Spotlight on Dr Evan Williams

We hear from Evan Williams about life working as a Research Associate in SCADR and what his current research involves.

Evan joined SCADR's team that focuses on 'Work and social security' research in January 2020. His research interests include social security, labour markets and social determinants of health. Whilst he would normally be based within School of Social & Political Sciences, University of Glasgow he is currently working from home.

We asked Evan the following questions to find out more about himself, his role and the challenges he faces.

Please tell us more about your job and the projects you are involved in

I am currently working on a project that investigates the socioeconomic, household and environmental risk factors for Covid-19 health outcomes in Scotland. At the analysis stage, this involves analysing anonymised data from a range of sources – such as the 2011 Census and more recent primary care, secondary care and mortality data – in a secure researcher environment called the National Safe Haven (NSH). Through this work we will be able to more accurately estimate the risk factors associated with Covid-19 outcomes, so as to inform current and future government policy responses to the evolving public health situation.

What challenges have you had to overcome with the latest project?

Everyone involved in the area of administrative data research will tell you that often the real challenge relates to the time involved from project inception to gaining data access. And they’re not wrong! There are important checks and balances in the system – such as the Public Benefit and Privacy Panel (PBPP) – which ensure that appropriate research is being carried out, and the various processes can take time. However, once data access has been granted there is huge scope for research using administrative data to achieve new insights and make a real difference to public policy. Indeed, the value of administrative data research is gaining greater attention in Scotland and across the UK, and as the data infrastructure develops the data access process should become more straightforward.

What have you enjoyed about this project?

The pandemic has affected all of our lives in so many ways and it’s therefore been a privilege to work on a project that will bring new insights into the risk factors associated with Covid-19 outcomes. This will improve our understanding of the consequences of Covid-19 disease for at-risk vulnerable groups in Scotland, which helps motivate the analysis that we are undertaking. Given the importance of the project and the rapidly developing amount of research evidence on this topic, it’s also been really insightful to learn from other colleagues/researchers from across the UK who are working to improve understanding of Covid-19 outcomes.

Please tell us about one of your professional accomplishments

Thankfully I was actually able to enjoy the experience of my PhD Viva and so I have good memories of the day itself – the nerves, the back and forth of the thesis defence, and obviously the afternoon afterwards. This was pre-pandemic and so the memories have by now taken on a slightly dream-like quality! In the Viva I got to discuss my research at length with experts in the field and receive their advice about future developments. I have since been able to publish from the PhD and a good accomplishment from this is that the results have been used to inform an inquiry into Universal Credit that was carried out by the House of Lords.

What’s a fun fact about you many people may not know?

A story I like to tell people is that I once had to do maypole dancing for my primary school when the then UK Prime Minister came to visit in the 1990s. It was a strange day, but I think we managed the ‘Grand Chain’ dance OK. If you don’t know what maypole dancing is, then you clearly have never really lived!

This article was published on 03 Jun 2021

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