Name: Dr Alison Koslowski
Age range: 38
Research institution: School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh
Research career length: 13 years
Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and EU
Location: Edinburgh, Scotland
A-levels: Mathematics, Music and French
BA Contemporary European Studies, University of Southampton (including one year as an Erasmus student at the University of Rouen in France)
MA in Politics, (part-time) University of Essex
DPhil in Sociology at the European University Institute in Florence and University of Oxford
Postgraduate Certificate in University Teaching, University of Edinburgh
Worked in the City of London between BA and MA
Data assistant on the British Household Panel Survey
Following PhD, Researcher at the Institute of Education, University of London
Lecturer/Senior Lecturer in Social Policy, University of Edinburgh School of Social and Political Science
Alison Koslowski believes that in order to have the best society we can, we need to keep questioning how that society is run. Social policy education offers the skills, the tools and the contexts to ask these questions, whilst research, she believes, helps us not to take things on face value.
My research is in the area of social policy, which means looking at how governments and others try to address social challenges, and assessing how successful the various approaches are. I spend a lot of time analysing and interpreting large sets of data, using statistics. Currently, I am working with researchers from fifteen other countries in Europe, looking at the real experience of working parents and how they juggle childcare in different nations. Though like all academics, I write papers for publications in journals, I am also contacted by journalists and invited to advise (mainly Scottish) ministers and others involved in developing policy. I would say that although studying politics and international relations, is seen by many young people as a good route into a career in government, social policy – especially when combined with statistics – makes you very employable for such a career.
A good deal of my job is management, since I am a co-director of Research for the School of Social and Political Science, and have responsibility for ensuring that colleagues respond to changes in how funding occurs and the outcomes in other areas of government policy. Researchers spend a lot of time applying for grant funding, so part of my role is to support people to produce successful grant proposals to fund their work. I lecture and supervise students – anything from one-to-one support to standing up in a lecture theatre of 200 people. I also chair an ethics group to assess whether proposed social science research projects meet an acceptable ethical standard.
My dad was an academic and so I grew up around a university, but this alone didn’t lead me down the path to becoming a researcher. When I was at school, I didn’t quite know what sort of career I wanted, so I chose three fairly diverse A-levels: in music, mathematics and French. I liked learning languages and had some fantastic language teachers, but initially chose physics, which I then dropped because I found the subject difficult, and took up French instead. This has proved to be a good decision, since studying a language has given me lots of opportunities in my career to date and I’d strongly recommend it.
I enjoyed my time as an undergraduate, and was fortunate to have spent a year studying in Rouen in France on a student exchange programme (you can see where the French first came in handy). I also became ill with cancer during this time, and though as you may expect this has had a dramatic effect on my life (I have a disability as a consequence), I was able to make use of part-time study for my Master’s degree, and then combine this with paid work when I started to recover from my illness. I then studied for my doctorate in Florence, Italy but followed my supervisor to Oxford to complete it there. Having a disability has not been a barrier to my research career.
Research gives you the freedom that you don’t get elsewhere. For a while, I tried working in the financial sector in the City of London. It was a good experience, in that it made me realise that I really wanted to work in a university environment. I think this may partly be because I enjoy having a degree of freedom to decide the direction of my research, and I’m not sure I respond particularly well to management styles that are more common in commercial companies. Another factor is that my work is quite varied, which I greatly value, since I’m easily bored and need to mix things up a bit.
I’m always up for a challenge and I’d like to find a new area to research – maybe sustainability or the environment. My research time is squeezed by my other duties, but that’s all part of the deal...since promotion often involves greater managerial responsibility. However, I would like to get more time for my research, hopefully going towards being a professor within the next ten years.