Desiree Lopez is Chief Executive Officer of TNS BMRB
As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
Jacques Cousteau - I was obsessed with the underwater world (which makes sense as I grew up near prairies and mountains) - fueled heavily by my father’s National Geographic collection and his stories about travel and wildlife.
When did you first turn towards a social research career?
I was very lucky - in my third year of undergraduate studies, (I was a Linguistics major at the University of Calgary), I was offered a post-grad fellowship which was part of a wider post-grad programme in the social sciences. This resulted in what I thought would be a few years of playing with quant data, but it also involved a community based ethnography in an environment of severe poverty and poor social policy. The way social research was being positioned - as helping to improve the social context - and the desire by the research team to ensure their work helped to change the circumstances of this community made a major impact on me. And that was it - I was hooked!
What was your first professional job? And first project there?
I worked as a language assessor and a literacy teacher (back to Linguistics). I learned a huge amount about question design, interviewing and analysis - but also social policy and public services design. I also developed a love for teaching that has remained with me for the last 20 years.
Where did your career go next? What motivated that/those moves?
I spent the next 6 years working in NGOs in roles which combined programme development with development research and with policy analysis - I loved being able to see the impact of my work on the ground - with practitioners and beneficiaries. I moved to the UK and went back into academia,- spending a very fulfilling and fun 5 years at the IoE - whereby I learned not only about methodology but also the useful tension between academia and policy. I worked with some of the most influential social researchers in education and I made a formal return to teaching. I then moved into the commercial world - wanting to return to applied research – and of course, the desire to learn something new! I landed at EdComs - a fantastic agency that creates educational content on behalf of a wide range of clients, such as Google and Samsung - my understanding of digital, film and creative grew immensely! But, I dearly missed my social research roots - so in 2012, I joined TNS BMRB to run their Qualitative practice.
What has been your best professional moment?
There have been so many. I was very proud of the work I did in Canada, which helped to shape new education and welfare policy. I was proud of the work I did in conjunction with ActionAid on participatory learning. Most recently…well, becoming the CEO of TNS BMRB has been an incredibly proud moment for me!
There have been many!
But without doubt, the most painful moments involve witnessing the quality and provision of public services altered, dismantled or axed with little regard for evidence or impact.
Do you have a social research hero/heroine?
I have had the pleasure of having a fair few! I still appreciate the work of colleagues at the Lancaster Literacy Research Centre - their ability to be incredible theorists alongside determined advocates continues to impact me greatly.…and I am also lucky to be surrounded by a great team of everyday heroes - my TNS BMRB colleagues - people who are out in the field, trying to deal with the complexities of social research designs and who advocate, through their work, for some of the more vulnerable people in society.
Finally, I am also a great fan of the economist Amartya Sen - his work in the area of social justice has inspired much of my own academic work.
Do you have a favourite quote?
Literally hundreds - but two favourites are: "To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often." Winston Churchill and "I don't think any day is worth living without thinking about what you're going to eat next at all times." Nora Ephron
What would you say to encourage a young person today considering a social research career?
That it is a fascinating, demanding, sometimes tough and often rewarding career. It is a career that matters – a career that can help bring about positive social change. It is a career that is about constant learning and can take you to unexpected places.