Making a difference

Dr Judith Burnett is Dean of the School of Law, Social Sciences and Communications.

Dr Burnett joined the University of Wolverhampton from the University of East London in January 2009 and has led the merger of the School of Legal Studies with the School of Humanities, Languages and Social Sciences to form a unique portfolio including Deaf Studies, Policing, Broadcasting, and world leading research strength in the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Her background is in Sociology, Politics and the theatre, and she is Vice Chair of the British Sociological Association.

What does your work at the University involve?

I am leading one of the most dynamic and exciting schools in the area of law, social sciences, humanities and communication in a modern British university.

My job is to make sure that our students access the highest level of teaching and research expertise in areas such as history, politics and war studies, media, English, Deaf Studies, criminal justice and the social sciences.

We teach people from all over the world in law, media and English language and look after our collaborative partnerships in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Poland, Cyprus, Siberia and India.

Our job is to promote opportunities to the West Midlands as well, including professional development and courses for all kinds of businesses and services such as West Midlands Police.

What do you enjoy most about the role and find most rewarding?

Seeing students and colleagues growing and learning and knowing that we are really making a difference.

What is your greatest professional achievement?

Teaching and working with a group of unemployed car workers from Dagenham a few years ago. I first taught them at foundation level study, saw them through to graduation and was delighted when one of them went on to study a PhD in the poetry of working class life.

The School of Law, Social Sciences and Communications covers a broad range of subjects. How do you think studying a course at the School prepares students for the world of work today?

In order to make headway in the world of work, students have to be opportunistic, with excellent communication skills and the ability to understand what is required.

They have to be broad minded, analytical and not only willing to learn, but also very good at managing their own learning. The subjects in this School provide an excellent education for the school of life which follows.

Some of the specific skills of higher level literacy and numeracy, and good production and presentation skills will in themselves often secure an interview in the first place.

Our students go on to work in a very wide range of sectors from the uniformed services to health education, and from the public sector to media, marketing and law.

What advice would you offer to students considering higher education?

Going into higher education will broaden your horizons and change your life. Ask as many questions as you can when you are making your choices and then follow your heart: Go for it!

Your background is in Social Sciences, including Politics and Sociology. What have been your main interests?

I am interested in social change and developing people and communities to reach their full potential. I believe that systems and structures don’t have to be oppressive, although they often are making a difference.

My interests reflect that, so I have researched strategies of community cohesion and empowerment. I have also worked in community theatre and the arts and have developed an academic interest in the sociology of generations, with a particular interest in how different generations develop wisdom, and how they pass their learning on.

You also have an interest in the theatre. What is your favourite kind of theatre and why?

Depending on my mood I am quite happy to sit through three hours of solid Greek drama, surrounded by people wearing black polonecks! Then again I also enjoy a good old fashioned musical and love physical theatre, the circus and travelling troupes. I don’t much like drawing room dramas, a bit too polite for me...

If you were at University today, what subject would you like to study or research?

If I had my time again, I would still choose the social sciences but would do it in combination with something like planetary science. I think the universe is fascinating.

Which famous people do you admire and why?

Mo Mowlam, for her contribution to peace in Ireland because she said, like women do, “Let’s talk”. American novelist and essayist Philip K. Dick, for having some great ideas and making me smile, and Eric Hobsbawm for his autobiography, told through the eyes of a critical historian.

Do you have ambitions you still wish to fulfil?

I’d like to see if I can grow a banana tree north of Watford Gap! I’d also like to retire when I’m ready to and see the world.