Alumni Spotlight: Ying Zhou, Director of the Future of Work Research Centre

Alumni Spotlight: Ying Zhou, Director of the Future of Work Research Centre

From 2001 to 2007, Ying Zhou studied an MPhil and a DPhil at the Department, where her research focused on economic sociology. She is now a Professor of Human Resource Management and directs the Future of Work Research Centre at the University of Surrey.

Image of Ying Zhou
What inspired you to study sociology?

I have always been curious about how individuals live their lives under different social contexts.

More specifically, I am interested in the quality of working lives, since people spend a large portion of their waking hours at work. This is why I chose to specialise in economic sociology.

What attracted you to the Department at Oxford?

I was attracted to the prestige of Oxford University and the stellar faculty in the Department of Sociology. 

Tell us about your research while at Oxford:

My MPhil and DPhil were focused on employees’ participation in decision-making at work. I used large-scale employee and employer datasets to examine the trends, determinants and effects of employees’ organisational participation in Britain over the last few decades.

What's your favourite memory of Oxford?

Walking around Christ Church Meadow in the summer and going punting with friends under the beautiful Magdalen Bridge!

I found some of the old Oxford traditions quite amusing, such as wearing gowns during exams and formal dinners.

What do you do now?

Upon completing my doctoral dissertation, I worked on the UK Skills and Employment Survey as a research assistant at Nuffield College. Between 2008 and 2010 I worked for Towers Watson, a leading global human resource consultancy.

However, I missed academia and decided to join the University of Surrey as a lecturer in Human Resource Management in 2011, where I have worked till now.

My research focuses on job quality, occupation and employee well-being. I have published over thirty academic articles, book chapters and policy reports. A list of my publications can be found here.

I am now Director of the Future of Work Research Centre at Surrey, which looks to understand the changing nature of work and employment relationships, and their impact on organisational effectiveness and human wellbeing.

Our research focuses on the impacts of globalisation, the rapidity of technological change, and the pandemic, as they continue to have a transformative effect on organisations and the world of work in general.

What is your greatest achievement?

I have won research grants from the Economic and Social Research Council, the UK Government, the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (with a total of around £4 million) to analyse job quality and employee well-being in the UK and Europe.

My research has been presented to the UK Cabinet Office, House of Commons, OECD, European Commission, European Council and cited in a wide range of policy documents. 

What lessons did you learn from studying sociology at Oxford? 

I benefited immensely from studying sociology with Professor Duncan Gallie at Oxford. It laid a solid foundation for my career development.

In fact, I am still researching similar topics today as I did at Oxford more than a decade ago, although with increasingly sophisticated data and research methods.

At present, I am working on the 2023 UK Skills and Employment Survey. It’s pretty amazing to come back to the same project after 16 years, working with the same team!

What's next in your career journey?

I will continue with my research on job quality and employee well-being, with the aim to find out ways of creating a work environment in which individuals live productive, fulfilling and happy lives. 

What piece of advice would you give to prospective students?

It is a great privilege to study sociology at Oxford University. Take full advantage of this unique intellectual environment to find out your research interests, develop your potential, and make lifelong friends. 

You can get in contact with Ying here.
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