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Professor Geof Wood
Professor Geof Wood

Press Release - 29 July 2005

New Order for humanities and social sciences

There can’t be many universities that have a Dean who attended this year’s Glastonbury festival but with Professor Geof Wood, the new Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences, the University of Bath may be able to claim a first.

For whilst some of the University’s students struggled through the mud following the deluge at the start of this year’s festival, little did they realise that one of the University’s most senior figures was doing the same.

“It was very muddy,” he emphasises, “but the festival was really enjoyable. It is difficult to choose a best bit, but New Order were excellent.”

Career

Whilst Professor Wood describes his music interests as “eclectic”, he has also developed similarly varied research interests through a career, which has spanned many of the subject areas covered by the Faculty.

He began with an undergraduate degree in politics and sociology at the University of Sussex, based in the School of African and Asian Studies. This included courses in economics and anthropology - two fields which have underpinned his research ever since.

At Sussex he completed an MPhil in politics, looking at administrative training in Zambia, before moving to the University of Bath in 1973 to become a lecturer in sociology. Here, he completed a PhD on class formation, state intervention and rural development in South Asia, which involved spending long periods of time in the villages of Bangladesh and Bihar, in North India.

The arrival of two children meant a reduction in the amount of time he spent away from home, though he managed a few months a year in Bangladesh during the 80s. Later in the mid-90s, his research took him to the mountainous regions of northern Pakistan where he took the opportunity to combine his research and teaching with a passion for high-altitude walking, arranging for friends a couple of organised treks through the region whilst there.

He became Director of the Centre for Development Studies in 1985, and later helped set up the Department of Economics and International Development when it was created in 1997. In 1998 he became the founder director of the University’s Institute for International Policy Analysis (IFIPA), a position he has only recently given up. In 2000 he became Head of Department and helped further consolidate its strong position among UK Universities.

“For me, part of the appeal of the position of Dean is that the breadth of the role maps onto my experience across the social sciences,” he says.

“I have always found it stimulating to bring together people from different research areas to explore common interests. This has exposed me to other academic disciplines within the Faculty (and indeed outside it) and has given me a greater understanding of these areas and the research methodologies they employ. I hope this will be a useful asset as Dean.”

Working together

This multidisciplinary approach to research has become one of the hallmarks of Professor Wood’s career. This was revealed in his collaboration with Prof.Gough and others, bringing the traditions of social policy and development studies together through comparative research and a recent book. This also helped in the development of the ESRC Wellbeing in Developing Countries (WeD) research group as well as the creation of IFIPA.

This kind of approach brings many benefits to the both the research and teaching strengths of the University, he argues, and is a model that he would like to cultivate for the future.

“The formation of the Department of Economics and International Development in the late 90s gave us the opportunity to bring together important research programmes and postgraduate students and has been incredibly beneficial both for research and the structure of the courses provided through the department as well as in collaboration with the department of Social and Policy Sciences,” he says.

“Similarly the Centre for Development Studies, IFIPA and the WeD research group have allowed academics from often distinct disciplines to engage each other in constructive dialogue to explore shared interests.”

Professor Wood suggests that there are other areas of study across the Faculty that could benefit from the same kind of approach.

“I hope that we can develop the commonalities between departments and look to explore the areas that might become strong concentrations for research effort,” he says.

“At the same time we need to make sure that whilst we develop centres of excellence, we are not being exclusive and take care to promote the more individual research interests.”

“This University has always had a strong applied mission, and I would like to see the Faculty nurture a very clear public social focus where we can take knowledge and promote it in the popular domain to help influence policy and contribute to global issues.”

Key challenges

One of the key challenges facing the Faculty in the future will be maintaining the quality of the educational experience it provides for students whilst continuing to expand.

“Across the Faculty we have increased the numbers of overseas students at both postgraduate and undergraduate level,” he says. “This has enriched the student community and has given us all a better international perspective on our work.”

“But we need to maintain the drive to attract high quality overseas and home students whilst recognising that we must preserve our strong reputation for the quality of service that we provide them, as well as the quality of the facilities on campus.”

“We must also see to what extent we can further develop our graduate programmes and improve the transition from Masters to PhDs so that we can build our research student community.”

He sees individual academics as playing a key role in this by building teams around them and mentoring younger staff within the Faculty. An important part of this will be identifying “champion” academics who can develop research clusters that are able to lay greater claim to research funding than individuals.

“I also recognise the highly valuable and important role played by support staff in the work of the Faculty, and want to ensure that we maintain high quality recruitment in these areas, provide suitable incentives for them and enable them to develop their careers in a vibrant and effective environment,” he says.

New Order

Professor Wood is highly appreciative of the work done by his predecessor, Professor Ian Jamieson, in taking the Faculty into a more prominent position within the University.

“Ian will be a hard act to follow, and I would clearly like to continue with the progress that he has made, especially in improving the profile of the Faculty within the University,” says Professor Wood.

“We get on very well and I am very glad that he will be mentoring me in my new position and will be grateful for the advice he can give me.”

Geof Wood takes over from Ian Jamieson who becomes full time Pro-Vice Chancellor for Learning & Teaching on 1 August 2005; and he will be replaced as Head of Department by Professor John Sessions, who joined the department 3 years ago and has been Director of Studies for Research Postgraduates.


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