Cathy Riley

1973 American Studies and Politics

Keelite of the Month May 2011   What I am doing now:
I work in market research and have spent my whole career in this area.  I now have what the media would probably describe as a “portfolio career” in the brave new world of post-recession Britain!  I’m only working in the one profession of market research but each of my jobs is focussed on a separate sector and for different businesses.  I work part-time for a market research agency which specialises in research among international students and looking at future strategic plans and policies in the education sector.  I also work with an Australian international research agency, focussing on the duty free and travel retail sector and I work in a virtual office environment as part of a global network with cloud computing. On top of this, I keep my own freelance consultancy running, Catalyst Research – the business that I set up when my husband and I started our family. I never anticipated the huge variety of work that would come my way and I couldn’t have imagined the rewarding and stimulating career that market research has turned out to be; it has taken me to places that I never envisaged and opened so many doors – I am very glad that I came upon it as a career choice all those years ago!
Photo: At my daughter Helen's Graduation Ceremony 2010. 

How did you get to where you are now?
While studying Politics, I became interested in voting behaviour – what makes people behave the way they do – which led to an interest in political opinion polling and from there to market research and a wider interest in behaviour and decision making.  I built a reputation as a researcher in the travel sector and from there moved on to build international research experience in the service industry arena and eventually set up my own consultancy.  In my mid-fifties, I decided to go back to the formal workplace – partly because the children were growing up so I had more time and partly to find out if I could get back into mainstream work at this mature age!  I have moved a long way from my undergraduate studies in American Studies and Politics, but it is apparent that the knowledge and skills I acquired at Keele have provided a strong underpinning to my career and set my initial course.

What has been your biggest achievement so far?
I would single out two things: in the first 15 years of my career, I did my bit contributing to the professional bodies that regulate and inform commercial market research practice.  I chaired several committees and in 1988 was invited to convene and chair a specialist international research event in Cyprus for the main worldwide market research body.  Convening that seminar was a pinnacle of professional recognition within my industry; it may not sound much if you aren’t in the MR business, but it was an honour. The other thing I would single out is the fact that I have managed to sustain a career, adapting to change and new ideas through very different stages of life.  I’m not unique in this but being able to re-invent oneself to suit changing times is a great achievement.

And your biggest mistake?
Not being assertive enough early in my career and not standing up for myself against unfair criticism.  I’ve learned my lesson on that one!  And regrets?  Well, I have always wondered,  should I have gone to Kent Uni to do that MA in American Politics studying American Right Wing  politics – I’d have been so well placed to comment on Reagan, Bush and the rise of the Tea Party… but who knows?

What are your ambitions now?
I want to consolidate and build on my career – and to pursue new projects and marketing problems.   And I am not done with studying, possibly a language, but more likely back to American Politics.  And like most people, I’d like to do some more travelling and I will pick up on underwater exploration again through scuba diving.  Keeping fit, active and healthy are also key goals!

What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in a similar field?
Get some work experience to make sure you like the area.  There are a wide variety of career paths, but probably wisest to start in the research agency world and then get some experience working in a client company.  Also these days there are plenty of opportunities to work overseas in market research, so make sure you keep your eye on the wider world of market research while you are young to take advantage of these opportunities.

Keelite of the Month May 2011   What made you choose Keele University?
It was one of the new universities.  I remember that I only applied to the ‘new’ universities – it was the 1960s after all!  Also, Keele had a very well-respected American Studies department, established by Professor David Adams. And finally - Keele offered the foundation year.

What kind of a student were you?
I studied pretty hard all through my student years, though I made plenty of time for student social life.  Pretty typical of many students of the time I think – although I didn’t take advantage of the great sports facilities, which I regret looking back. I just wasn’t very sporty then!

How has Keele influenced your life?
I wouldn’t have done Politics without Keele and, without Politics, I probably wouldn’t have got interested in voting behaviour and so discovered market research. So my life and career would have been quite different! Also, the syllabus at the time, with the insistence that Arts and Social Sciences students also had to study Science at subsidiary level and vice versa gave me an enduring love of Geology.  Photo: At my Graduation Day near Keele Hall 1973

What is your favourite memory of Keele?
There are such a lot of memories!  The excitement of being on a campus university, where the whole place was for our student community – those amazing rural views, walking onto campus from Hawthorns in my first year on the way to lectures, the Foundation Year lecture programme!  Drinking late-night coffee with friends and evenings in the Sneyd and the Union Bar.  Walking in the sun along the path from Lindsay above the walled garden, occasional wanderings round Keele Hall and the lakes on a Sunday afternoon.  Gigs and Balls at the Union.  Tutorials with my Professors (scary, but illuminating!). Looking through the shelves in the Library, finding obscure text books and peeking inside.    Going to watch the new Monty Python episodes each week in the communal TV lounge at Lindsay….

What is your impression of Keele now?
When I joined Keele, it was very much one of the new universities.  Now I see the university as well proven, with a good standing in the UK educational establishment and it has moved forward into the 21st Century with a heightened scientific and innovative edge. 

Anything else you would like to add?
I think that is more than enough from me – thank you for listening!