Cheryl Lloyd is Programme Head at the Nuffield Foundation, where she leads the research portfolio relating to young people, focusing on educational disadvantage, teaching quality, young people’s pathways and skills.

As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
There wasn’t a specific job I wanted to do and I tended to focus on what I liked doing at school rather than following a particular career path.

When did you first turn towards a social research career?
My degree, Applied Psychology and Sociology at the University of Surrey included social research methods and a range of interesting topics. During my industrial placement year, I particularly liked working with quantitative data and got a better sense of the organisations doing social research and that it could be a feasible career.   

What was your first professional job?  And first project there?
I joined the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) as a quantitative researcher after university.  My first project was working on the Citizenship Survey which was a survey of around 15,000 adults in England and Wales.  It was a good introduction to survey research as I worked on the questionnaire development, piloting, interview briefings and went on to analyse the data and author a couple of reports on my own within my first few years.

Where did your career go next?  What motivated that/those moves?
At NatCen, I progressed to Senior Researcher, then Research Director in the Children, Families and Work team (as it was called at the time) where I was leading quantitative and mixed-method studies in the fields of education, families and youth unemployment for government and third sector organisations.

After eight years or so I moved to the Nuffield Foundation – I was looking for a change but wanted to apply my research skills in a different setting, and was impressed by the breadth of the Foundation’s portfolio, and commitment to improving policy and practice through rigorous research.

What has been your best professional moment?
One moment doesn’t stand out – hopefully the best is still to come.  However, it is particularly pleasing when you’ve been involved in a project from the start – whether I have designed/managed it, or it was an application I recommended for funding – and you can see the findings starting to make a difference by influencing policy or changing thinking about a particular issue. For example, seeing the further education (FE) sector quoting Nuffield-funded analysis of education spending which starkly showed the relative underspending on FE in England - and the subsequent policy response.     

Do you have a social research hero/heroine?
I’ve been fortunate to work with great colleagues – those that are social researchers and support us to make it happen (e.g. fieldworkers, coders etc) from different disciplinary backgrounds, exploring a variety of topics, at different stages of their career who I have learnt a lot from, and other advocates for research such as policy-makers and practitioners who have a different perspective on the issues we are trying to understand.

Do you have a favourite quote?
Not a favourite quote but I have a sign by my desk that says ‘What problem are we trying to solve? How do we know it is a real problem? How will we know when we’ve fixed it?’ which I printed from a blog that I would like to be able to reference but lost the link.

The Foundation is welcoming applications for ambitious, interdisciplinary projects to address some of the most important challenges facing UK society and the public policy agenda in the next decade so this feels particularly relevant at the moment.

What would you say to encourage a young person today considering a social research career?
Many of the big issues facing us today are going to need an interdisciplinary approach to tackle them and social researchers can play a huge role in this. So, if you are interested in why society is the way it is, how people behave, and finding answers to problems this could offer you a varied, fulfilling career.  

Young people wanting to pursue a career in social research can benefit from student programmes such as Nuffield Research Placements and Q-Step – details about these, and opportunities for grant funding are available at