|3 Feb 2023|
|Alumni Career Profiles|
It has been wonderful to recently reconnect with Diane, to learn more about her life and career as an Economist.
Please describe your journey since leaving BGS and how you progressed to your current position?
My work history is long and convoluted! I went straight from school to Oxford to do PPE and then won a scholarship to Harvard where I did a PhD in Economics. I came back to the UK afterwards - the US was a great experience for four years, but I didn’t want to live there - and since then I’ve done most of the jobs you can do as an economist. First was a short stint at the Treasury, advising on monetary policy (which was the Treasury’s responsibility in those days, not the Bank of England’s). Then I went to a private sector economics consultancy. Next, I detoured into journalism for quite a long time, working for a magazine called The Investors Chronicle and later The Independent newspaper. After 12 years as a journalist, I left and combined running my own small consultancy business with some public sector appointments, such as the Competition Commission and the Natural Capital Committee. I had been writing books on economics since the late 1990s and had been involved in reforming the economics curriculum for universities, so in 2014 the University of Manchester offered me a job as Professor of Economics, and five years ago I moved to the University of Cambridge as a Professor of Public Policy. So very broad experience, and a good illustration of the way a core set of skills can allow you to have a varied career.
What does your role involve, what is an average day like for you?
Term time and out of term are completely different, and in either case there isn’t really an average day. In term time I have a lot more teaching to do, including the one-on-one or one-on-few supervisions that characterise Oxford and Cambridge. There are more meetings then too, as everybody is around. Academic conferences and research trips happen in between terms. But the general mix is teaching and the administration and marking that go with that, research - usually working with colleagues rather than solo - University administration and meetings, and meetings with officials (UK or international) as my area is public policy. People often think academics have long holidays but sadly it’s only the same vacation allowance as other jobs, and we tend to work long hours too.
What do you like most about your job?
I love thinking and writing about economics and have managed to make that my job. I also relish the students, the ideas and enthusiasm you get from people who are motivated to learn and to try to contribute to society.
What is the biggest challenge that you have encountered professionally?
Everybody has ups and downs in their working lives, and there have been many times when I got stressed or depressed, or when I didn’t get positions I wanted. Sometimes you need to just have a cry or a moan to friends and family. I have two children, and it’s just difficult to combine parenthood with work in our society. Economics is a very male-dominated profession and being patronised or ignored by some male colleagues has driven me to fury - but I can’t complain about being held back professionally by the sexism.
What do you consider to be your greatest professional achievement?
I’m going to pick three: writing one of the first books about the digital economy, back in 1997, which still seems relevant to debates now; influencing the international debate about how to measure economic progress beyond the standard indicator, GDP; and being awarded a CBE for my contribution to the public understanding of economics.
How did Bury Grammar School help you to be successful in your chosen career?
School taught me to enjoy learning, through the quality of teaching and enthusiasm of my teachers, and to be open minded and questioning. It also gave me great advice and support on the early part of that journey.
What career advice would you give to our current pupils?
Stay open to opportunities and don’t imagine that you are committed to deciding now what your entire future life path will be.
When you look back at your time at BGS, what are some of your fondest memories?
I had some inspiring teachers so - although it makes me sound terrible - I loved history and English lessons in particular. I acted (very badly) in a few plays and still sometimes dream about the backstage corridors and rooms. The poet Ted Hughes came to read to us one time, which was brilliant. And playing tennis every summer (also badly).