person today considering a social research career?
If you’re interested in why things are the way they are, and how they could be different, then do it! Research can make a real difference, but it has to be robust, relevant and well communicated.