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Anthea Tinker - A gerontologist and her career*
Professor of Social Gerontology, King’s College London Winner of the Alan Walker Prize 2010
Anthea Tinker

‘Why did you become a Gerontologist?’ said the bright young American student obviously expecting (as she later said) a lifelong commitment to older people, being brought up by grandparents and/or an attraction to the exciting new theories coming out in the literature.  The answer for me, and I suspect a great many others in the field, is ‘none of the above’. It just happened.  A series of events, few of them planned, led to my position at King’s College London and a chair in the subject.

After a degree in Economics, Politics and Sociology I started my working career in industry. First as the Assistant Buyer and then the Buyer for a firm that made cardboard boxes (first publication ‘The non-specialist graduate in industry’).  This was followed with what appears on my CV as ‘she has been on the staff of three universities and three government departments’.  Going from one to the other in turn was not on secondment but as a result of competitive entry each time.  The reasons?  First the birth of three children, and the wish to work part time, and second my husband’s (he is a clergyman) moves to different parts of the country.  I joke that each time he moved I retrained and there is an element of truth in this.  Before the arrival of the children I moved from industry to research in the Board of Trade and then followed two years training in law and science to become one of HM Inspector’s of Factories.  After a spell as a Factory Inspector climbing up ladders on building sites and peering at machinery did not seem to be such a good idea when pregnant so I returned to Birmingham University.  I became a junior researcher at the Institute of Local Government Studies and lectured for the Extra Mural Department in Public Administration.  There followed a spell researching for the Maud Commission on Local Government and another for the Royal Commission on Local Government (publications on local government).

On moving to London, first Enfield then Bloomsbury and finally to Islington I was persuaded to lecture for Birkbeck College in Social Administration both in evening classes and for the Social Work course (publications on social workers and on children).    Feeling that I ought to get a qualification in this I embarked on a PhD at City University.  There were two main academic interests in my life apart from family.  They were children in hospital, I belonged to the pressure groups trying to get better facilities for parents, and housing, which has always been a passion of mine. Tossing a coin between ‘Children in hospital and the rights of parents’ and ‘Granny flats’ it came down as the latter.  Hardly the start most people might imagine to a career in Gerontology.  As most people realise once they have written a thesis the subject never leaves them. I was fortunate enough to have the Department of the Environment contribute some funding towards the expenses of the degree.  They paid for some secretarial help and with interviewing. They published a shortened version of the thesis afterwards. I continued at City University and it was there that I subsequently researched another topic on housing for older people financed by a grant from DOE. 

The need for a full time tenured post led me to apply to the Department of the Environment and I became a Senior and then Principal Research Officer.  Although most of my time at DOE was concerned with housing for older people I researched a number of other topics including Families in Flats and Housing Associations (publications on all of these).  The time as a civil servant was incredibly interesting and rewarding.  We were fortunate not only to undertake our own research but also to supervise outside contractors as well as helping with policy advice, parliamentary questions and Minister’s speeches.  I would always recommend a career in the civil service.

At the end of ten years at DOE I heard that what was then the Age Concern Institute of Gerontology at King’s College London was about to appoint its first Director.  This was too good an opportunity to miss and I applied and got the job.  The Chair of Social Gerontology, (the first in the country I think) followed.  It was here too that we started the first multidisciplinary degree in Gerontology in the UK. Over the last twenty years my research has focused on ageing with a range of topics from older women, accidents, falls, family policies, elder abuse, community care, information needs, the third age, very old people, long term care, older workers, care homes, ethics, housing and technology. 

Teaching, particularly adults, has played a big part in my life.  From the extra mural departments of Birmingham and London to Master’s students in Gerontology at King’s College London the incredible age range has been a challenge but very rewarding.  In no small part is this because the students bring so much to the courses. 

My other academic interest has been ethics which I have taught for a number of years.  For the last nine I have chaired the KCL Research Ethics Committee and served on the national Association of Research Ethics Council.  I also co-founded the Forum of academics, members and officers of University Research Ethics committees and we have met three of four times a year for the last five years at King’s.  It has proved to be a most supportive group from across the UK.

I have been very fortunate to work with a very talented number of researchers both at King’s and in the wider Gerontology field.  In particular the partnership with the late Professor Janet Askham brought the two of us over 50 grants.  The wider Gerontology family is a wonderful one and we are extremely fortunate in the British Society of Gerontology to have had a series of outstanding Presidents and members of committees. I spent six years on one committee and found a willingness to work hard for the wider community striking.  I am grateful to everyone who has supported me in my career.


*An article in response to an invitation from the Editor

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