Margaret Thatcher diary research

For those of you who don’t know about me or my research interests, please have a look at the updated About page for more details.

It is over two years since I blogged about my work. Time certainly flies. I will spare you the details – suffice to say, I have since completed my PhD, spent a year working for Information Services Division in a statistical governance role (with some user research), and am now back in academia as a research associate at the University of Glasgow.

I am currently working on an ESRC funded project with Professors Neil Rollings (Economic and Business History) and Mark Tranmer (Quantitative Social Sciences). We are studying the historical appointment diaries of politicians and senior civil servants using quantitative methods. You can read a detailed abstract on the project here.


book business calendar close up
Photo by Pixabay on

In essence, the research focuses on three case studies; the first of these is the appointment diaries of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Using the Relational Event Model, we are analysing meetings with key contacts (e.g. business representatives, journalists) to uncover significant relational patterns in the data. Still at the formative stage of the work, we are considering the insights we can generate using this approach, such as:

  1. Margaret Thatcher’s leadership style, and how it developed over time.
  2. Event sequences before and after external ‘shocks’ – e.g. the Falklands War.
  3. The nature of interactions between the Prime Minister and key individuals (e.g. special advisers) and/or groups (e.g. the CBI).

At the moment, these aims are quite broad. To narrow them down we are working on a pilot which focuses on meetings between the Prime Minister and her cabinet colleagues between 1979 and 1984 – i.e. when she assumed power until the year after her first re-election.

So why cabinet ministers, and why this time period?

Firstly, it seems like an obvious start from the historical viewpoint. Although I am not an historian, this period heralded significant change in the UK (and international) political, economic, and social context – and Thatcher’s administration was at the vanguard of this change. Notably, though, many in her first cabinet were hostile to her proposed economic policies. As such, studying the evolving dynamics of the relationships between the Prime Minister and her colleagues could yield interesting new insights on her early years at the helm of government.

Secondly from a practical viewpoint, focusing on cabinet ministers provides a clear network boundary to narrow the scope of the research and simplify the coding process. To this end, there are a limited number of ministers at any given time (21 and 22 during the time in question), and no ambiguity about who qualifies as a cabinet minister – it is a matter of public record.

So, this is roughly where we are just now – tentatively moving into the analysis phase. My plan is to use the blog to talk about the project every few weeks, giving updates and commentating on various aspects of the study – method, findings, and anything I think is worth sharing.

If you’d like to get in touch about this work then please see the contact page for details.






Young Scottish people and Twitter

Is there a love affair between young Scottish people and Twitter? My survey analysis suggests that there is. According to the findings, and amongst the respondents who had a Twitter account:

  • 36.6% of those who identify as Scottish used it throughout the day, whilst;
  • 57.9% used it at least a few times a day*
Image credit below**

To put those figures in context, let’s consider the next most prolific users in terms of ethnic background:

  • 20.3% of those who identify as Other British or Irish used it throughout the day, whilst;
  • 46.4% used it at least a few times a day*

It is notable that the other big predictor of frequent Twitter use was age, with 16-18 year olds being much more likely than 19-24 year olds to use it throughout the day. However, when excluding Scottish respondents from the analysis (the largest proportion of whom were in the 16-18 age group), the effect of age on Twitter use, albeit still evident, was considerably less pronounced.

In addition to the above, the Scottish respondents had more Twitter followers, and followed more Twitter accounts than those from different ethnic backgrounds. These findings are interesting, and certainly invite further analysis to elucidate them.

Could it be that there is a distinct subculture of Twitter use amongst young Scottish people? In a separate research project that I have been involved in recently I spoke to many young teenagers in Scotland about their social media use, and would argue that there is evidence of this (and that young people view it as a platform for anarchic, “exciting” content – see this Buzzfeed article for example).

A caveat, though: actual uptake of Twitter is only about half that of Facebook, according to the survey. And although there does seem to be evidence that a faction of young Scottish people do use Twitter heavily, quantitative evidence suggests that they are still a (substantial) minority. A “clique”, even.

*These figures include those who used Twitter throughout the day.

** The Twitter bird © Photo by: Eldh, A. (2011), Weblink here. Licence:

Additional note: The complete survey sample was 909 respondents, of whom 57% were Scottish, 13.6% Other British and Irish, 17.4% Any other White background, and 11.7% Any other background.

Job search stress, gender, and conscientiousness

I’ve been picking up some interesting findings in my survey about job search and social media use. One group of findings in particular jumped out at me yesterday – those associated with job search stress.

As part of the questionnaire, I asked respondents how stressful they found looking for a job. The results were pretty conclusive:

  • 65.2% agreed that it was stressful
  • 14.5% disagreed that is was stressful.


Breaking down these figures, it is clear that the pressure of job search has a similar impact on every demographic subgroup. Indeed, for most demographics, the differences between the variables are negligible. However, one of the findings was eye-catching. With regards to gender and job search:

  • 56.3% of males agreed that it was stressful; whilst,
  • 70.1% of females agreed that is was stressful.

The difference between males and females was statistically significant. Perhaps one of the reasons this finding leapt out at me was that for the bulk of the analysis, gender made little difference one way or the other.

This made me trawl back through my findings to find another area where gender had had a significant impact. An example I found was in respect of job search effort: females (64.2%) were more likely than males (56.5%) to agree that they put effort into job search. Indeed, job search effort transpired to be one of the few dependent variables which significantly impacted job search stress levels:

  • 57.7% of those who did not apply effort agreed that it was stressful; whilst
  • 71.6% of those who did apply job search effort agreed that it was stressful.

In summation, there is a strong association between gender, job search effort, and job search stress*. As an amateur (non) psychologist, these results seem to suggest that females are more conscientious than males when it comes to seeking employment. A cursory Google Scholar search indicates that these findings have some precedent in other contexts.

The obvious question, then, is what impact is this having on job search outcomes**? This is something I will hopefully address in the thesis.

*Males who apply effort to job search (62.5%) are also more likely than those who do not (54.0%) to find job search stressful. Therefore, level of job search effort – independently of gender – also appears to have a significant impact on stress.

** The other obvious question is, what can be done to ameliorate job search stress beyond just treating its symptoms? Is it a wider societal or cultural concern, that people become so stressed out about finding work? Especially young people being under so much pressure to find a foothold in the labour market. However, this could be a whole new PhD project.

Unemployed young people in Scotland: do they actually want a job?

In the UK, cutting welfare benefits  has been used as a tool by the government in recent years to “encourage hundreds of thousands of people into work”. The idea is that reducing state-funded welfare is supposed to drive up wages and therefore, presumably, make employment a more appealing prospect for people out of work. Inherent within this argument, or at least implied by this argument, is the notion that unemployed people in the UK don’t really want to work in the first place.

So what then of 16-24 year olds in Scotland?


Photo © 2011 J. Ronald Lee

I’m currently analysing survey data gathered from 909 young josbeekers based in Scotland. To understand the general nature of each respondent’s job search I included some contextual questions. For example, I asked if they were looking for a job that was a “career option”, which elicited the following response from 2 of the demographic subgroups:

Unemployed respondents: 71.4% agreed that they were looking for a career option*

Higher education students: 36.0% agreed that they were looking for a career option

It’s important to note that in the HE students category, the respondents were at different stages of their qualifications. As such, most of them would have been seeking casual work, instead of graduate or other full-time positions (this is supported by the data). However, when the same sub-groups were asked if they would “settle for any job as long as it pays money”, this was the response:

Unemployed respondents: 61.7% agreed that they would take any job that paid money*

Higher education students: 37.7% agreed that they would take any job that paid money

There is something quite moving about those figures. They show that young people who are unemployed are motivated by the idea of finding a job with actual prospects, but most are prepared to take any job in order to get by. In fact, they are far more likely than students seeking casual jobs to take whatever they can get. And the figures are actually distorted somewhat by unemployed respondents who are educated to university level (see the bottom of this blog entry).

It is also noteworthy that the same unemployed respondents had the most flexible attitude towards working evenings and weekends (90.0% agreed) and were only slightly less amenable to the idea of relocation than those who were employed and also seeking a job.

Within the context of this analysis, it is difficult to afford any credence to the idea that unemployed people are not naturally disposed to the idea of finding a job. To the contrary, the analysis indicates that unemployed young people (a subgroup dominated in this sample by young males with lower educational attainment) are aspirational, yes, but also desperate to find a job of any kind just to have an income. Therefore, shifting the onus to the individual level to explain worklessness, rather than focusing on wider societal or economic conditions, seems to be a rather shady tactic at best.

* The figures were higher for unemployed people with lower levels of education i.e. of those unemployed respondents with no qualifications or National level qualifications (Scottish equivalent of GCSEs) 72.4% agreed that they were looking for a career option (0.0% disagreed), whilst an overwhelming 89.7% agreed they would take any job that paid money (3.4% disagreed).

Doing a PhD at Edinburgh Napier University: a short Q&A

Last week, the Edinburgh Napier University Marketing and Communications team ran a feature on the university website called #PhDates. The Valentine’s-themed special was used to promote research being undertaken by PhD students at the university, and to encourage others who may be interested in doing academic research to think about Napier as their institution of choice.


Here is my short Q&A about my PhD and life at Edinburgh Napier University:

Can you tell us a little bit about your current research and what it entails?

My research is about how young people find job search information from their social contacts, and the role of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter in this process. Specifically, I’m interested in finding out who young people ask for help, what the nature of these relationships are, and what type of information they are looking for. I also want to know if digital technologies are widely used by young jobseekers, and whether they are an effective source of job information.

How did your passion for your research area develop?

My career history has been a bit like a patchwork quilt. I’ve worked in retail, accountancy, information services, and I’ve even got a Class 2 truck driving license. I spent a long time trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, and learned a lot along the way about becoming employable and how difficult it is to find a job. I feel as though my experiences really drew me towards the research project, and that I can make a genuinely useful contribution with it. Also, with a background in Information Science, how people find and use information online is of much interest to me. Information is so readily available to us in the western world, but that creates its own difficulties, and it is something that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Apart from your doctorate, what do you hope to achieve with your research?

My project is partly funded by Skills Development Scotland, who are the national careers information and guidance organisation. Teaching people to use the power of their networks is an integral part of their service provision, and they want to develop a better understanding of how social media can be used to increase the employability of Scotland’s workforce. I want my research to have a genuine impact on careers policy in this area.

Explain your educational background so far

I did a BA (Hons) in Business Studies at Glasgow Caledonian University from 2004-08.  I returned to full-time education in 2013 and did an MSc in Library and Information Science at the University of Strathclyde, and graduated with disctinction.

Why did you choose Edinburgh Napier as your place of study?

My research centre within the School of Computing is called the Centre for Social Informatics. It is very highly regarded within the field of Information Science at an international level, with excellent research output. My dissertation supervisor at Strathclyde strongly recommended that I study here, and gave a glowing report of my current Director of Studies, Professor Hazel Hall. It was definitely the right choice – I’ve been given so many opportunities at Napier, which I think is a great institution with a very exciting future.

What would you say to anyone thinking about undertaking a PhD research project?

If you have a genuine research interest that you want to pursue then why not? Doing a PhD is a fantastic opportunity. It has given me the chance to present at conferences abroad (and elsewhere in the UK), become a published author, teach undergraduate students, participate in other research projects, and meet endlessly interesting people. It is challenging, but you are unlikely to replicate the experience elsewhere, and will develop your skillset immensely.

And finally, why do you love your research area?

It’s so diverse! It flirts with a number of research fields – sociology, computer science, information science, labour market research etc. It gives me the chance to learn about so many different things, which can be very empowering (and a wee bit scary at the same time!). But it is also very topical and necessary. Young people use social media all of the time, so if some of this usage can be harnessed to improve job search then it will be worthwhile.

You can see my feature by clicking here. Other PhD researchers Emine Akgun and Lee Curley also contributed.

Six pieces of advice about doing a PhD

Now that I am nearing the end of my PhD funding period, I thought I might as well pass on some of the ‘wisdom’ I have gained throughout the process. This post is for anybody out there who is embarking upon a PhD, or is thinking about starting one. So, in no order of importance, and with no specific theme, these are just some things that I think are worth considering:

  1. Carry a notepad everywhere you go to jot down relevant thoughts.

A large part of the PhD process involves thinking, and quite often this thinking doesn’t happen in favourable circumstances (i.e. when you are sitting at your desk working on the thing you are having thoughts about). To this end, it is handy to have a jotter of some kind where you can record random thoughts about your project. Otherwise you will almost certainly forget them. (Extra note: use the notebook exclusively for this purpose, and review what you have written at semi-regular intervals).

2. Additional activities are good, but don’t do too many.

The likelihood is that you will have a number of opportunities to do some extra work during the PhD process, both paid and unpaid. This could be teaching, demonstrating, student rep work, workshop/conference organising, other research work etc. etc.

Becoming involved in other projects will improve your CV, your transferable skills, take you out of your comfort zone, help you to create new professional contacts, and possibly give you some much needed perspective on your actual PhD. However, these activities soon add up, and even seemingly small contributions can become time-consuming. So be selective about what you do. If you are asked to participate in something, ask for some time to mull it over, and don’t be scared to turn things down if you feel you are becoming stretched, or are neglecting your research.


3. Anticipate and embrace criticism

Being subjected to criticism of any kind can be difficult to stomach. However, as a researcher and scientist you not only have to accept criticism, but you must also learn to embrace it. Your work will be open to scrutiny from your supervisors, peers, and the wider academic community. And it doesn’t matter how good it is, people will always pick holes in it. Reviewing and taking on board this criticism is one of the best ways to improve your work. As such, you need reevaluate your attitude towards it – it’s a valid part of the process (peer review is actually critical to the existence of the scientific community) that is crucial for your career development.

4. You aren’t an expert, yet.

It is important to remember that you are a fledgeling academic researcher, and that your PhD is an apprenticeship. You could become an expert in your discipline and skilled as a researcher. However, this process could take years or even decades. So don’t be too hard on yourself, and don’t get overly stressed about what others think of your work. Equally, it is important to exercise some humility – listen to advice from your supervisors and those with more experience.

5. Take ownership of your work.

Despite sounding contradictory to point 4, it is also important to remember that your research has genuine merit. And the fact you have been accepted onto a doctoral programme means that you have demonstrated the skill set that is required to one day become a fully fledged academic. So whilst you should expect criticism and pay heed to advice from supervisors, don’t be scared to stamp your own personality and individuality on your project. Independent thought is sacred.

6. Stay productive and keep the faith.

There will be times during your PhD when you doubt yourself (for a myriad of reasons), and it can be debilitating. But during those times, force yourself to just keep doing something and make use of everyday*. Keep putting one step in front of the other, even if you don’t know where it is taking you. Keep an eye on the big picture, but don’t allow yourself to be consumed by it – continuous steady work and perseverance will see you through in the end.

* mental/physical health issues notwithstanding.

Finishing the PhD

As is my wont, I have set myself multiple new year resolutions. Writ large at the top of the pile is finishing my PhD within the funding period, which lasts until September – less than nine months.

It’s a strange feeling to actually be at this stage. When I started the PhD process three years seemed like a long time, and I didn’t spare much thought for the actual achievement in itself. It’s not that I didn’t think I could manage it – I  always feel that most things are achievable with perseverance and effort, if you possess the right skillset. It’s more so that the eventuality seemed like a distant spec on the horizon.


Suddenly I’m in the home straight, and I have the following to complete:

  • Finishing touches to my initial qualitative investigation chapter (jobseeker interviews/focus group)
  • Writing up of my survey results
  • Focus group with careers practitioners in the spring
  • Writing up of focus group results
  • Writing up a discussion chapter
  • Updating the literature review chapter
  • Writing up the rest of the thesis (introduction, conclusion, recommendations etc. etc.)

I’m not there yet, and the challenge is not inconsiderable. But I really enjoy the process of writing up, and as such, am optimistic about 2017.