Open the door to opportunities
Every cloud has a silver lining: Kieron Barclay, an Associate Professor in Sociology at Stockholm University, did not study psychology as he planned but ended up falling in love with sociology.
How have you progressed in your career?
I finished my A-levels at Island School in 2004, and then I went to the University of Surrey in the UK to study psychology and sociology. During my undergrad degree, I spent a year abroad in the US, at the University of Maryland, and also about 6 months doing some voluntary work in Mozambique. After graduating I wasn’t completely sure what I wanted to do, so I spent a year in Beijing studying Mandarin while applying both for jobs in Hong Kong and post-graduate courses in the UK. In the end, I decided to return to the UK to do a master’s degree in sociology at the University of Oxford. I really enjoyed the program and at that point, I decided that I wanted to continue in graduate school if I could. During the master’s degree, a Swedish professor in my department suggested that, among other places, I apply for a Ph.D. position at Stockholm University, and I ended up moving to Stockholm in 2010. I finished my Ph.D. in 2014, and since then I spent a couple of years employed as a researcher in the UK at the London School of Economics and then 3-years helping to lead a research laboratory at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Germany. A couple of years ago I was offered a “tenure-track” position back in Sweden, and now I’m an Associate Professor in Sociology at Stockholm University. It’s probably worth mentioning that when I was doing my A-levels at Island School I had originally planned to study psychology at the University of York, but I missed one of my required grades. As a result, I ended up going to Surrey through the UK clearing process and studying sociology in addition to psychology. At the time that was a disappointing development, but if that hadn’t happened, I would never have studied sociology, and probably would have been doing something very different today. I can honestly say that I’m very glad I screwed up that economics exam (sorry Mr. Ishaque).
Why did you choose to study health and fertility?
Well, during my undergraduate and master’s degree, I found that I was very interested in migration, the experiences that people have when they move to a new country, and what factors affect how well they integrate into the local society. I’m quite sure this interest grew out of my childhood in Hong Kong. As I learned more about the academic literature concerning migration I gradually figured out there were a group of people, who called themselves’ demographers’, who worked on questions related not only to patterns of migration, but also patterns of fertility, and mortality. I came to be very interested in whether the decisions that parents make about childbearing have any consequences for the health and long-term outcomes of their children. For instance, questions like: do the age at which you have your kids, the spacing between them, or the total number of children you have, affect the educational success or health of your children in the long run? Sometimes it can matter a great deal. Through my interest in these questions, I also became interested in the health consequences for parents of how many children they have, or the age at which they have them, but also how health affects your ability to find a partner and to have children yourself.
You studied at ESF school at your formative years, what was this experience like?
Yes, I went to primary school at Bradbury, and I went all the way through Island School from year 7 to year 13. I have very happy memories of my childhood and teenage years, and I’m very grateful that I was able to go to such amazing schools and grow up in Hong Kong. We had good teachers, and I have very fond memories of them. I think that growing up in the multicultural environment that Island School offered was really formative.
How did education at ESF shape you to become who you are?
One can never be completely sure because I don’t know who I would have been if I hadn’t gone to ESF schools. Nevertheless, I think that it was very important for me. The education itself was very good, and there were many smart and hard-working peers, which encouraged you to try your best as well. Then there were all the opportunities to try different activities and sports and to discover what you were interested in and what you were good at in a safe environment. We were really lucky. However, I think that even more important than all that were the lifelong friends that I made while I was at school. They doubtless shaped the person I am today, and through them, I still feel like I’m in touch with Island School and that spirit we had.
Sociology is a popular field for ESF students. Any tips or words of wisdom for prospective ESF leavers?
Yes – however, it may not be popular! I would encourage those who want to study sociology to make sure that they also work hard to learn statistics. It will make you a savvier interpreter of the modern world, and can also open doors to many different opportunities because it is a highly transferable skill.
Kieron Barclay – Island School, Class of 2004, House of Einstein