Nicola Power is Research Manager at the Bar Council
As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
I had very little career ambition as a child. The typical options for girls in convent schools in Ireland were to become a nurse, teacher, nun or housewife. Of those options, becoming a nun was most attractive as my two grand-aunts were nuns in the convent school that I attended. They were dance and piano teachers and seemed very happy. Apart from that, I would have quite liked to have become a professional ballroom dancer.
When did you first turn towards a social research career?
I completed my BA in Social Sciences at Westminster University as a single mother and mature student at the ripe old age of 25. My favourite module was social research methods; I was fascinated by the concept of being able to predict outcomes and even individual behaviour from survey data and it really satisfied my natural nosiness about people in general. However I had to combine parenthood and work and so it wasn’t practical for me to pursue a career in social research. About five years later I was working for a software company analysing sales and marketing data and realised that I enjoyed the process but had little interest in the topic. I decided to do an MSc in Advanced Social Research Methods and Statistics at City University so I could make the career change.
What was your first professional job?
My first social research job was as a research officer at ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) head office. My favourite piece of work there was interviewing bus drivers and workplace representatives for a case study on attendance management at Lothian buses. It was the first time I got out and met real people to do some qualitative face to face work, which made me feel like I was a proper social researcher. Between working at ACAS and my current job, I worked in the Employment Relations department of the Royal College of Nursing for about five years.
What has been your best professional moment?
Having my work cited as instrumental in achieving an above inflation three year pay deal for nurses working in the NHS. This was when I worked at the RCN, where all policy decisions needed to be backed up by sound evidence. I didn’t realise then that this would be a short-lived golden moment in time for professional social researchers.
Seeing the impact of the public sector cuts on the social research profession. Many of my good friends and colleagues have lost jobs or been made redundant and a lot of excellent skills and knowledge are being lost to social research.
Do you have a social research hero/heroine?
I was a bit of a Max Weber groupee at college but I would also say that Joseph Rowntree is also hero of mine. The legacy of his commitment to raising awareness of poverty and the impact of poverty on society is still alive and kicking today.
Do you have a favourite quote?
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Hamlet, William Shakespeare
What would you say to encourage a young person today considering a social research career?
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. You may not be able to rely upon a career solely in academia or policy research so try to get as much experience as you can in both early on in your career. You also may need to diversify into social policy or market research to progress in your career, or even to have an alternative career up your sleeve in case you need to work part-time as a researcher. Depressing advice I know, but probably realistic at least for the foreseeable future. Having a topic area that really interests you is another good tip I think.
Interviewed by William Solesbury