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Dr Carol Rivas
18 Woburn Square
Tel: 02076126923
Dr Carol Rivas profile picture
  • Associate Professor in Social Policy and Programme Evaluation
  • IOE - Social Research Institute
  • UCL Institute of Education

I started my research career as an ethologist - I am the world expert on a rare wading bird – before becoming a secondary data analyst and health economist at Guy's and then St Mary’s Hospital (Imperial). There I developed my interest in what were then called ‘real world’ studies, and in cognitive processes, with work on drugs of abuse and on depression and suicide. In parallel I undertook an MSc in Cognitive Neuropsychology at Birkbeck (part time, Distinction), specialising in aphasia and autism with a dissertation on Theory of Mind; this MSc also began my interests in psycholinguistics and in artificial intelligence. I subsequently expanded these methodological interests through conversation analysis and multimodal analysis at the interface with institutional settings, and text mining (information extraction) work.

This background has given me a strong foundation for my sustained methodological interest in the innovative use of approaches such as AI, conversation analysis, behavioural economics, choice models and concept mapping to develop and evaluate complex interventions, implementation and sustainability issues.

In 2003 I joined Queen Mary University of London, working on a Cochrane review of advocacy interventions in domestic violence. This suggested to me the idea, taken up through my PhD in Medical Sociology, of qualitatively exploring the way abused women negotiated their daily lives in the context of their ethnicities. This choice of approach demonstrates the importance I attach to choosing the right method for the research question. Subsequently, I led the NIHR Research Design Service London qualitative methodology stream (covering UCL, KCL, QMUL and Imperial) between 2012-14, and public engagement and involvement work at QMUL from 2006, whilst maintaining my mixed methods portfolio and working on complex interventions development and evaluation for chronic conditions. As such I have been involved in several e- and m-health projects, including a study I led that developed rules-based text mining for the thematic analysis of survey freetext data, as well as cohort, machine learning and qualitative studies. I have contributed to debates on the challenges and usefulness of Big Data in informing complex intervention design. In all cases I aim for my research to have instrumental outputs that lead to changes in policy and practice. Most recently I have been developing work with and for vulnerable and marginalised people including those with hidden conditions and disabilities and migrants, and championing human rights issues. This has been part-fuelled by personal circumstance.

I have just edited a special issue on the marginalisation of disability in policy for 'Evidence and Policy' and am the Department Inclusion Lead (Joint role) and on the IoE core Athena SWANN team.

I am currently also involved in and developing research and collaborations relating to the invisible symptoms of Long Covid.  I lead a new major study (CICADA) on the intersections of ethnicity, disability or chronic conditions, and the pandemic, including considerations of Long Covid and of vaccine uptake.

I sit on the NIHR HS&DR Commissioned and Researcher Led Stage 1 and 2 Funding panel and I am a member of UCL Academic Board. I am on the editorial board of BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine

Research Summary

Now a Professor, my research aims to develop practical and theoretical understandings of vulnerability and social interaction to use with linked research outputs to support instrumental changes in policy and practice. My focus is on so-called hidden disabilities (e.g. multiple sclerosis, hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, diabetes, abuse, depression, developmental disorders, cancer), and on the intersection with race, ethnicity and migrant status. This reflects my own diverse background.

Settings include the NHS, education and the community, with active collaborations in Chile, Poland, Japan, South Africa and New Zealand.  My HEAL-D study won the 2019 Quality in Care (Diabetes) UK award.

I have expertise in a range of multidisciplinary research methods and an interest in innovation and thinking outside the box, with my external engagement work exemplifying this:

  • a national resource to support artist-academic collaborations (Collaborative Poetics)
  • exhibition with an artist with multiple sclerosis (with QMUL)
  • PRESENT project launch with messy painting sessions for knowledge exchange and a banquet-planning team competition to teach principles of health informatics 
  • innovative development of nominal groups techniques and health economics approaches in PRESENT for lay engagement with complex technical work
  • monthly curry evenings to engage the local Bangladeshi community and pharmacists (STOP study)
  • community lunches of African and Caribbean food (HEAL-D project)
  • sewing wall hangings (Co-creating art and health project)
  • STEM and Wellcome Trust ambassador, taking science to streets and schools
  • more conventional external consultations and stakeholder events, bringing together patients, NHS managers, clinicians, community groups, the third sector and researchers.

Teaching Summary
I lead on the module Evidence for Policy and Practice, for the MSc in Research for Public Policy and PracticeI have a PGCAP (Distinction) and Advance HE Fellowship.

Completed PhD students

Al Duncan (KCL, NIHR): PreventingType 2 Diabetes in HIV: Effectiveness and Acceptability, 2016

Claire Haresnape (QMUL):  Challenges of a clinical trial of a fertility homeopathic product, 2016

Jane Pritchard (Soton): Perceptions of younger people with dementia about hope, 2017

Current PhD students

Chris Dyke (ESRC): How decision-makers evaluate the risk posed by perpetrators of domestic abuse.

Zinie Zhang: How Chinese students and parents use mobile media in distant family communication.  

Sarah Bennett (EdD): Medical school student approaches to learning. 

Maria Ahumada Medina (CONICYT/ANID fellowship): The UK dominant culture and immigrants' perceptions of childhood/parenting practices

Laura Paulauskaite (ESRC): COS for Relationships and Sex Education with children with intellectual disability.

Pradeep Rao: Enhancing information on real-world accessibility using innovative methods for mobility challenges

Amanda Moore (KCL): Diabetes and ethnicity. 

Anthony Isiwele: The Nigerian and Ugandan CAMHS experience, IPA study. 


Academic Background
2012   Doctor of Philosophy Queen Mary College, University of London
2002 MSc Master of Science Birkbeck College
1981   Bachelor of Science Honours Queen Mary and Westfield College
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