Kandy Woodfield is Director of Learning at Natcen. In this interview she talks about early plans to be an actress, how she turned to social research and offers advice for those considering a career in social research. Kandy is a pioneer in the use of social media for research purposes and reminds us of the potential to share research with others by getting tweeting.
As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
An actress, I was planning to go to drama school & had even auditioned for TV, but fate intervened and I ended up doing straight A Levels instead. I think social research is a slightly more stable career path! But there is a gentle performance art in qualitative research, not unlike drama, so my days treading the boards stood me in good stead.
When did you first turn towards a social research career?
It wasn't by design. I studied Government at LSE and was planning to move onto a PhD looking at gender in senior government. I was offered a temporary lecturing contract at the Univ of the West of England and Prof Jeffrey Weeks gently suggested I get some research skills before embarking on my doctorate! It was good, tactful advice, I went on to complete an MSc in social research methods at Surrey University and whilst I never started that PhD I've also never regretted choosing social research as a career.
What was your first professional job? And first project there?
I'd been lecturing for a couple of years when I got my first research job at working on a cross-national JRF funded qualitative project exploring the impact of child contact legislation on women who'd split from violent partners. The project had a profound impact on me. I saw first hand how research can shed a light on social and legal inequality and play an important role in making society better. For many of the participants it was the first time they'd talked at length about the abuse they'd experienced & the ongoing effects on their children. The whole project was deeply moving, it made me acutely aware of the power of research and the corresponding ethical responsibilities that demands of researchers.
Where did your career go next? What motivated that/those moves?
I've been lucky to have worked on many fascinating projects. For several years I worked on research exploring the social and legal issues around sexual violence against women. But the whole time I was planning how to get a job at NatCen (then SCPR)! As a solo academic researcher I was keen to move to a place where I'd have a peer network and could learn more by seeing how other people went about research. Working alongside countless bright, curious, committed researchers has been an ongoing delight. I worked in NatCen's Qualitative Research Unit until I moved to head up our training and capacity building efforts at NatCen Learning. That was a really tough decision to make, it meant moving from an active research career into a different career space but the challenge and rewards were worth it.
What has been your best professional moment?
I am very proud of having set up NatCen Learning and of the difference it has made. We work with researchers, clients and practitioners in all sorts of research roles and help them to develop their skills and confidence to create great research. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than seeing my colleagues sharing their experience and skills with a room full of early career researchers.
That's hard, I think I've probably learnt more from when things didn't go quite as planned as when they've been smooth so I don't count those as 'worst’ moments. Having said that, it was pretty embarrassing when I was giving a lecture on social policy early in my career and rather than perching on the edge of desk I missed it completely.
Do you have a social research hero/heroine?
Can I have two? Jane Ritchie & Jane Lewis, who had a huge influence on my approach to research. They taught me the craft and art of qualitative research. Their commitment to high-quality research was instrumental in convincing people of the huge value of qualitative methods for policy research. If I am allowed a third (!) then I would have to add the late Roger Jowell who founded NatCen and inspired me throughout my career.
Do you have a favourite quote?
'You can do anything but not everything'. It's easy to take on too much when you love what you do. I think life is harder today for young researchers, jobs are scarce, budgets are smaller and timescales are telescoped so it's easy to sacrifice personal development time. But nowadays developing our professional skills and continually learning about new advances, like big data or social media research, is really important.
What would you say to encourage a young person today considering a social research career?
Getting a solid academic grounding in research methods is important but nothing beats getting into the field. Find a mentor and keep learning. Social media is a brilliant tool for sharing your research with others so get tweeting!