I cannot remember ever actually deciding what I was going to be when I grew up. After seeing the Tutankhamen exhibition in Cairo at the age of 10, I was determined to become an archaeologist. Then I read a book about archaeology in Europe and realised that it involved a lot of digging in muddy trenches. That changed my mind. Discovering treasures in ancient tombs did not seem to be an everyday activity for archaeologists.
I studied Geography and Anthropology at London University, thinking, well, I could always teach. That led on to a Ph.D. at Durham University and post-doctoral work at Cambridge. One step came after the other as opportunities opened up to me. Somehow I had become a researcher.
I now have half a century of research experience behind me. This has been very varied, both in terms of subject and venue. I studied urban development in Iran and industrial location in India. Once in New Zealand I turned my hand to planning research at the Ministry of Works, which then ran most of the country.
In order to achieve the working hours and conditions which suited a mother of small children, I formed a partnership with a woman in the same position and became a consultant, in the days before everyone was. There was once a parliamentary question asking who these women were who were being paid the exorbitant rate of $4 an hour (this was the 1970s!).
Having tried to secure a university position ever since I arrived in New Zealand, I achieved this goal after twenty years. By this time I had retrained myself as a social policy specialist. I had done research on contract for a range of central and local government agencies, as well as private sector firms and voluntary organisations. I had worked for the New Zealand Planning Council, once my children were in school. The Planning Council was a wonderful organisation, where social, economic, environmental and cultural trends were brought together to examine their policy implications. I rose to the role of Deputy Director at the Planning Council before leaving for Victoria University in 1991.
The first course I taught at Victoria was An Introduction to Social Policy. I seemed to have a very free hand so I focused on how social trends and social policy interacted with each other, placing a strong emphasis on current issues. Having started up a Social Monitoring Group at the Planning Council I continued to produce a series of books called From Birth to Death which looked at trends in the New Zealand population, using a life stage framework.
It became very clear to me that population ageing was not only a very significant social trend, but that it affected all aspects of policy at all levels of society. This led me to work with others to set up the New Zealand Institute for Research on Ageing, of which I was the first Director.
I left this position in 2007 and moved into what I call “the stage of life formerly known as retirement”. I believe that what used to be called retirement (literally withdrawal and seclusion) should be a time of opportunity – to create a portfolio of activities, which may include unpaid and paid work, caring, travel, leisure and hobbies, not forgetting quiet reflection and reminiscence. It should also be a time when older people “give back” to others and to succeeding generations – what the psychologists call “generativity”. This is the reason for offering Age Concern NZ my services as a voluntary advisor and contributor to the web site. I am proposing to write short pieces on current research on ageing and how it can be applied in practical situations – to help everyone understand the implications of ageing, especially the positive ones; to try to improve the lives of older people and to promote active and positive ageing.
I welcome your comments and suggestions on this idea – please let me know what you think and what you would like to know. I look forward to hearing from you.