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Case Study: Ian

Personal details
Degree:PhD Maths Profile picture
School(s): School of Mathematics and Statistics
Year of Graduation:Jun-1981
National of: United Kingdom
Employment details
Organisation: ESRC
Job title: ESRC Chief Executive. (from October 2010 - University of Aberdeen - Principal and Vice Chancellor)
Occupational Sector: Statistics
What has been your route to getting your current position?

After St Andrews I was appointed to a Temporary Lectureship at Heriot Watt. I was then very lucky to be appointed to a Lectureship in the Department of Social Statistics at the University of Southampton, one of the very few places committed to achieving the dual challenge of rigorous statistical analysis and applications in the social sciences. There I built up a portfolio of research into a wide range of substantive areas most notably population, health, environmental noise and census taking and really enjoyed teaching courses at all levels from year one to masters. I also supervised over thirty PhD students and worked in many countries. As a result of this work I was promoted to Senior Lecturer (in 1988) and then to Professor. In 1992 I was asked to be Head of Department and this set me off on a twin track of management which led to me becoming (in 1997) Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and (in 2001) Deputy Vice Chancellor. In 2002 I was appointed Chief Executive of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and (from 2004 -2009) Chair of the Executive Group of Research Councils UK; then in 2009 to the Principalship of the University of Aberdeen, a position I will take up in October 2010.

What does your job involve ?

ESRC is the leading funder of research, training and infrastructure for the social sciences. My job entails ensuring we organize our funding schemes in a fair and transparent manner, maintain our role as the major funder of studentships so as to ensure the health of social science and take a strategic lead on the development and use of new large data sets. It is also essential to be outward facing so as to advocate widely for the social sciences and to link with all our major stakeholders in government, the third sector and business.

What are the best bits of your job ?

Seeing research we funded come to fruition and really have both an academic and non-academic impact.

Why were you successful?

I worked hard in a sustained and focused way and used all the rigorous statistical and communication skills I learnt both at St Andrews and at LSE (where I had studied previously).

What skills/ knowledge from your degree have you found particularly helpful in this role?
Really knowing, and being self critical about one’s data. Always being able to explain one’s results in plain English. My supervisors also taught me how to write clearly and never to split infinitives.
What advice would you give to students wishing to follow the same path?
Work hard, stay excited by your subject and remember that there is no better life than a professional statistician.