Meet the DEEPEN team: Karen Anderson

Karen Anderson is an associate Professor at University College Dublin and a project leader in the DEEPEN team. In this interview, Karen tells us about her role in the project, how different countries teach students about social policy, pensions and welfare states, as well as her plans for the future and her love for traveling and photography

You work as an associate Professor of Social Policy at University College Dublin and are the project leader of the DEEPEN-project. Can you describe what your tasks are in the project?

My main task as project leader is to coordinate the research activities outlined in the four work packages that make up our project. Each of the four PIs leads or co-leads at least one work package, and all are doing a brilliant job. I keep an eye on the project timeline and deliverables to make sure that everything is on schedule. I also represent the DEEPEN project in the NORFACE Governance Programme (there are 14 projects in total; one of the project teams is responsible for the overall scientific coordination), and I am responsible for communicating with the NORFACE Governance administrative team at the Netherlands Scientific Organisation (NWO).  

What do you like the most about your role in the DEEPEN-project?

The best part of leading the project is working with an incredibly smart, innovative, and talented group of researchers. Natascha, Tobias and I have known each other for several years because of our shared interest in pensions and financialization. We have organized conference panels together and have participated in research projects together. I knew Juan from the Council of European Studies Programme Committee for the 2019 Madrid conference—and from his scholarly publications—and he was a perfect fit for our NORFACE proposal team, so we asked him to join the team. The four PIs each have distinct strengths, so we complement each other well. Our team of postdocs and pre-docs is also excellent.

You have worked and hold several visiting positions at multiple universities in different countries, such as The Netherlands, England, Ireland, Sweden, Germany and Denmark. Is there a difference in the way those countries teach students about social policy, pensions and welfare states?

I held visiting research positions in Sweden and Denmark, so I didn’t do any teaching there. In the Netherlands, England, Germany and Ireland, social policy teaching draws on an core set of themes, concepts, and theories concerning welfare state development. Influential books and articles by scholars like Esping-Andersen, Pierson, Huber and Stephens, Mary Daly and others are widely taught in all of these countries. Germany might be a bit different because German-language publications are still important, so there are some works that are more well-known there than in other countries. The approach to teaching about welfare states is also similar: courses typically combine lectures and seminars to teach students how to critically examine why welfare states are stuctured in different ways and what these differences mean for poverty rates, income inequality, and gender equality.

What would you like to do when the DEEPEN-project comes to an end?

I would definitely like to continue collaborating in some way with all of the terrific PIs! I would also like to finish a project on the historical development of funded occupational pensions in Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands. I have started the archival research, but I still need to do a lot more digging around in the archives of unions, employers’ organisations, and government agencies. I also plan to continue my research on the impact of European integration on national welfare states.

And now the last question: what do you like to do in your spare time to recharge your batteries? 

I love to travel, and I especially like to combine travel with (amateur!) photography. I just returned from two weeks in Iceland where I had the chance to take photos of some of my favourite subjects: puffins and whales. I also like to research my family history; one of the fun things about living in Ireland is that I can visit the places where my great-grandparents and other ancestors lived before they emigrated to Scotland and the United States.

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