Rebecca Harpley is Senior Research Officer at the London Borough of Newham

As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
At various points I wanted to be a hairdresser, a fashion designer and a property developer.

When did you first turn towards a social research career?
I studied Human Geography at the University of Hull and really got into research from my second year when I took the chance to undertake a research project for Beverley Guildhall Museum on the future of their volunteer programme. After graduating I worked for a year and then went to the University of Sheffield to do a Research Methods Masters.

What was your first professional job? And first project there?
A paid internship at the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE), now the Learning and Work Institute where I worked with a really experienced team on a range of different projects around adult literacy and mental health.

Where did your career go next? What motivated that/those moves?
Next I worked for the School of Business and Economics at Loughborough University on the Straight Talking project about social networks and researchers’ careers. This project gave me a good insight into university research, which is always useful now when I work with academic partners.

My next move was to Action for Children, a national service delivery charity, to work in the market research team. The highlight of this job for me was working closely with the public policy function and marketing colleagues on Action for Children’s response to the personalisation of services for disabled children. I made my next move, to the London Borough of Newham, to work full time in social policy research.

What has been your best professional moment?
Getting my first job in the Policy and Research Team at LB Newham just before the 2012 Olympics. Newham is really innovative in its approach to public policy and invests in research as part of policy development and evaluation. This makes it a great place to work as a researcher. Over the last few years the Council has also developed a data warehouse to integrate data from across the council, which has provided us with a lot of opportunities for data analysis as well as informing our approach to primary research.

...and worst?
Probably a couple of instances of trying to use administrative data for evaluations before we had an integrated system in Newham. Asking busy frontline staff to collect additional data and wading through paper records can be challenging. On the plus side I learnt a lot from these projects.

Do you have a social research hero/heroine?
Peter Jackson’s work on social and cultural geographies was one of the key reasons I wanted to do my Masters at Sheffield.

Do you have a favourite quote?
We currently have Justin Bieber quotes up in our office. I will spare you from those.

What would you say to encourage a young person today considering a social research career?
If you’re interested in seeing the impact of your research first hand, come and work in local government.

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