Kieran O’Leary is Director of Ipsos MRBI in Dublin. He is also a SRA trustee
As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
My earliest memory was my fascination with airports, and wanting to be a customs officer (some parallels perhaps with the curiosity of a researcher!). But I went to Dublin City University for a BA in Communication Studies, expecting to come out the far side as a TV Director.
When did you first turn towards a social research career?
After realising that a career in TV was not for me, I took a module on research methodologies in my final year as an undergraduate, become fully immersed in primary data collection for my undergraduate thesis, and went on to do a Masters in Applied Social Research at Trinity College Dublin. It was all heading in one direction after that.
What was your first professional job? And first project there?
My first job in research was actually working in the research team in a telecoms company managing their customer satisfaction study.
Where did your career go next? What motivated that/those moves?
Shortly after that I jumped over to agency-side and developed my research skills working on a large syndicated personal finance tracking study in the UK. After that it was back to Ireland working for a smaller agency where I became a jack-of-all trades that allowed me to progress more into social research.
What has been your best professional moment?
Very recently I worked on the exit poll for the referendum on removing restrictions on abortion from the Irish constitution. We published the result immediately when the polls closed at 10pm (publishing this quickly had never previously been achieved for an Irish exit poll). The magnitude of the vote in favour was somewhat surprising, but was proven to be accurate when the official referendum result was finalised the following day. It was very pleasing to demonstrate the accuracy of good research and a wonderful impact for our client too - the article with the results of the exit poll was read one million times, making it the most-read story in the 150-year history of The Irish Times
Are we really expected to share this in a public forum?
Do you have a social research hero/heroine?
The founder of MRBI in Ireland (now Ipsos), Jack Jones, was a trailblazer in research in Ireland. As a former army captain he brought military rigour to how research should be conducted.
Do you have a favourite quote?
"I dtír na ndall, is rí é fear na leathshúile". This translates from Irish as In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king. I think it represents well the privilege of working in research, while also serving as a reminder that we don’t always see the full picture (Side note: I was always of the understanding that this was an Irish proverb that achieved global reach and only recently found out that it actually has its roots in ancient Greece!)
What would you say to encourage a young person today considering a social research career?
If you want to work in an area that gives you a unique understanding of why people do what they do, then come talk to us!