Professor Sarah Byford
Professor of Health Economics
Director of King's Health Economics
Health Service & Population Research
Date started at King’s
Challenges and achievements
When did you first become interested in your academic discipline?
When I was an undergraduate. I was studying economics, but found it rather dull and lacking in a clear link to real life, which had been present at A level. I tried to change to psychology but was told it was a bit too late, so I decided to persevere. I clung to the few modules that seemed to have a clear application to reality, which included Eastern European economics (at the time that the walls were coming down), economics of developing countries and health economics. Whilst it was the developing countries that really captured my imagination, there was no funding for Masters level courses in this topic, so I ended up focusing on health economics instead.
What are your research interests, and what drew you to this area?
My main interests are in the evaluation of mental health and social care services for children and adolescents. I’ve always been drawn to these areas, but I’m not sure I can explain why. Suffice it to say that ingrowing toenails and broken bones do little for me. I think it’s a need to try and make a meaningful difference to populations who are struggling.
Tell us about a couple of your achievements that have been particularly rewarding.
My work with external organisations such as NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) and SCIE (Social Care Institute for Excellence) has probably been the most rewarding and provided the clearest sense of making a real difference to research and to public policy. I’ve helped both organisations to develop methods for guideline development and evidence review in mental health and social care populations and been a member of NICE/SCIE guideline development groups for looked after children and domestic violence and the NICE Public Health Interventions Advisory Committee.
Do you have professional role models? Who are they and what do you find inspiring about them and their accomplishments?
No, none. I tend to avoid looking for inspiration in that way as it makes me feel inadequate!
What do you feel is the most enjoyable/rewarding aspect of your job at King’s?
My work as Chair of our PhD committee brings me the most pleasure at the moment. Again, it’s that drive to make a meaningful difference and I can see clear results of my efforts in this area. It’s much harder to see any direct impact from research outputs.
How do you balance the various demands of a career in academia: research, teaching/learning, administration?
Badly! I work best under pressure so I tend to focus on those areas where the pressure is greatest at any point in time. Not ideal, I know, but it’s got me this far.
How do you balance an academic career with life outside the workplace?
I’m even worse at this. I find it very difficult to separate the two but I’ve got better since having children. I now have more defined work hours/home time but I’m still constantly fighting with guilt that I’m not getting enough done at work and I’m not being a great mother. Probably not the kind of answer that people want to hear, but the truth nonetheless.
What have you learnt from your experiences that you would like to share with others?
Don’t put your life on hold for your career but don’t assume it’s easy to keep an academic career within the hours of 9 to 5. Focus on the development of lasting and supportive collaborations and don’t be afraid to drop damaging and draining collaborations.