Helen Wells

1998 History and Criminology (BA), 2001 Criminology (MA), 2007 Criminology (PhD)

Helen Wells Lecturer in Criminology  What I am doing now:
I am now a lecturer in Criminology at Keele.

How did you get to where you are now?
The sensible answer is that after my degree I worked back home in a Magistrates’ Court – largely because it was crime-related and I could walk to work. After two years I felt I needed to make some changes and that the job wasn’t really going anywhere so I applied for the MA in Criminology back at Keele. I very nearly progressed from that straight into a PhD but was lured away by the promise of a salary and became a Community Safety Officer in Oxfordshire for a year. I decided on my second day at work (September 11th 2001) that it wasn’t the right job for me and re-applied to do my PhD. After that, I was a temporary part-time lecturer for six months until a permanent full-time post came up and I progressed to that. The less sensible answer is that I loved reading crime mysteries as a child and chose to do Criminology at undergraduate level without really knowing what it was, choosing Keele because it was snowing when I visited. The rest is then a mixture of impulsive and romantically-influenced personal decisions!

What has been your biggest achievement so far?
Probably being the first in my family to get a degree, Masters or PhD, and winning the prize for the best paper by a new author in the British Journal of Criminology in 2008. More vaguely I suppose I always get a great sense of satisfaction from teaching modules that I was taught myself, often in the same lecture theatres as back then. People who were my lecturers are now my colleagues and friends and that gives me a great sense of progress (to counteract the fact that I’ve, technically, never left Keele!)

And your biggest mistake?
Taking a job in Community Safety for the money. Don’t get me wrong, I like the subject and am working with the local Community Safety team on a project right now, but it was the wrong job because I didn’t get the chance to really explore the crime and safety issues I was nonetheless charged with tackling.

What are your ambitions now?
I am happy doing what I am doing for now. I have a book coming out later this year and after that I am looking forward to embarking on a new research direction.

Helen Walls graduates  What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in a similar field?
You need to be the sort of person who can work day-to-day, week-to-week and year-to-year and, in large part, determine what you do and when for yourself. You need to be able to spot a good opportunity and distinguish it from one that might be a distraction or just being sold to you as a ‘career development opportunity’!  If you manage to get into the field, choose to research an area that really interests you and (if you can) use this to inform your teaching. Remember what it was like to be a student, but don’t assume that what students want is necessarily what is best for them in terms of their learning and personal development.

What made you choose Keele University?
As I mentioned above, it was snowing! Also there weren’t that many places offering Criminology at that point and I didn’t get a good feel from the others. By contrast, whenever I am somewhere else I seem to want to be back at Keele!

What kind of a student were you?
Pretty good really, though I learned bad habits from other students and gave up reading for lectures early on! I work best under pressure – which is another way of saying that I left things to the last minute. I took feedback very seriously and that certainly paid dividends. I would either say absolutely nothing, or absolutely everything in a tutorial, which must have been irritating for both the tutor and the other students!

How has Keele influenced your life?
I’ve spent almost fifteen years here on and off so a huge part of my life has a Keele influence. Having said that, Keele has changed constantly during that time, so I feel like I have known a lot of different places in a variety of different roles. Keele also supplied me with my husband, so I thank it for that!

What is your favourite memory of Keele?
My husband’s PhD graduation is my favourite sensible memory, whereas 80s nights at the Union are also fond (if slightly fuzzy) memories.

What is your impression of Keele now?
Obviously Keele, like every other University, faces great challenges over the next few years and vastly increased student expectations are inevitably going to be a part of that. But I think Keele wins people over and draws them back and hopefully in that sense the future is going to be as good as the past. There seems to be a lot of people around, like me, who have been here as students and who now teach or have another role within the University and their investment in the place and loyalty to it are real grounds for optimism.

Anything else you would like to add?
Not right now.