Fifteen to One | Professor Karen Throsby

We get to know the new Head of the School of Sociology and Social Policy (SSP).

Professor Karen Throsby

Can you describe your role in 100 words?  

As Head of School, I am responsible for creating a vibrant and inclusive environment where both staff and students can thrive; that is a safe, respectful and opportunity-rich space for all; and that is alive with exciting sociological research and teaching. In practice, this means that every day is different, and any given day will be a mix of the routine work of keeping a large School up and running, responding promptly to problems as they arise and ensuring that both staff and students have the support and resources that they need to succeed.  

What really impresses you about Leeds?  

The size and diversity of Leeds is one of its greatest assets, offering all kinds of possibilities for interdisciplinary collaboration.  

What question have you most frequently been asked in your role?  

How are you finding being Head of School? People know that the Head of School role can be very demanding and because I’m new to the role, I am often asked about it. The question comes from a place of both curiosity and care, and I have felt very supported. And the answer? I’m really enjoying the challenge and it’s a privilege to be leading SSP, although the intensity of the role has also been a useful lesson in the importance of taking regular work-free breaks.  

What are you most looking forward to working on in the next 12 months?  

In the next 12 months, we will be finalising, launching and beginning the implementation of our School Strategy (2024-30). This project is being led by Professor Mark Davis, Deputy Head of School (Strategy), but is a collective project involving all members of the School. I am excited to be involved in bringing the strategy to life over the coming year and to seeing what positive changes we can bring. 

Is there something, or someone, that has inspired you in your career?  

Rather than one single person, I have been fortunate to be part of a community of feminist scholars from the outset of my academic career. Many of these are not only brilliant and inspiring scholars but have also modelled inclusive and compassionate ways of being and working in Higher Education that I hope to carry forward in my own working life.  

We all have that professional or personal achievement we’re incredibly proud of – can you tell us yours?  

I’m very proud of the day that I passed my PhD viva. Like many of our students and colleagues, I was the first person in my family to go to university, and when I crept anxiously into my first university lecture at the age of 18, expecting to be exposed as an imposter at any minute, I could never have imagined going on to further study or that my future career might lie in that direction. Years later, dissatisfied with my job and looking for new challenges, I returned to studying and discovered a passion for research that culminated in my PhD, laying the foundations for a long career in HE (20 years and counting). I have been lucky to have the opportunities that I have had, and no-one succeeds alone, but the day of my viva remains one of my proudest moments on that journey.

What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career that you know now?  

I wish I had known that you don’t have to work everything out for yourself and that if you ask, people will help you.  

If you didn’t work in HE, what would have been your chosen career?  

I would probably have been a solicitor, but I think that HE has been a much better fit for me.   

What are your campus highlights?  

St George’s Field is a favourite spot for stretching my legs and enjoying the wildlife and the changing seasons. I also enjoy the Roger Stevens cooling pond, especially when there are ducklings, and it’s always a delight to catch sight of the resident heron. Finally, I am a dedicated fan of the peregrine falcons that nest in the Parkinson Tower, and love to follow them through the breeding season via the Peregrine Cam or to catch a glimpse of them on the hunt.  

What’s still on your ‘to do’ list to visit?  

There are lots of amazing exhibitions in the Leeds University Library Galleries in the Parkinson Building, and I often find myself dashing past, thinking ‘I must go to that’ and then not making it. So this is still high on my ‘to do’ list.  

What do you do to relax away from University life?  

In the summer, I love to escape to the Lake District in my campervan, park up next to a beautiful lake, and then spend the day swimming, paddle boarding and walking.  

Where’s your favourite travel destination and why?  

I have a soft spot for Japan as I spent a very happy four years there in my 20s and very rarely have the chance to go back. However, more recently, I have been spending holidays in the Canary Islands, usually during the winter. I love the volcanic landscape, and the sea conditions are perfect for swimming and diving, with lots of aquatic life for entertainment.  

What’s your random claim to fame?  

In September 2010, I became the 1,144th person to swim the English Channel.  

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