Professor Graham Towl, Professor in Forensic Psychology, Durham University
The civil service is very open to recruiting academics. A recent Head of the Civil Service is an example of how an academic economist moved to the civil service and reached the very highest office.
Professor Graham Towl was a psychologist for HM Prison Services before becoming Chief Psychologist as a Senior Civil Servant in central government. Now Professor of Forensic Psychology at the University of Durham, throughout his career Graham has maintained cross-sector links.
Graham has always balanced academic advancement with applied practice. In his early career, Graham trained and worked as a psychiatric nurse before going to university to study psychology. He then worked as a psychologist in prisons whilst undertaking postgraduate qualifications. As soon as he had joined the prison service, Graham built academic links to ensure he kept up to date with the latest research, and he soon started to bring a policy and practice focus to his work.
After working as the Chief Psychologist at the Ministry of Justice, Graham moved to a half time academic role as Professor of Forensic Psychology at Durham University and half time as Principal of St Cuthbert’s Society, a College of Durham University.
Experience as a government official has informed how Graham tackles the different challenges brought by academia. He found academia at Durham University to be unduly bureaucratic compared with the civil service, predominantly driven by processes rather than outcomes. In tackling these issues, Graham explains: “My broader leadership experience resulted in early promotion to the University Executive team as a Pro Vice Chancellor. At Durham I have found an appetite for ideas and debate and a richer set of perspectives than the relatively narrow funnels of knowledge characterised in governmental policy silos. I have embraced these and try to keep an open mind in relation to new learning. I very much enjoy the multidisciplinary focus which seems to be being increasingly encouraged."
Graham believes his mobility has had positive effects on his professional and personal life, and explains the value of having a varied career: “I think that there has been much in the way of transferable learning from my practice, policy and research work - I view them as complementary and they also keep me grounded but global, when taken together. I have been fortunate in receiving recognition for my career to date; both professional and academic."