Alison Park

Professor Alison Park is Director of CLOSER (Cohort and Longitudinal Studies Enhancement Resources), which brings together nine leading studies, the British Library and the UK Data Service to share resources and expertise, provide training and stimulate longitudinal research. Currently based at the UCL Institute of Education, she previously worked at NatCen Social Research with a particular focus on survey research.

Why did you pursue an academic career?

I didn't initially pursue an academic career at all. I really enjoyed studying Sociology at university, but was keen to work outside academia and spent the next 20 years working at NatCen Social Research on a wide range of studies. Recently I've joined the UCL Institute of Education to head CLOSER, a consortium of nine leading longitudinal studies.

What career achievements are you most proud of?

I've always wanted research findings to reach the widest possible audience. One of my proudest achievements has been helping modernise the British Social Attitudes report. Previously it was an expensive hardback book; now it's a free online resource with summaries of key findings, engaging visuals and interactive data – transforming the way audiences engage with the findings.

What is the most important issue society is facing today?

The long-term impact of disadvantage in early life. By the age of three, there is a large gap in the cognitive test scores between the poorest fifth of children and those from better-off homes. These gaps widen over time, affecting a wide range of outcomes in adult life.

The UK's longitudinal studies shed unique light upon these issues because they follow the same people over time. CLOSER aims to increase the use, value and impact of these resources so we can find solutions to these difficult policy challenges.

What do you feel is the most important finding of economics and social science over the past 50 years?

Longitudinal evidence has mobilised policymakers, practitioners and parents to give all children the best start in life.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the ESRC.