Jobwatch: enter the policy picture

February 20, 2004

The Health Development Agency, the DFES and London South Bank University are all seeking researchers to help build the evidence base needed to inform decision-makers in key areas. Pat Leon reports.

Scare stories about obesity, teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases regularly grab headlines, so it is important that the evidence is properly gathered and assessed.

That is one job of the Health Development Agency, which was set up in 2000 as part of the National Health Service in the wake of the government white paper Saving Lives: Our Healthier Nation . Its mission is to improve public health and reduce inequalities, and for this it needs evidence-based research.

Unfortunately, the agency's success has led to a turnover of talented researchers, with staff seconded to the World Health Organisation, the Treasury and elsewhere. To plug the gap, the HDA is advertising six posts - some permanent, some fixed term or secondment - in The Times Higher this week.

Team leader Mike Kelly, a medical sociologist by background, says: "We usually have 20 or so researchers, and we want to bring the team back to full strength. The projects are moving fast, and we need people as quickly as possible."

Researchers can expect to look into topical health issues such as obesity, physical activity, smoking, cancer prevention, teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV prevention.

Kelly says: "We bring the gaze of the disinterested scientist to bear on vexed policy questions. We work with ministers and practitioners, whether they are drug workers in Blackburn or health workers in Swindon."

The agency is seeking specialists in research methodology rather than just health, he says. "We need scientists who are comfortable across the spectrum and familiar with techniques such as randomised clinical control trials, action research and qualitative and quantitative techniques."

Successful candidates can expect an exciting time. "I was an academic in an old and in a new university for years, and this is the most academic job I have done. It is no dumbed-down version of research but the real McCoy: research based on reality. It puts faculty boards and choosing your car parking space into perspective."

The Department for Education and Skills is similarly committed to research. This week, it is advertising for a principal research officer from a social science background to be based in London. Applicants will need strong research, policy communication, management and analysis skills.

Also in the capital, London South Bank University is seeking a founding director for its Institute of Social Policy and Urban Regeneration, which is bringing together two research areas to look at life in the capital, in particular the changing nature of the family, demography and social exclusion.

Jeffrey Weeks, executive dean of the arts and human sciences faculty, says: "We hope to get an experienced researcher who is innovative, can generate income and can work with our different research groups. They'll need to be entrepreneurial and energetic."

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