Dr. Hayley James is a postdoctoral researcher at University College Dublin and part of the DEEPEN-team in Ireland. In this interview, Hayley tells about the reason she wants to do research about pensions, why she joined the DEEPEN-project, and what she hopes to accomplish.
Did you always want to become a researcher?
No, I really didn’t know anything about research, and especially not academic research, as a career. I was the first person in my family to go to University and I had a very limited understanding of potential career paths. I was always interested in doing something that involved analytical and problem-solving skills and I started my career in consultancy and project management. But, I became disillusioned with the focus on profit and financial value in assessing the impact of projects. I wanted to explore different ways of thinking about finance and value, and I decided to do a Masters in Social Anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London, and I fell into research from that.
At what point did you think: I want to do research on pensions?
It was really when I was trying to find a way to do a PhD. I was applying for funding to examine how financial decisions are influenced by different considerations, such as social, moral, even political values. I came across an advert for a PhD Studentship looking at workplace pension saving in the UK, and I realised that there were a lot of similarities to what I was trying to do in my proposal, and I recognised how interesting and important pensions were. I like that it is a strongly interdisciplinary field with long-term implications, as well as being a politically important topic. I applied for it and was fortunately successful, and that PhD eventually brought me to the DEEPEN project.
What were your reasons to join the DEEPEN-project?
I was really excited to be part of a big collaborative project with teams in different countries. I’d worked on smaller projects before, with one or two others, and I wanted to see what it was like to work with a bigger team. Also, I really appreciated the opportunity to work with the PIs who were already doing innovative and critical work on pensions, in order to learn from them and collaborate on the project. Finally, I wanted to do some more policy-orientated work, as my background is in anthropology and sociology, yet policy is such a huge and complex part of pensions, and the project gives me the chance to get to grips with this area.
What are your responsibilities and tasks as a post-doc researcher?
It’s nice that my tasks are quite varied and it changes and develops over the course of the project. I am responsible for undertaking research across the different work packages for Ireland, which includes examining the regulatory framework in Ireland and conducting case studies of pension schemes in Ireland, using qualitative interviews to support this. I am also starting to contribute to outputs, such as papers, conference presentations and other materials, like briefing notes for different audience groups, and project activities like communication and dissemination. Across all of this, I regularly collaborate with other team members, and I really enjoy this social aspect to the project.
What part of the DEEPEN-project do you find particularly interesting, also compared to other research approaches?
I think the focus on the governance of pensions, and the extent to which this is democratic, is a very unique angle to this project. There’s a lot of literature which examines pensions across public and private systems, but less work that examines what people expect from their pension system, even though we know lots of people in Ireland and the UK are not very engaged with pension saving. I think this is an important area to consider since pension governance in these countries is often quite removed from people’s everyday experience. It will be very interesting to see how the different systems compare in terms of how they understand and address the needs of their members.
What do you hope to accomplish with the DEEPEN-project?
I hope to do some really good research with impactful findings which highlight ways in which pensions can be democratic, in terms of meeting the needs and expectations of members. I think many people (especially in Ireland and the UK) feel disenfranchised about pension saving and any contributions to changing that would be really positive. On a personal level, I hope to learn lots and build strong relationships with the DEEPEN team. I feel I am already achieving these aims and I’m looking forward to the future of DEEPEN.