Professor Karen Glaser
Professor of Gerontology
Director of the Centre for Global Ageing
Director of the Institute of Gerontology
Global Health & Social Medicine
Date started at King’s
Challenges and achievements
When and what was responsible for you becoming interested in your academic discipline?
It was while I was pursuing a master’s degree in Latin American studies at the University of Texas, Austin that I first became interested in demography. I went on to develop this interest by getting an MSc in Demography from the London School of Economics. What I enjoyed most about demography was the empirical nature of the discipline. I began my research career investigating how different union types affected family size. Fertility was a major concern in population studies at the time. By the time I started my career in the UK the focus in demography had shifted from concerns about fertility to ageing populations.
What are your research interests, and what drew you to this area?
I am interested in the family lives of older people, particularly how changes in family structure (such as divorce and smaller family sizes) affect intergenerational support, that is what families do for each other. I developed a long-standing interest in the family lives of older people while writing and researching my dissertation, which looked at family structure in Costa Rica, specifically how cohabitation affected fertility. I then combined my interests in family structure and ageing and began to look at them from an international comparative perspective - that is, comparing patterns of support across different countries.
Tell us about a couple of your achievements that have been particularly rewarding.
One of the things I am most proud of is leading a team of outstanding researchers at the Institute of Gerontology (IoG). The Institute is one of the world’s leading gerontological research and teaching centres worldwide. It has been a pleasure to work with such talented people. Together we have considerably strengthened the Institutes’ research and teaching portfolio and increased its international profile.
Do you have professional role models? Who are they and what do you find inspiring about them and their accomplishments?
My PhD supervisor, Professor Albert Hermalin, was an important mentor for me throughout my graduate studies at the Population Studies Center (PSC) at the University of Michigan. He provided me with encouragement and inspiration. My interest in union patterns, fertility, and Costa Rica grew from my association with a project he and Professor Luis Rosero-Bixby of the University of Costa Rica were working on. Because of my association with him, I was given an opportunity to carry out field work in Costa Rica, one of my career highlights. His expertise and guidance was invaluable.
What if any support has most benefited you in your career?
My colleagues in the Institute of Gerontology have been outstandingly supportive. In addition, my husband who is also a professor at King’s, has been a wonderful support. Because he is also an academic he has a very real understanding of the demands of this kind of work.
What do you feel is the most enjoyable/rewarding aspect of your job at King’s?
One of the most rewarding aspects of my job at King’s is the people you get to work with. Both in my own Department (Social Science, Health & Medicine) and through my various roles on School committees, I have had the good fortune to meet some really interesting and bright individuals. The people who are attracted to work at King’s often have strong opinions and are not afraid to say what they think.
How do you balance the various demands of a career in academia: research, teaching/learning, administration?
It is difficult to balance the various demands; some people are much better about being protective of their research time than others. Teaching and administrative tasks can easily take over but it is important to remember you will be a better teacher if you are doing interesting research.
How do you balance an academic career with life outside the workplace?
This is a significant challenge. It is not easy to keep a work life balance but it is critical to do so not only for your own wellbeing but for your family’s. It is also important to maintain interests outside of work as it definitely makes you a nicer person!
What have you learnt from your experiences that you would like to share with others?
It is important to find a group of people that you enjoy working with. A lot of academic work (at least in my field) tends to be collaborative. Once you have established good working relationships, the rewards are considerable. I have built great collaborative working relationships with colleagues in my Department and at other Universities, particularly in Italy, the Netherlands and the U.S.