We are pleased to announce that Professor John Preston becomes our new Executive Dean for Social Sciences on 1 February 2024. Before he takes up his new role we thought we'd find out a bit more about him and the role.
I joined Essex in January 2018 as Professor of Sociology and Faculty Dean Research in Social Sciences, a role I held until taking study leave in January 2023. Before coming to Essex, I worked as a Senior Lecturer and Professor in other UK universities, but this university is a special place for social sciences so I’m very grateful to be here.
Of course, there’s a formal job description for the role that involves things such as strategic leadership, working across all levels of the university, financial management, and meeting targets. In essence, though, the role is about working to deliver, and grow, excellent research, education and related activities in social sciences, not only through managing, but also by expanding available resources.
I enjoy collaboration, and colleagues in the Faculty of Social Sciences are fantastic at forming partnerships to get things done, across all levels of the university.
In ranking terms, we have strengths in both research and education. In REF2021, four subjects were in the top ten for research quality (sociology, economics and econometrics, politics and international studies, and modern languages and linguistics). Some of those subjects run across our departments (for example, sociology included colleagues from Sociology, Psychoanalytic and Psychosocial Studies and ISER (Institute for Social and Economic Research). We also have a massive research concentration in Essex Business School with some world-leading and truly innovative research areas.
In terms of Global Rankings, we’re in the top 100 globally for politics and international studies in the QS World University Rankings by Subject (2023) and 65th for social sciences in the THE World University Rankings by Subject 2023. We have major ESRC investments across our departments, but particularly in the UK Data Service, of which the UK Data Archive is the lead partner, and the Institute for Social and Economic Research, home of Understanding Society and MiSoC.
We also have areas of real strength in teaching and learning, student satisfaction and employability. In terms of ‘positivity scores’ in the NSS 2023 (the proportion of positive responses to all 26 questions) we were 17th for politics (Overall positivity score 84%), 19th for marketing (Overall positivity score 83.5%) and 23rd for management studies (Overall positivity score 79.6%).
There’s so much underpinning these strengths that is not so easy to measure, but is significant, such as our highly-motivated academics and professional services staff, a culture of research and education co-operation and theoretical and empirical experimentation and rigour.
Of course, students are taught by world-class academics, but they also directly benefit from how those academics engage in the wider world, in terms of their impact and stakeholder activities. Academics and professional services colleagues are supportive of students, and there are many subject associations, networks and activities organised by departments. There’s a willingness in the faculty to encourage students from diverse backgrounds to thrive and flourish in social sciences.
I’m interested in the sociology of disasters and emergencies, although I also publish in the sociology of education. I’ve just completed a book manuscript looking at the plans to reconstruct economies in the UK and US after a nuclear war in the 1970s and 80s, based on archival research. I’m using that as a lens to think about sociological questions concerning the future of capitalism given various existential threats.