Kirstie Ball
IllustrationL Lauren Holmes

The Saint: What is your current state of mind?

Kirstie Ball: Calm and content. I have a new job in a great university with great colleagues and students. My first face-to-face teaching semester in 12 years is going very well. I used to work for the Open University, which is a distance learning institution. The rhythm of the academic year was completely different at the OU, and we very rarely taught face-to-face classes. Coming back into the traditional higher education sector has been a massive change, but so far I have enjoyed every moment

Which talent would you most like to have?

Enough patience to play golf, maybe? Or lateral thinking so that I could answer some of these questions in an interesting way.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

After nearly 20 years in academia and all of the associated challenges that brings, getting my PhD is still the most difficult thing I have ever done, but it’s not my greatest achievement.

In 2006, I co-authored a report for the UK Information Commissioner called “A report on the surveillance society.” […] There was a huge amount of media coverage of the report. Two parliamentary committee enquiries followed and surveillance was an election issue in the 2010 general election. Because of this work, the phrase “surveillance society” is now common parlance in Britain. [At the report launch], my co-authors and I stood and listened to Lord Falconer introducing the report using our conceptual language. We couldn’t believe how the concepts and evidence we’d been working with anonymously for years were being taken on by the political establishment. It was an emotional moment.

What is the quality you most like in a professor?

Enduring enthusiasm, passion and curiosity. It’s inspiring when you meet a senior professor who still has those qualities.

Who was your favourite teacher/professor and why?

I was lucky to have several inspiring teachers who encouraged me to be creative and confident in my thinking […]: Mrs Lowe and Mrs Georghiou (English literature) and Mrs Fisher (art). My school was Bolton School in Lancashire. At university, it was my PhD supervisor, Professor David C Wilson. He is one of the very few people who understands how my mind works and how to get the best out of it.

What are you currently researching?

A project funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council called “Monetize Me.” It is attempting to derive a set of privacy-friendly business models for Quantified Self (i.e. self-tracking) applications. In the long-term, my commitment is to understanding how privacy and its associated ethical practices can become embedded within business processes.

What has been your most challenging experience as a lecturer?

Sexism does exist in higher education, as it does in many other careers. Despite the best efforts of the trade unions, universities and enlightened colleagues, I have seen all the classics. I’ve made statements in meetings that have been ignored, only to be acknowledged when the same statement is made by a man. I’ve been underestimated and not taken seriously in spite of good performances. I’ve been repeatedly turned down for promotion for reasons which are actually contradicted by the content of my CV.
I want to say to young women entering any career to expect to be challenged by sexism. As recent research has shown, it is a pernicious phenomenon and works through the organisational meaning systems which attribute value to different people’s contributions. Keep fighting it and do not give up, because it is not your fault. Always take the opportunity to learn from your experiences.

If you could fix one problem in the world, what would it be?

Anyone who has visited my office in the Gateway will see that it is adorned with EU flag bunting. So, my first reaction to this question was to say, “Stop Brexit.” At a more philosophical level, it would be to ensure that every person on the planet has full access to their human rights.

What is the best piece of advice anyone has given you?

My parents always say, “Engage brain before opening mouth.”

What is your motto? 

I don’t have one really, but I do have a favourite saying which helps me reflect. It’s this: “I know I’m not seeing things as they are, I’m seeing them as I am.”

Where is your favourite place to travel?

I have cycle toured all over the world, but Britain is my favourite place to travel. I cycled Lands End to John O’Groats in 2008. There is a huge diversity within these islands, and everyone should make an effort to see as much of [them] as possible, from the Scilly Islands to the Shetland Islands

What book should everybody read at least once?

1984 by George Orwell.

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