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Department of Sociology


Brendan Burchell first came to Cambridge in 1985, thinking he’d stay for a couple of years as a research associate. “In my wildest dreams there was no way I thought that I’d stay permanently and become a Fellow of Magdalene College – let alone become a Cambridge Professor” he says. 

His first degree was in Psychology from the University of Birmingham from 1977-80. From there he went to Warwick University to take a PhD in Social Psychology, and then in 1985, he was appointed to the Department of Applied Economics at Cambridge as a Research Officer. 

He assisted on a project titled “the Social Change and Economic Life Initiative”, working collaboratively with economists, social psychologists and sociologists on a variety of aspects of labour markets and their effects on individuals.  

This theme has come to define Brendan’s work, from reviewing self-employment programmes for young people for the ILO, to investigating gender segregation in labour markets for the European Commission.  Last year, his findings on the mental health benefit of shorter working hours achieved national news coverage and greatly supported arguments to reduce the hours in the standard working week. 

“I keep coming across people I remember teaching who are now in stellar careers, whether in academia or parliament or the media – really reproducing the social sciences at a stunning level” he says. His current research students are working on topics ranging from employment in Africa, China and India to the relationships between labour markets and health, obesity and spirituality. 

At present, Brendan is applying his research to assist the recovery of the labour market following the global pandemic crisis. His research suggests cutting working hours, not people to help mitigate both the mental health as well as economic crises caused by coronavirus. 

Reflecting on his academic career, Brendan notes how important it has been to have an interdisciplinary group of colleagues to take innovative approaches to research problems, and how this has been enriching, inspiring, and just a lot of fun!  

About his professorship, he adds: “A lot of students, past and present, as well as research colleagues have been in touch with their congratulations – which has been fantastic” 

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