Sam Thompson

Having completed his doctorate in psychology, Sam now works as a researcher in the area of wellbeing and quality of life at the Centre for Wellbeing – part of the New Economics Foundation in London...

The following text is a transcription of a career story collected by interview.

"My name is Sam Thompson and I am a researcher in the Centre for Well Being at the New Economics Foundation, which is a think tank based in London.

"We are essentially a research organisation doing research and advocacy on a range of policy areas, particularly environmental policy and social policy, and the area that I work especially is to do with wellbeing and the quality of life.

"My PhD is in psychology in the sense that it was in the psychology department, but actually my background prior to that was music and my first degree was in music. Erm and my PhD research was looking at psychological aspects of music listening so it's one of these PhDs that's generally kind of cross-disciplinary in a sense.

"I'd finished my PhD and was looking around for things that were out of academia but were able to sort of capitalise on some of the skills. I really wanted to stay in doing research, but I wanted to do it in a way that was more applied perhaps to real world problems erm and to an extent I was in the right place at the right time. The job came up and they wanted somebody who had some expertise in psychology and was able to make sense of you know psychological research. And I applied for the job and was fortunate enough to get it.

"I certainly had my sights on the sort of think tank sector, because I think I'd identified it as an area which was outside of academia and could be more applied to sort of real world issues if you like. And yet still had a research focus and would be able to, you know, use the skills I had and I think, you know, use the skills that I enjoy, which were researching, writing and thinking. I think they get people who can think critically about existing research and not just take things at face value, but look and always be questioning what are the, you know, what's missing here, what's the alternative position. Because that's the way you are encouraged to think all the way through out your PhD. And I think they get people who can assemble arguments and structure an argument, which is very useful albeit, you know, writing a report or giving a presentation. I think these are certainly the things I learnt through my PhD that I brought to the job.

"I did the PhD part-time in effect, so over five years. And I think part way through, partly because you know I was actually working in my day job as an academic, you know doing teaching and the rest. I came to realise that I didn't really want to stay in academia and the reason for that, in my case at least, was just that it was frustrating, spending so much time thinking about issues which were really of very little interest to many or most people, if we are honest. I mean it's nice to explore things for their own sake, but it's a little disheartening somehow when you feel you've slaved over something and you publish your paper and it'll probably be read by I don't know 20 interested people around the world.

"The first big piece of work I worked on when I got to NEF, the Economics Foundation was a report called the ‘Happy Planet Index'. And it was a new global indicator that we put out there, pretty speculative, one of these ideas that you have and you think well oh will it work. And it turned out to be an enormous success and was taken up by media around the world and it was just a kind of, contrast of thinking here's this piece of work that I've done that has been read by thousands, tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people and made a real impact, erm, you know, by contrast perhaps with you know with the odd papers I'd published during my PhD, which whilst I'm proud of in a technical sense probably made next to no impact to anybody.

"Staying in academia is a hard road these days, perhaps it always was but increasingly now there is so much pressure on funding, on getting publications out, getting your score on the Research Assessment Exercise up, it would be a mistake for people to think of going into an academia and having a gentle, easy, rest of their life thereafter, because it's, if it ever was like that, it certainly isn't like that these days."