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‘We wanted to change that particular part of the world': the role of academics in the career development field, learning from the career of Tony Watts(Journal of the National Institute for Career Education and Counselling, 2014-10)This article uses a career case-study with Tony Watts to explore the interface of an academic career with policy and practice. It finds that, in Tony’s case, public engagement was driven by a social and political mission. Such engagement is shaped by both the institutional arrangements within which the academic is situated and the political and organisational structures of the part of the world into which they try to intervene. While it is difficult to generalise from a single case, the article concludes by suggesting some key themes which academics may wish to attend to in navigating these issues of engagement and the nature of academic roles.