Institute of Education


Q&A with Louise Archer

Louise is the Karl Mannheim Chair of Sociology of Education at the IOE and is currently the Principal Investigator of a number of large national projects.

What is your role and what does it involve?
Currently the largest part of my role involves directing three large national research projects (ASPIRES 2, Enterprising Science, and Youth Equity & STEM), which I am incredibly grateful and fortunate to have superb teams working on. Teamwork is really important to me; I think we all work better through collaboration. I am also co-chairing the Sociology Activity Group.

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?
I joined the IOE in March 2017. Previously I was a Professor of Sociology of Education at King's College London for over 11 years, where I was director of the Centre for Research in Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (CRESTEM). 

What's the most important thing you've learned from your students about the subject you teach?
Students will always show you a new, different and interesting angle on anything - however many times you have taught that topic in the past. I enjoy learning from students and find their contributions both refreshing and productive, especially when they are bringing their own identities and experiences to bear on the subject matter.

Students will always show you a new, different and interesting angle on anything - however many times you have taught that topic in the past."

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?
I am really proud (and often amazed) at the impact that our work on the concept of 'science capital' has achieved. It is a real privilege to see schools and informal settings, like science centres and museums, taking up our ideas and changing what they do in light of our ideas and findings. As a researcher committed to social justice and 'making a difference', it doesn't get any better than that!

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list.
I am really excited about our collaborative project on 'Youth Equity & STEM'. It is a joint UK-US project, funded by Wellcome Trust and the National Science Foundation, which started in March 2017. We have some amazing professional and academic partners, all of whom are strongly committed to social justice research and practice. We are already learning a lot from each other; the project promises to be really exciting.

What would surprise people to know about you?
I have always had a secret love of being on the stage - as it became clear that I was not a contender for substantial parts in school plays, I took to writing and directing plays for my local youth club. In later years I was honoured to be part of the fab, 'FAAB' feminist academic performance group. Over the course of a few years we performed our satirical set across the UK, even internationally in San Francisco. Our gigs were all at academic conferences or universities. We knew our audience - and our limits!

What other piece of research outside of your own subject area interests you?
As a sociology of education researcher who has been looking at inequalities through the case of science education, I have become increasingly fascinated by physics. This would have surprised my dad and anyone who knew me at school, as it used to be my undisputed least favourite subject. Now I am an armchair enthusiast of all things to do with space and cosmology. I admire the sheer awesomeness of physicists' attempts to understand the universe, from the origins of everything right down to the quantum level. It's quite mind-blowing!