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2024: Year of the Early Career Researcher

Blog | | Jennifer Symonds
Professor Jennifer Symonds

CLOSER Director, Professor Jennifer Symonds

In our first blog of 2024, CLOSER’s new Director, Professor Jennifer Symonds, reflects on her first four months in the role and outlines our exciting new plans for the year ahead.

As we return from the festive break and the calendar rolls into 2024, I have had the chance to reflect on a fascinating first few months in post as the Director of CLOSER and the exciting plans we have set for this year.

Although the world of longitudinal population studies and research is a familiar one, starting a new role in London after spending seven years at University College Dublin in Ireland has been a major transition. The change has been life altering but people who know me best tell me I am deeply happy despite the challenge.

The most important experience for me has been getting to know the CLOSER team who work to provide our community with services and resources across our core areas of focus: Data Discovery, Training and Capacity Building, Policy and Dialogue, and Projects and Partnerships. The capacity of the CLOSER team to produce an exceptional service was something I had not imagined possible – they are 100% focused and infinitely agentic.

As we kick off our programme of activities for 2024, I’m excited to give a taste of what’s to come this year. Firstly, this week sees the start of our ‘Emerging Longitudinal Scholars’ webinar series showcasing researchers at the forefront of longitudinal exploration. We’ve curated a diverse programme of talks for this series, covering children’s development, healthy ageing, diet and health, employment and wellbeing in midlife, mental wellbeing, ethnicity and gender. Registration is open for all upcoming sessions – please join us!

The showstopper later this year will be our inaugural Early Career Researcher (ECR) conference and training event. If you would like to present your research, gain exposure to prospective employers and learn more about how to impact policy, save the date of September 18th in your diary and sign up to Longitudinal News so that you don’t miss out. It doesn’t matter what your research is about, so long as it involves longitudinal population studies. We are open and would love to hear from you!

All of this is happening alongside further enhancements to our suite of resources and a range of new activities and products for academics, research students, policy professionals, data professionals and educators. Watch this space!

The UK is large and well supported enough to have exceptional talent and resource in the longitudinal research community, but also small enough for us to sit down and learn from each other within our communities of practice. The whole UK perspective is something deeply valuable that I am only just touching the edges of.

I have been inspired by the discussions in my introductory meetings with our 19 partner studies, our strategic partners (UK Data Service, UK Longitudinal Linkage Collaboration, and Population Research UK), and my new colleagues in the IOE Faculty of Education and Society. CLOSER is nested within the Social Research Institute (SRI) where seven research centres showcase the best of social sciences evidence and practice. CLOSER’s future self is continually shaped by its home within the SRI, IOE, and UCL.

A further unanticipated privilege has been working closely with the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) who fund, elevate, and encourage CLOSER. As CLOSER enters its 12th year of operation, we have developed from a visionary project into a centre of excellence, producing high value products, resources, and outcomes across a range of domains. The ESRC, our funders, are supportive and trusting of our expertise and give us the courage and opportunity to do what we do best.

On a personal level, directing CLOSER has given me a new yardstick to hold myself against, when I consider how I can contribute to society through my new role. Some questions I have asked myself recently are: how can I support my team in their journey to becoming their most valuable professional selves? What qualities do I need to have to be able to do this?

Another question that I’m pushing myself with is how can we create the highest standards globally and promote a future where data and research have an even greater impact for good?

With so many exciting activities rolling in, I know the CLOSER team and I will be very busy. But, as always, it is our pleasure to provide our community with the very best service we can achieve.

Jennifer Symonds is the Director of CLOSER and Professor of Human Development at the UCL Social Research Institute. Follow Prof Jennifer Symonds on X/Twitter

Suggested citation:

Symonds, J. (2024). ‘2024: Year of the Early Career Researcher’. CLOSER. 23 January 2024. Available at: