Meet our Head of School
Professor Harris Beider is Head of School of Social Sciences. Learn more about his background and interests and what he enjoys about working for the School and the University.
What did you study at University?
I studied Politics at the University of Warwick having grown up in inner city Birmingham and going to a comprehensive school on the Druids Heath Estate on the outskirts of the city. Later I completed a PhD in Race and Housing at the Centre for Urban and Regional Studies at the University of Birmingham. At both Warwick and Birmingham I was fortunate in coming across individuals who sparked my interest in issues that mattered to me and gave me confidence to believe in myself. This is especially important at BCU where academics work closely with students to ensure they reach their potential.
How did you become Head of School of Social Sciences?
I was previously Director of Research Development at a 60 strong research centre and as well as other senior academic posts at another university and before that was a Senior Fellow at the University of Birmingham. Prior to this I had also been Executive Director of two national organisations on the issues of housing and race. So I had lots of experience and skills inside and outside academic life of managing people, devising strategies and managing budgets.
The recruitment process was robust and included a detailed application form, a presentation about my vision and plan to the staff, two separate discussions about teaching and research and a final panel interview with senior people from the Faculty and BCU. My pitch was about transformation and growth aligned to my values shaped by growing up in Birmingham.
What does your job involve?
There is no typical day and it is incredibly diverse, demanding but hugely enjoyable.
I can have meetings with staff in the School, Faculty or wider BCU community, work on the strategy for delivering a vision for Social Sciences, developing specific School and BCU-wide projects, zooming in on the big issues and focusing down to smaller, but still important tasks. It can range from discussing plans for international activity in partner organisations across the globe, devising and implementing transformational projects for the city such as Birmingham 2029, working with my colleagues on extending and deepening the curriculum and engaging with students and parents at BCU Open Days.
The School is large and diverse: over 100 members of staff, 2400 students and growing, five new research centres so there is lots for me to do in terms of management and leadership. Setting and maintain high standards and working with my colleagues and students are all essential to develop a vibrant academic community.
What’s the best thing about working for the School?
As a Head of School, I have a vision and plan for taking forward Social Sciences at BCU. However, for me, it is always about the collective which means engaging with students on improving teaching and learning, and with colleagues to align with their views and ensure that it challenges people to maximise their skills and their personal development for the benefit of the School.
This is a great job. Taking decisions each day to grow and transform the School and also help thousands of people each year who engage with us in Social Sciences. My colleagues in the School are incredibly dedicated and talented so my goal is to support them by creating an enabling and enjoyable place to work.
Coming back to my home city to take on this role means a lot in terms of privilege and responsibility.
What have been your career highlights?
I have been fortunate in working with colleagues that have supported me in achieving lots of things which culminated in my appointment at Head of School of Social Sciences at BCU. Writing my first book was a big milestone as were the three more which followed, and then being appointed as Professor in 2007. Being awarded research grants from foundations and research councils in the UK and US consistently over my academic career enabled me to conduct the fieldwork that informed by teaching and publications on the themes of community, race and class.
Working and living in New York in 2014 and 2016 after being awarded a Visiting Professor at Columbia University – one of leading universities in the world - to teach students on the MPA Programme was a hugely rewarding experience, and being nominated for the Presidential Teaching Prize when I was there was great. Recently I was also invited to talk about my work at special committee hearings at the US Congress and UK Houses of Parliament.
Really the best job should always be the one you are doing at the moment. And that is certainly true of being Head of Social Sciences.
How would you describe the School of Social Sciences?
The School is an exciting and dynamic place where people go out of their way to support students and colleagues. It is a friendly community with regular opportunities to engage informally and formally whether through internal academic seminars and our new external programme of events, in projects such as Birmingham 2029 and in our new School newsletters, and also participating in international programmes to study and undertake research.
How would you describe your staff?
They are a talented, diverse and friendly group with different backgrounds and specialisms across Criminology, Sociology and Psychology. They care committed to making the experience in Social Sciences rewarding for colleagues, students and stakeholders.
What are your goals?
The agenda is for planned transformation and growth. This is based on extending and deepening the curriculum, scaling up our research offer and launching our new School external seminar programme, which has the working title #BCUBrumConversations and will be open to the BCU community and members of the public to hear non-academic speakers talk about societal challenges.
I’m also planning to launch three new Social Sciences projects in the period ahead, which will help to demonstrate how BCU is the University for Birmingham.
The first is Birmingham 2029, an action research project that brings together academics with students and communities as an extended research team to map the city and its social challenges during the next ten years of change.
The second is Birmingham DataLab, which will make sense of existing data to benefit organisations in the public and private sectors as well as the general public.
And the third is the Social Impact Hub which will enable students to work with organisations in the public and private sectors to develop the skills and experiences that will increase the chances of securing the types of jobs that people deserve after their time at BCU.
And your tips to students and staff?
Everyone is different and success can and should be measured in many ways. In my experience the common feature of successful people in whatever sector or job comes down to some or all of the following: hard work – it goes without saying that you need to work hard and smart; open to continuous learning – you know you are in trouble when you believe your own hype about not improving or doing things better; resilience – life and work is very straight forward when everything is going well but the true sense of a person is how they bounce back and come up with a plan when life and work are difficult.