Under the spotlightProfessor Katherine Smith of Public Health Policy

Professor Katherine Smith joined us as a Professor of Public Health Policy in 2019. Since then, Katherine now leads on three of our Masters programmes: MSc International Social Welfare - which is a unique Masters programme that bridges social work and social policy and has a global focus; MSc Social Policy - which provides advanced level study for those interested in understanding how policy making works and how public policies impact on different groups; and MSc Social Policy (Research Methods) - which combines an advanced level focus on social policy with comprehensive research methods training, approved by the UKRI-ESRC via the Scottish Graduate School in Social Sciences. Since joining us, Katherine has enjoyed getting to know the students on these programmes and working with colleagues and students to ensure each programme is responsive to policy developments and student interests.

What has been the most memorable moment of your career to date?
Taking research on tobacco industry influence (via think tanks) to the European Parliament and having the sense that it was genuinely making a difference to how various policy actors would subsequently approach particular claims about regulation and evidence by transnational tobacco companies and relevant think tanks.

What inspired you to enter into Public Health Policy?
During my undergraduate degree (Geography at the University of Edinburgh), I was lucky enough to be taught be an amazing professor called Susan J. Smith, who ran a course about health inequalities, much of which really struck a chord with me. The day after my last undergraduate exam, I started temping for NHS Education for Scotland in a role that involved working between policy and practice. It quickly became clear that most people I came into contact with in this role had very little time for academics or their research, often disparaging academic outputs as irrelevant. I started wondering why the people I spoke to felt this way when I had come across so much research about health inequalities that seemed, at least to me, to be both important and useful. This was back in 2002, when New Labour was still going strong and there was lots of official rhetoric about ‘evidence-based policy’. Until that point, I had never considered doing a PhD – I’m not even sure I really understood what it involved – but, after encouragement from my partner and Susan Smith to explore the relationship between health inequalities research and policy as part of a PhD, I applied for, and was lucky enough to be awarded, a University of Edinburgh 1+3 scholarship. From that point, I never really looked back. I love research, writing and teaching and focusing on health inequalities (and public health more broadly) has allowed me to do all this in ways that I hope (and try to ensure) are useful to others.

What is your role within the school?
I’ve been appointed as a Professor of Public Health Policy through Strathclyde’s Global Talent scheme, which is a brilliant opportunity that is allowing me to focus on research and writing for a year or so. I am then hoping to get involved in developing some new teaching programmes for people working in policy and practice roles as well as by contributing health policy and qualitative methods teaching to social policy’s core degree programmes.

What current trends do you see influencing your field?
I work in an interdisciplinary space so I don’t see myself being in anyone particular field but for the areas I work in: (i) in the field of evidence and policy, there’s been a lot more effort recently to develop better engagements between political science and studies of the relationship between evidence and policy, and more attempt to learn from attempts to co-create and co-produce research; (ii) in public health, there’s a lot of funding going into more sophisticated approaches to economic modelling at the moment, as well as a lot of debates about new technologies (e.g. e-cigarettes). Both of these fields have a growing interest in applying ideas about complexity. 

Tell us about any research you are currently involved in...
I am involved in several new research projects that will be starting this Autumn. The biggest, for me, is a UKPRP funded Consortium called SIPHER, which is exploring how complex systems modelling might help policy partners. We have three policy partners (the Scottish Government, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and Sheffield City Council) and I’ll be leading Workstream 1, which is focusing on understanding how our policy partners are currently approaching social determinants of public health (inclusive growth, housing and early years), what new policies they are considering and why, what their evidence needs/hopes are and how SIPHER fits into all this. It’s a co-produced project, which means the policy partners are Co-Investigators and have been involved from the start so it feels like it has a real opportunity to make an impact.

What initially attracted you to the University of Strathclyde?
Strathclyde’s commitment to being a progressive institution, both in terms of the accessibility of its teaching programmes and in terms of the research focus of the School of Social Work & Social Policy.

After studying MSc Social Policy, what opportunities are there for graduates?
An MSc in Social Policy sets you up for a wide range of careers, including academic research and impact related work, careers in local and national government and careers in third sector organisations with a policy focus.

You can keep up-to-date with Professor Katherine Smith's research here >>

Published date: August 23, 2019