Kathleen Seymour is Director of Seymour Research Ltd (www.seymour-research.co.uk)
As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
A hairdresser! Then as a teenager I really wanted to be a teacher. The hairdressing was a no go after I developed a bit of a phobia of hairdressers, and I was put off from being a teacher by members of my family who were already teachers and talked me out of it!
When did you first turn towards a social research career?
I did a social policy degree at Royal Holloway University of London and on finishing that I’d planned to go into library / information management. The first job I got was as an Information Officer at Surrey County Council. I was there for two years and as a ‘side-line’ a senior colleague got me involved in some social and economic research and I was hooked from that point on.
What was your first professional job? And first project there?
My first wholly research based job was as a Research Assistant at the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER). My first project there involved trialling new key stage 1 assessment materials in schools. This involved sending different versions of maths or English tests to a group of volunteer schools and gathering their feedback on the suitability of the materials. The results of the research determined which version of the tests went on to become the national assessment material.
Where did your career go next? What motivated that/those moves?
After two years at NFER I moved away from Berkshire (where NFER is based) to Nottingham (due to my partner’s job relocation) so had to reluctantly hand in my notice. After a few months of searching I found a research post with Nottinghamshire County Council working mainly on analysing their schools’ performance data. The role was something of a natural progression from my broad experiences of educational research at NFER.
What has been your best professional moment?
Starting my own business (Seymour Research Ltd) in 2012. I think the moment I realised I had enough skills, experience, expertise and contacts to give up my full time job and make a go of my own company was my big career highlight. There have been lots of other milestones along the way, like taking on my first staff member (I now have three staff), getting new business through successful promotional activities (rather than word of mouth which had kept me going up to that point), moving to a bigger office, etc. I’ve been lucky enough to have a wide range of experience in research so I have been able to work in the fields of social, educational and healthcare research – plus a bit of market research as well so the company has a very varied client base.
Starting my own business! It sounds strange to cite this as my best and worst moments, but it has been a rollercoaster ride. I’ve learned a great deal in the last few years and inevitably some of that has been through my mistakes. I’ve run a couple of projects at a loss which obviously isn’t good, I’ve also had a very steep learning curve in terms of managing the company and keeping on top of the organisational nuts and bolts that are essential to keep the business going.
Do you have a social research hero/heroine?
Not really but after leaving my role at Nottinghamshire County Council I took up a post at the University of Nottingham’s Survey Unit. This was a central unit within the University that took on external and internal research work – anything from conducting the University’s student satisfaction survey to observational studies of begging activity in the City centre – and quite a lot in between! Dr Ken Levine was my boss at the University and was a great role model and mentor for me. I worked for him for nine years and learned a great deal about social research from him, particularly about survey design, administration and analysis. He has retired now but his legacy lives on – my company would not exist if it hadn’t been for his role in shaping my career and my skills as a researcher.
Do you have a favourite quote?
‘Should traffic wardens be armed?’ This was something the late great Rik Mayall’s character said in an episode of ‘Bottom’ (he was pretending to be Kilroy). I love this because it reminds of the potential to ask ridiculous questions in the name of research!
What would you say to encourage a young person today considering a social research career?
Do it! It’s an extremely interesting and rewarding career, particularly for those with an open and enquiring mind and who enjoy variety and unpredictability in their day to day life. As a researcher you can be standing in the street asking people questions one day, conducting desk research the next and maybe presenting your findings to hundreds of people the following day. Also aspiring researchers should get as much experience as they can. There are lots of small businesses like mine that would welcome someone on a placement or work experience so ask around and try out different research roles to see what suits you the best.