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Education and Careers
The BSG Survey, 2010
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At the end of 2009, the BSG Executive carried out a survey to find out more about the characteristics and views of our members.  146 members took part and the findings, though based on 30% of our membership at that time, show some interesting findings that provide food for thought.  

Personal Characteristics

41 percent of those who took part in the survey had been members of the BSG for between 0-5 years, and two-thirds between 0-10 years.  However, we also had a response from a group of members (19%) who have been a part of the BSG for 20/30 years or more, some of whom are now leaving paid academic employment. The age range of members varied from 18 to 85 years with the majority of respondents (63%) aged between 46 and 65 years. In contrast, 26% were aged between 18-45 years. In the main, respondents were female (72%), white British (only 4% from minority ethnic groups), and drawn from across the UK and Eire with London (25%) and the Midlands (18%) having the greatest response to the survey.

Academic/Social Background

Unsurprisingly as an academic society, the majority of respondents were either teaching or research staff at all levels within a variety of Higher Education Institutes or attached to non-for profit charitable organisations many with research or managerial roles. Only five percent reported themselves as current practitioners, while 8% identified themselves as ‘retired’ and 10% as ‘other’ specifying roles such as: “retired GP, Director of Influencing, Government, community worker and trainer in social care, chaplain (working with older people), senior manager in LA”. 

However, 67 of the 146 members said that they were a trained practitioner, including 22 with social work training and 19 who are registered nurses.  In addition responses came from: 4 OTs, 1 GP, 1 care assistant, 1 housing manager, 1 podiatrist, 1 architect and 1 engineer.  Other practitioners commenting on their backgrounds included: teachers, dieticians, clinical psychologists, speech and language therapists, counsellors, physiotherapists, Tai Chi teacher, pharmacy technician and dementia support worker. The breadth of the BSG includes a wide skill base as seen in the numerous roles that members also commented on with many being involved in local policy with older people, volunteering roles for Alzheimers Society, charity work and trusteeships, management committees for carers’ centre, as well a presidential roles for other organisations.

In terms of disciplinary affiliation members were able to give more than one primary discipline and we had high numbers reporting a range of backgrounds:  gerontology (79) ; sociology (55), social policy  (51), social work (30), psychology (21), Nursing (16) as well as others.  However, our dominance in the social sciences is seen in response to a question that focused on participation in the HEFCE RAE 2008 which outlined a range of Units of Assessment. Here the following strengths were seen:

Units of Assessment

Social work, Social Policy and Administration 46% (60)
Sociology    26% (34)
Health Services Research     19% (25)
Psychology  15% (20)
Education  10% (13)
Nursing and Midwifery 9%  (12)
Allied health professions & studies  8%  (11)
Psychiatry, neuroscience and clinical psychology 7%   (9)
Epidemiology and public health 6%   (8)
Anthropology      5%   (7)

While a small number of individual members also reported submissions under a wider range of topics from pharmacy to architecture and the built environment, from theology to art & design – we can see that in the main the focus of the BSG is in the field of health and social care with people bringing a broad range of academic disciplines to these areas.

This range of interests is reflected in the other academic societies to which our members also belong.  In the UK - the Social Policy Association, British Sociological Association and British Psychological Society have the largest joint membership with the RCN and British Geriatrics Society also having some members. Membership of  the Gerontological Society of America was the most frequently reported  international body.

Views on the BSG Website

The vast majority of those responding to this survey use the BSG website (88%).  The reasons for going on-line were various but over three-quarters used the website to read Generations Review with a similar number using it to find out about conferences.  Third on the list was ‘news about the society’ and then ‘renewing membership’. Smaller percentages of members saw the website as somewhere to find out about funding calls, learning about ERA and links to other websites.   The BSG Executive has been looking again at refreshing the website and these are certainly issues that have come up as things we need to develop.  The website should be the first port of call for our members.

The value of being a BSG member

What do members value the most and the least about being a BSG member and how can the society develop in the future?  These were interesting questions to pose and the feedback has led to numerous on-going discussions at BSG Executive meetings.

The questions ‘What you value most and least about being a member of the BSG?’ led to multiple response answers coded to summarise the response. There was less diversity about what is valued most.

The top 6 reasons were as follows:

Professional networking/connections/links   (42)
Access to information/events/knowledge   (32)
Conferences/seminars/meetings  (28)
Hearing/sharing current/latest research/policy (24)
Friendship/collegiality/fellowship of like minded people (20)
Being part of an academic community or discipline in  (10)

Some of the members said:

Being member of the professional body representing the interests of all people (academics and practitioners) working in the field of gerontology in the UK”

“Access to information about gerontology; exchange of ideas with others working in the field; multidisciplinary aspect”

“Opportunities to meet like minded people, with similar research interests.
Attending the annual conference”

“Member of group committed to promoting gerontology in UK”

“Hard to say now that I am not a full time academic”

“Sense of community with others interested in the study of ageing”

“It keeps me linked into a fascinating research area”

“Fellowship of an organisation focused on the issues of ageing”

“Being part of UK network that is multi-disciplinary involving academics as well as practitioners. We need each other for support - ageing is still a marginalised issue on the national agenda.”

“To have an identity as a researcher in ageing. To make links with relevant work in the field. To hear about completed work and work in progress.”

“The mix of people involved at conferences; the opportunities to support and bring on students and career young colleagues”

“Being part of a vibrant, multi-disciplinary research community”

“The promotion of ageing and ageing studies”

What is valued least led to greater diversity of response.  The top five reasons were as follows:

Nothing       (13)
Costs (annual conference, subscription)   (11)
Other conference issues e.g. greater frequency    (  6)
Events to far away cannot participate (overseas members) (  5)
Health and social care focus to narrow     (  4)

Other issues raised by 1,2 or 3 people included: lack of fellowship outside conferences; need to develop practitioner interests; need to link policy and practice; more publications; greater intellectual debate; GR prefer hardcopy; more information needed; too academic; concessions needed; ageism.

 Here are some of the comments made:

“ The indiscriminate nature with which people are permitted to use the BSG mailing list – the number of emails and the subject matter of some of them is, I believe, very inappropriate for an international mailing list.”

“ The assumption that academic gerontology is social gerontology.”

“ It is not as interactive as I would like it to be”

“That it never seems to grasp that learning is a key aspect of gerontology – the potential of older people’s learning and society’s/professional learning about ageing”

“Feel sometimes concentrates on new emerging researchers and PhDs to detriment of other researchers”

But what would the members like the BSG to do in the future?  Once again this led to a very varied response and listed below are all the points made by at least 2 members who took part in the survey:

Nothing else  (13)
Increase national/political profile   (  6)
Develop the website/more information e.g. job ads (  5)
Focus on practice/ more for practitioners (  4)
More events/seminars throughout the year  (  4)
Policy forums (  4)
More opportunities for young researchers/mentoring/ publications/nurturing  (  4)
Open up subjects of study/critical debates about ageing  (  4)
International links/developed and developing countries    (  3)
Section for/more use of  retired members (  3)
Regional workshops    (  2)
Foster special study groups like the BSA  (  2)

All the other comments were individual focusing on: training programmes; new member events; creating an academic discipline; greater banding for membership fees; activities for non-academic members; involving older people; adding publications; continuing to run great conferences.

Here are a selection of  the comments made:

“To have more training programmes such as writing or research method workshops or consultant services for new emerging researchers.”

“ Bring the annual conference cost down so postdocs  and others can attend. PGS have cheaper rates ,but what about staff who have a lot to contribute but are put off because they have to pay from their own pockets.  Don’t mind paying something, but keep the rate manageable”

“ To focus on and include more practitioners and their concerns and responsibilities”

“ Be able to identify and keep more PGS who often slide away after a post – in other words, help make them so interested in ageing that they seek another job in the field.  Therefore the BSG should be at the forefront of supporting research and teaching in gerontology”

“More emphasis on international aspects of ageing, especially in developing countries. Much more emphasis on the interrelationship between policy, practice and research and the engagement of older people”

“Develop policy forums; get more practitioners involved; lobby government more; raise the profile of the society”

“ We ought to be fostering more consistent critical debate among social gerontologists and between social gerontologists and people in more mainstream disciplines like sociology and the humanities”

“Special interest group for gerontological social work”

“Sponsor unfunded research e.g. inviting members to undertake one interview using a schedule relating to a particular topic”

“Could organise regional workshops to either promote research or offer research skills training at reasonable rates”

“ Act more as an advocate on behalf of the ageing population, and advise government on policy development”

“ Have an up-to-date and dynamic website with a constant stream of new info.  Perhaps have a database of research interests that is viewable by research subject/topic e.g. if want to know about psychology in gerontology there would be a list of experts under the banner of psychology”

“There should be more emphasis places on ERA in the UK – I only found out about it by going to an ERA conference in Australia”

“More practitioner workshops – recognition for those of us who work at the ‘coalface’ “

“Develop a focus on gerontology rather than service development”

“Make more use of retired members.  It seems ironic that out of all the long list of occupations given at the start of this questionnaire I was only able to tick ‘retired’.  We must  be quite a large group but BSG will know nothing about us”

“Make more of an impact on the policy front. I never seem to see any spokesperson for BSG when there’s a news issue about older people.  Why is this?”

“Address implications of research into practice”

“Become recognised for the strength of its multi-disciplinarity”

As you can see there are some real issues here about the future direction of the BSG that need to continue to be debated as they relate to the identity of the society. Do we see our members as an academic body or a wider group of people of all ages inside and outside paid employment? What is our main aim and identity? Should our disciplinary and practice base be wider or more focused in health and social care?  We do hope that we will be able to discuss these issues with you at our annual conference and other events and that the findings of this survey help to get the conversation going.


Sheila Peace
Publications, Membership and Identity Group
June 2010

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