Prestigious honour for former professor


Professor Kelvyn Jones, newly elected a Fellow of the British Academy

Pioneering research at the University of Portsmouth has seen a former professor elected as a Fellow of the British Academy, the UK’s national body for the humanities and social sciences.

Professor Kelvyn Jones is a world leader in the geography of health. He joined the University of Portsmouth as a lecturer in 1984, becoming a professor ten years later, and in 1997, head of the Department of Geography.

In this time, Professor Jones broke new ground with a series of seminal papers, and with the highly influential book, Health, Disease and Society, co-authored with Professor Graham Moon, then also at Portsmouth, and now at the University of Southampton.

Professor Jones has a particular expertise in ‘place effects’, and the mortality of ‘poor people in poor places’. These complex effects are seen in variations in health explained by different physical and social characteristics of an area such as access to green spaces, availability of public transport, and sense of community.

He is also widely acknowledged as an expert in multi-level modelling – looking at people and places as they change over time – with distinctive contributions in extending these techniques in novel ways and to topics as diverse as social medicine, mental health, and political science.

On being elected a Fellow of the British Academy, Professor Jones said: “I am delighted to receive this honour – it is fantastic to be recognised for what you love doing. The Department of Geography and the wider University at Portsmouth were key in what I have achieved”.

“I came to the university – then polytechnic – in 1982 on a one year contact after a number of short-term contracts at other universities.  It was the height of Thatcherism and getting an academic job was difficult. I was offered the job at the same time as being offered a permanent post in a northern university.  To this day I am glad I chose Portsmouth.”

Former colleague and professor in human geography at the University of Portsmouth, Liz Twigg, welcomed the news.

She said: “I regard myself as extremely privileged to have crossed academic paths with Kelvyn. Throughout my undergraduate, postgraduate and academic career, Kelvyn has been an inspirational mentor, generous with his knowledge and always eager to support others.

“He is truly a superb academic citizen with an amazing knack to relay complicated quantitative social science in a user-friendly way. I cannot think of anyone who deserves this accolade more.”

We invited Professor Jones, now professor of human quantitative geography at the University of Bristol, to reflect on his time at the University of Portsmouth.

“The department then was big with a large number of staff and a very large student body – the largest class I remember teaching was 248. We had a good reputation with schools and we took students who were interested, who may not have done that well academically previously, but were unfazed by what we challenged them with.

“A big department allowed me to specialize – substantively that was in the geography of health which I taught with Graham Moon – which must have been one of the earliest courses in the world.  I also taught quantitative analysis – using numerical procedures to provide reliable evidence about the world – with a physical geography colleague, Paul Farres.

“I delivered quantitative courses to all our students in the first year and specialist but large options in methodology to year two and three. The department had what became excellent and large-scale computing facilities and was in the forefront of delivering hands-on education – our graduates were very much in demand for their skill set. I learnt hugely from this experience – staying just in front of the students – and we wrote a best-selling text – Health, Disease and Society out of the lectures which still brings in royalties some 30 years on!

“A major challenge of being a polytechnic was that we did not receive core funding for research – we could compete for research council funding but we were considerably handicapped. We did however compete and get grants and when the change came to University status in 1992 we received considerable additional funding because of our successful track record. This funding allowed us to attract high-quality postgraduate researchers many of whom had highly successful subsequent careers – indeed the only Professor of Geography at Harvard has a Portsmouth PhD. I am delighted that the university has this year appointed Professor Liz Twigg to a chair in Human Geography thereby maintaining the tradition. She was one of the first people that I taught when I joined Portsmouth.

“Looking back I would thank the University for their willingness to invest in an untried young lecturer fresh out of a PhD, to trust with leading a research group, to appoint to a Chair while I was still in my 30s and to become head of department. All of it was memorable and enjoyable. In my 18 years at Portsmouth I gained friends and colleagues for life and I learned a great deal – thanks.”


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