Carol Riddington is an independent social researcher

As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a nurse in the Queen Alexandra Royal Nursing Corps. What appealed to me was working as a professional in interesting countries!

When did you first turn towards a social research career?
I completed a sandwich course in Psychology and two of my work placements were in the Human Pharmacology Department at The Wellcome Research Labs. When I left University I got a temporary job as a research assistant on a child health study at King’s College Hospital. This work involved interviewing mothers living in Dulwich and on the Peckham housing estates. I loved meeting people and listening to a wide range of views on rearing their children.

What was your first professional job? And first project there?
I worked in a new department called the Psychiatry of Mental Handicap (now Psychiatry of Learning Disability) at St George’s Hospital. It was the first department of its kind attracting a range of inspiring professionals and headed up by Professor Joan Bicknell. My job was to establish a register of adults and children with a learning disability. It was an exciting time as Care in the Community was being promoted and people were beginning to realise that those who had a disability can and should be given the opportunity to live like everyone else. During this contract I studied for my MSc in Social Research at the University of Surrey.

Where did your career go next? What motivated that/those moves?
My work at St Georges was limited to a three year contract so I then moved to the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NACRO) working on a new project funded by the Leverhulme Trust. We were a small but enthusiastic team evaluating Youth Training Schemes and Community Projects operated by NACRO.

When this project ended I became self-employed for several years whilst my children were young. During this time I worked on various contracts for local government, health and voluntary organisations.

When my children were older I went back to work full time as a research manager for the BBC World Service in the International Broadcasting Audience Research Department (IBAR). This position involved me commissioning research across a range of countries and overseeing the work in places like Russia, Afghanistan and Turkey. When the department disbanded I moved to MVA consulting and eventually became their Director of Social and Market Research.

I then decided to do a PhD exploring how people with learning disabilities can be involved in planning and decision making. I applied to the Tizard Centre, University of Kent and was awarded a scholarship. The late Professor Jim Mansell and Dr Julie Beadle Brown were my supervisors and my PhD was titled Partnership in the Public Sector: The Case of Learning Disability Partnership Boards. After completing the PhD I decided to go back to self-employment and have taken on several contracts with private companies and charities.

What has been your best professional moment?
My best professional moment was being awarded my PhD in Canterbury Cathedral by Sir Bob Worcester (then Chancellor of the University)

....and worst?
The situation when I became the Chair of the Social Research Association in the 1990s and found that the organisation was facing financial difficulties. With a strong and dedicated committee around me we reorganised the administration, set up tighter financial monitoring systems and managed to turn the financial deficit around.

Do you have a social research hero/heroine?
Without a doubt, the late Sir Roger Jowell. He was a true ambassador of Social Science, always passionate about his work and always willing to turn his hand to any request to support the SRA. A genuinely nice person.

Do you have a favourite quote?
Not really. But I suppose I’ve said to many a researcher something along the lines of ‘Never judge a book by its cover.’

What would you say to encourage a young person today considering a social research career?
You need to enthusiastic about people, inquisitive and be prepared to question findings. So,

  • When working on a project be prepared to roll up your sleeves and take on any tasks where help is needed
  • Learn from your mistakes
  • Work for a recognised research team/department with high standards and a passion for their work
  • Join the SRA and get involved!
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